Saturday, August 16, 2014

Book Review: A Troublesome Inheritance

This book about race and the human genome (by former NYTimes reporter Nicholas Wade) will neither shock nor surprise the reader already schooled in evolutionary psychology. I, for example, have read much of the antecedent literature, and little of the data was totally new to me (though I still learned a lot). The book is well-written and well-documented. The author is careful not to overstate his case, even while speculating beyond the hard facts.

The principle thesis of the book is that race (and more broadly, ethnicity) is more than skin deep. The book demonstrates--conclusively in my view--that there are genes that influence behavior, and that these are unevenly distributed among racial groups. One example that he describes in detail is the MAO-A promoter sequence, a variable piece of DNA that regulates aggressive behavior.

The book is very careful not to make too much of this. It's not as though there are "Caucasian genes" and "Asian genes." We are all one species, and the races have been separated for at most 50,000 years. At most the races constitute sub-species--such as dog breeds--but Mr. Wade won't even go that far. Instead, the phenomena is much more subtle, and not necessarily observable at the level of an individual.

Genes mutate through natural processes such as cosmic radiation, transcription errors, and whatnot. Most of these mutations are harmless, most of the rest are harmful or even fatal, but a few of them confer some benefit on the individual and his/her offspring. These latter will be propagated throughout the population.

When mutations are very beneficial, they sweep the entire population until 100% of all individuals possess those genes--we say they have reached fixation. Most genes that we have inherited from our mammalian ancestors, along with many human genes, have reached fixation and are common to all human beings. Those genes are what make us human.

But some genes are not so obviously beneficial--they confer benefits only under some circumstances. For example, the gene for sickle cell anemia is beneficial to those who live in malarial climates, but counterproductive everyplace else. It is thus most commonly found among West Africans. These genes do not sweep the entire population, but instead coexist with other variants of the same gene. These coexisting gene mutations are known as alleles.

So it would be easy to claim that White people have one set of alleles, while Asians another set. But that is also an oversimplification. Consider two alleles of a given gene--label them A and B. In Caucasians, allele A might be found in 75% of the population, while in Asians it may only be found in 40% of the population. Thus it's not that each race has a separate set of alleles, but the frequency of alleles varies between the races. By looking at the allele ratio for multiple genes (typically in the dozens) it is possible to determine the race of the individual to within 90% accuracy (i.e., an answer that corresponds to how the person assigns his own race).

So there is no question that race is inscribed in our genes. The second claim is that there are genes for behavior. This seems obviously true--certainly animal behavior is regulated by genes, and it would be strange if that weren't also true for humans in some degree. The elucidation of the function of the MAO-A promoters (among other genes) demonstrates this conclusively.

There are certain complex behaviors that determine social interactions. For example, how big is the circle of trust? A small circle consisting only of kin will predominate in tribal societies. A much bigger circle is necessary for urban individuals who participate in a global economy. However, there is not a gene for "trust." Instead, trust is regulated by a large number of genes, and can be modified by slight changes the frequencies of various alleles. These frequencies probably do not change by much--most people are fairly trusting--and we have neither identified any of the relevant genes, nor successfully measured the frequencies of the alleles. Still, it is a very reasonable hypothesis that evolution can modulate social interactions to optimize the individual's chances in their current environment. Jews, for example, have long lived in urban environments that put a premium on trust--that's why they're successful bankers. Australian aborigines, on the other hand, lived as tribal hunter-gatherers for 46,000 years, up until the arrival of Europeans in the 17th Century--their ability to function as global citizens will be much more limited.

The third thesis is that evolution happens fast. My Trotskyist friends, for example, have long argued that evolution takes "millions of years," and that within the timeframe of human history our biology was static. But with the advent of modern genomics, we know that evolution operates on much faster timescales. It is now possible to measure human evolution to within the last 3,000 years, and that limit is simply an experimental restriction. With better data (that we shall soon accumulate), there is every reason to think that measurable evolution can occur within a few centuries. This is especially true if the environmental driver is very strong, e.g., birth control.

So the claim of Mr. Wade's book is that people evolve to optimize their success in their environment. If that environment is cultural, then cultural traits will soon be inscribed in the genome. China, for example has existed as a unified nation under autocratic rule since 221 BC. That they will suddenly turn into a Western-style democracy just because a few McDonald's restaurants have opened up is surely a silly thesis. Behavioral traits such as conformity, obedience, thrift, hard work, and a large trust circle are likely not merely cultural phenomena anymore--they are part of the genetic heritage. Mr. Wade's book predicts that someday soon we will be able to prove that through an analysis of the human genome. I think he's right.

By demographic measures, the Han Chinese are the most successful people on earth. They are clearly optimized for their environment.

I'll add three comments of my own. First, people like my Trotskyist friends who claim that evolution stopped the minute human beings came along can no longer justify that belief on facts. Theirs is no longer a scientific opinion. Our ability to analyze the genome directly completely discredits that point of view.

Second, the public policy implications of this data are pretty small. It implies that efforts to change people's personality, either through education or economic motivation, will probably fail. Personality is substantially heritable, and the part that isn't heritable is not easily addressed institutionally. Schools can educate students, but they can't build character or instill good citizenship. Those traits depend on culture and genes, neither of which are amenable to schooling. Head Start failed, not because it was bad educational practice, but because it wanted to give its students a personality transplant. That goal was impossible.

Finally, moral claims are unchanged. To put it in religious terms, God Loves You. It doesn't matter what your alleles are--we are all created in the image of God. Or, in more secular language: We hold these truths to be self-evident...

Further Reading:

Friday, August 8, 2014

Left Labor's Lost Cause

My friends at Solidarity have published a heart-felt, honest, gut-wrenching document about how socialists should work within the labor movement. It offers a very pessimistic view about the state of today's class struggle, noting that "the neoliberal ruling class offensive is devastating the working class." They struggle to find some silver linings around which to organize for socialism.

The piece is an update on a much longer pamphlet by Kim Moody, a labor historian now based in Britain. Written in 2000, Mr. Moody's work defines the rank and file strategy for Left labor. That essay--already pessimistic--is veritably rosy compared to Solidarity's latest document.

The rank and file strategy is centered on the following ideas:
  • To support and help build fight-back efforts to reform and radicalize the union movement. "We build these rank and file groups, acts of resistance, and movements on their own terms, but offer an analysis of the roots of the problem and a bigger vision of how to address them when appropriate." This effort is referred to as unionism.
  • Build cross-union alliances, i.e., class-wide collaboration and solidarity.
  • Ally with community organizations, especially those designed to fight racism and sexism.
  • Build an independent labor party not beholden to the Democrats.
  • Build the socialist movement. Mr. Moody doesn't mention "vanguard Party," but that's sort of what he means.
Today's document acknowledges the value of the rank and file strategy, but claims it is no longer a practical enterprise. The unions have simply gotten too small for it to work. Only in the public sector is union "density" high enough that it is possible to build a movement entirely within the unions.

As an alternative, the proposal is to reverse the priority of Mr. Moody's list, and to begin organizing community organizations. Then (with luck), the efforts will redound back into the union movement, leading eventually to its rejuvenation. So where Mr. Moody hailed the efforts of the Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU), today's Solidarity is more concerned with Occupy and Moral Mondays (which I've never heard of).

The collaboration with the unions should always be from the bottom up. That means the goal is to find rank & file union members who want to participate in these community struggles, rather than forming formal alliances through the leadership. Solidarity is thus friendly to what has become known as alt-Labor, though they'd probably not have it organized officially by the unions.

It won't work, of course. The plan depends on a completely mistaken view of how the economy works, and therefore how politics works. The proletariat as it existed in Marx's day, or even as it was in the last half of the 20th Century is simply not there today. We are all petty bourgeois now, and a political strategy that assumes otherwise is doomed to fail.

The chink in the armor is revealed by how Mr. Moody and Solidarity throw around the word neoliberalism. That expletive is supposed to explain everything--it's all a big plot by the evil capitalists to impoverish the working class. Solidarity describes the rap sheet concisely:
We are witnessing a sustained and historic assault on collective bargaining, the social safety net, pensions, health care, public education, indeed all of the mechanisms that protect workers from the raw discipline of capitalist labor markets. Governments at every level have joined the employer assault by implementing austerity policies that affect the broad working-class.
Mr. Moody actually brings some statistics to the argument:
Put simply this means that workers produce more value or wealth than they make in the wages and benefits that make up their standard of living. So, for example, in 1995 manufacturing companies made $5.39 of value added an hour for each $1.00 in hourly wages they paid production workers. ... 
So for each dollar capital paid to workers in the U.S., capital skimmed $2.47 in 1947, $3.23 in 1967, $3.73 in 1977, $4.64 in 1987, and $5.39 in 1995. This rip-off ratio grows in spite of the fact that hourly wages also rise. The reason the ratio rises is that productivity increases.
He cites no reference for this data, but I think he is calculating (total revenue)/($ paid to US production workers). This, of course, has almost nothing to do with profit--it's not a statistic that you'll hear about on CNBC. The reason for Mr. Moody's trend is very simple--the number of production workers has declined dramatically, and thus also the dollars paid to them. Google, for example, has no production workers, and therefore that ratio would be infinite.

Much of the decline in production workers is due to automation. Some of it is because production has been moved off-shore to China (and elsewhere). Accordingly, 400 million Chinese have been pulled out of poverty. Indeed, while (by some measures) income inequality has gone up in the US, it is sharply lower on a global scale. Neither of our articles mentions that fact.

If you believe Mr. Moody or Solidarity, you would think that everybody is substantially poorer than they were twenty years ago. But there is no evidence for that. There's been no decline in life expectancy. There's been no huge increase in hunger or homelessness. Today we have cheap cell phones, broadband Internet, and dramatically better healthcare. Food has gotten more expensive (as you would expect if you have 400 million new Chinese consumers), but restaurants have gotten much cheaper--and much better. Cars last for 15 or 20 years--no more planned obsolescence--and they're much safer.

There is just no way you can claim that we're all radically poorer than we were 20 or 40 years ago. Some people are poorer--government employees in Greece, for example--but in general the part of the world population connected to the global marketplace is richer than we've ever been.

So the premise is just all wrong. Austerity, cutbacks, recession, and this problem or that, have not had any material effect on our standard of living. No wonder there's no demand to "fight back." Fight back against what?

All the socialists have are some losers. They coalesced for a few months as the misbegotten Occupy Movement, an incoherent, drug-addled, apolitical effort that accomplished precisely nothing. And then they're all excited about the Chicago Teachers' strike. The teachers went on strike at just the right time--a few months before the 2012 election, forcing Obama's political machine to cave. It had nothing to do with organizing or struggling--it was a once-off anomaly.

The Chicago public schools have lost 17% of their enrollment since 2000. Some of that is demographic decline, but much is the trend toward charter schools. It's not the evil capitalists who are driving charter schools--it's parents from poor and minority communities who want more control over their children's education.

As Glenn Reynolds keeps saying, "sending your children to a public school is a form of child abuse." That's over the top, but the fact is that the public school system has failed. That may or may not be the union's fault, but they certainly haven't helped.

The union movement is dead. Full credit to Solidarity for recognizing that. But their effort to build an alt-Left Labor movement is doomed.

Further Reading:

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Stitched Up Snit

This post is inspired by a review in Socialist Action (by Christine Marie) of a book by Tansy Hoskins entitled Stitched Up: The Anti-Capitalist Book of Fashion. Actually, that's a book I'd like to read. But the Kindle price is almost $19! And this for a book that is only 216 pages long.

I refuse to buy it.

The hypocrisy in this case is galling. Much of Ms. Hoskin's argument is about how the fashion industry destroys the environment, along with preventing people from reaching their true aspirations. And then they overprice environmentally-friendly e-books by a factor of three? What gives?

So I'm stuck with Ms. Marie's review (along with a better article in The Guardian). Her piece includes astonishingly meaningless sentences, for example:
Individual artists can create work that inspires dreams of a different kind of society, while, at the same time, the art system that abides that rebellion actually hides capitalism’s inherently destructive mode of functioning and its vulnerability to overthrow by the majority.
Liberation from our own alienation, retail therapy, credit card debt, and body image issues, Hoskins explains, can only be won collectively and in solidarity with garment workers acting in their interest worldwide.
 Judged from Ms. Marie's review, Ms. Hoskins' book makes the following claims.

The industry exploits workers.

This is certainly not true, at least not in China. Per capita GDP in China has increased by a factor of 14 since 1980. That means the average person in China is 14 times richer than they were 35 years ago. Never have so many people been pulled out of poverty ever before in human history--surely one of the greatest accomplishments of the human race. Even if it doesn't stick, i.e., if China goes into a prolonged depression, a decline of 50% (very unlikely short of war) still leaves them seven-fold better off than they were in 1980.

Similar statistics exist for Vietnam, India, and even Bangladesh--modest only by comparison to China.

Fashion is bad for the environment.

Ms. Marie points to the example of the Aral Sea, an inland sea destroyed by cotton farming in the--get this--Soviet Union. How that example discredits capitalism is not clear. But the larger point has at least a grain of truth, for there is no doubt that China, in particular, has serious environmental problems. Their environmental bureaucracy dates from Maoist times--again not much of a rap against capitalism.

The solution to environmental problems is to make people richer. Then they will have enough money to make the necessary capital investment in infrastructure to preserve the environment. Forcing textile workers to return to a life of subsistence farming--which is ultimately what Ms. Marie proposes--is not much of an alternative.

The consumer is a victim of "false need."

Leave it to socialists to determine what your needs are. You think you need new underwear? Well, forget it--you'll never get permission from the Underwear Needs Department. You can apply again in six months. 

Who the hell do these people think they are? Do they really think they have the right to disapprove of your wardrobe because they think you don't "need" it?

I've often wondered what happens to Dunkin Donuts after the revolution. Nobody needs a donut, so maybe they'd just close them all down. Or maybe all we need are plain donuts--none of the bourgeois, cop-attracting sprinkles. The only way I'll ever support socialism is if they appoint me as Commissar for Donuts for life.

Fashion designers are evil scoundrels.

Fashion designers are into waste, deception, exploitation, and profit. That's it. That consumers get cheap prices? Forget it--not important. That consumers enjoy having new things? Stupid consumers--they're consumed with false needs. That workers are able to earn a living? Nah! If only they realized how exploited they were, they'd be first in line to get back behind that old water buffalo. That there's a very sophisticated, home-grown dye and textile manufacturing industry in India? That's just awful. All of that should be regulated by Christine Marie--she absolutely knows what's best for Indian workers.

Socialism is for poverty. It will deprive you of your livelihood. It will deprive you of your ability to buy things you want. It will deprive you of your humanity. The only beneficiaries are the wannabe dictators like Christine Marie.

Further Reading:

Friday, August 1, 2014

Subway Values

Referring to break-dancing teenagers, sermonizing preachers, and homeless beggars, Louis Proyect writes
There’s probably nobody more opposed to being a captive audience on the subways than me. I have been riding NYC subways since they cost 15 cents a ride. When they were this cheap, they lacked air conditioning and were as noisy as hell, but you could at least be assured that you would never be forced to watch a musical performance, begged for spare change, or listen to a sermon.
And then follows a several thousand word essay about how efforts to stop this behavior is unjustified. Specifically, he is against the broken window theory or the tactics of the street crimes unit. Those efforts, initiated by past and present police commissioner William Bratton, ruthlessly pursue petty crime (e.g., break dancing on the subway) because it deters more serious crime. These efforts have evolved into the much maligned stop & frisk policy. Mayor DeBlasio campaigned on ending that, but has so far reneged on that promise.

Mr. Proyect opposes any variant of stop & frisk for three reasons:

  • It targets Blacks and Latinos, and therefore is racist.
  • Beyond this, the police are racist and target Blacks and Latinos just because they enjoy it. There are numerous incidents where people have been killed, most recently the imbecilic gentle giant, Eric Garner, who died in a choke-hold for illegally selling cigarettes.
  • Because of the decline in manufacturing jobs, there are no opportunities for young vagabonds other than to be beggars, hustlers and thieves.
For all that, Mr. Proyect doesn't claim that stop & frisk fails. It does work. The subway is a much more civilized experience now than it was 20 years ago. Today most subway fellow passengers are like Mr. Proyect or me--they are possessed of bourgeois values.

That is not a racial statement. I don't ride the subway as much as Mr. Proyect (maybe once a month or so). Most of my subway riding begins and ends in Queens, specifically Jackson Heights and Long Island City. I am frequently the only Caucasian male in the car--my companions are Chinese, Filipino, Colombian, Dominican, South Asian, and God knows who else. They speak different languages, eat different food, and sometimes smell funny. But they are all civilized people, and none of them are routinely rousted by the cops.

So what are the bourgeois values that make for a good subway rider? It's actually a simple concept--a person with bourgeois values has a positive net worth. That means they save and invest at least a small fraction of their income. People who invest in their children have bourgeois values. People who don't run up huge credit card debts have bourgeois values. People who take care of their apartment have bourgeois values.

I don't know where Mr. Proyect lives, but for the sake of illustration let's suppose he lives in a rent-controlled apartment. Now I'm against rent control as much as the next Republican, but that's not the issue. Our assumption is that Mr. Proyect plays by the rules as they exist, has lived in his apartment for a long time, and accordingly pays rent substantially below the market rate.

I will argue that he has an equity stake in his apartment. It's not the same as if he actually owned it as a condo, but the fact that the landlord can neither evict him nor substantially raise the rent is worth money. It's likely worth as much as my tenured professorship. Mr. Proyect (in our imagination) has acquired that stake by being diligent about paying his rent and following all the rules.

Predictably, he behaves in a way that preserves his investment. For example, I doubt he would pee in the elevator. Nor would he spray graffiti over the mailboxes in the foyer. He expects his fellow tenants to behave similarly--if they didn't the value of his investment would decline dramatically. Mr. Proyect, because he has positive net worth, is possessed of bourgeois values. I'll posit that the most anti-social thing he ever did on the subway was to turn on his laptop.

Yet in the housing projects (at least by reputation--I've never been there myself) some residents do pee in the elevator, and spray the whole place with graffiti. Unlike Mr. Proyect or my fellow subway riders, these people do not have bourgeois values. They have no equity stake, and hence no positive net worth. If you are willing to piss in your own bed, then how respectful will you be of public conveyances, e.g., the subway?

It is not a racial thing. I spent a year living in Kampala, and my Ugandan neighbors most definitely exhibited bourgeois values. Cleanliness was a national pastime. On the other hand, plenty of Whites can't cut it--see this article about Owsley County, KY. But New York is the richest city in the world precisely because the vast majority of its residents are civilized.

Some years back I attended a conference in D.C., and stayed in a hotel in Alexandria. My daily commute took me past a small park surrounded by many apartment buildings. It was the neighborhood park for thousands of people. But the residents were completely deprived of its use by the few dozen homeless men who used the place as their campground. The community's sympathy for the homeless had gotten the better of them, and hence they no longer had a community park.

So it is with Mr. Proyect and his vagabonds. He feels sorry for them, and thus is willing to overlook their brigandage. Perhaps he's right to feel sorry, but depriving the millions of civilized citizens the proper use of the subway they pay for is not the solution. So I'm down with the cops--it is their job to let civilized people (the vast majority of New Yorkers) live in a civilized world. The vagabonds need to be rousted out. Thank goodness Mr. DeBlasio understands that.

Unfortunately, the uncivilized minority are disproportionately Black and Latino. Now that's just a fact. It's an unhappy fact, and it clearly inspires racism, but stating facts is not in and of itself racist. One can argue why this is true, but it is true.

So--to quote the musical--are "they depraved because they're deprived"? Mr. Proyect thinks so--it's the lack of manufacturing jobs that's led to the decline of bourgeois values. Never mind that my co-riders from Queens remain civilized despite the same lack. Why can't the vagabonds be held to the same standard?

Still, while I'll let the cops (mostly) off the hook, there is much to blame on city government. They prohibit lots of honest professions that hurt nobody. Why, for example, are poor people not allowed to use their own cars as cabs? (The only reason is to protect the medallion owners.) Why is it illegal to sell food on the street without a license from the utterly obnoxious and useless Department of Health? (The only reason is to protect incumbent restaurateurs.) Why is it illegal to braid hair without a beautician's license? (So to protect the cartel.) Why is it illegal to open a daycare center without a special permit? (Because the teachers' unions want ALL the money.) For that matter, why is it illegal to sell individual cigarettes on the street? (Because crooked politicians want tax dollars from poor people.)

So there is no doubt that New York's government destroys economic opportunity and deprives poor people of a chance to earn an honest living. Economic liberty (which New York sorely lacks) makes people richer.

But I don't think poverty causes people to be uncivilized. Were that true, my Kampala neighbors would be the most uncivilized of all, as they were clearly not. People with bourgeois values retain that mindset in even the most desperate circumstances.

Mr. Proyect's vagabonds may deserve our sympathy. But they don't deserve the subway.

Further Reading:

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Trotskyists and Gaza

It is, of course, possible to be anti-Zionist without being antisemitic. Possible--but at least on the Left it is increasingly unlikely.

And so we come to the odd case of two Trotskyist grouplets. One tries very hard to be anti-Zionist without being antisemitic, while the other has just thrown in the towel. They're down with Hamas.

The first group is the Socialist Workers Party (SWP). There's no disputing their anti-Israel credentials. When I was a member they supported the PLO, they referred to Israel as a "colonial-settler" state, and their proposed solution was a "socialist, democratic, secular state in Palestine."

That last phrase is often a fig-leaf to hide a more genuine antisemitism, and in my day we comrades were accused of just that. But I think we were honest then, and I have no doubt that the SWP is honest today. Anti-Israel they may well be, but they are certainly not antisemitic.

So what is this "socialist, democratic, secular Palestine?" It's a non-religious state where Jews and Palestinians live peacefully side by side. That happy outcome is only possible in a socialist society--one where the lion really will lie down with the lamb. To anybody outside the Trotskyist movement that seems impossibly utopian, which leads to others confusing it with antisemitism.

Nobody ever accused Trotskyists of being practical. In truth, the SWP (then and now) really did believe in this happy vision. They saw the existence of the State of Israel as standing in the way of its implementation. They also--less creditably--downplayed examples of Palestinian antisemitism, asserting that only a very small minority wanted to "drive the Jews into the sea," or some such. We looked at Palestinians through rose-colored glasses.

But with Hamas it is impossible to ignore outright antisemitism among the Palestinian leadership. Hamas' very raison d'etre is antisemitism--not any longer content with simply driving them into the sea, Hamas wants to kill the Jews.

And here's the surprising bottom line: As pro-Palestinian as the SWP was and is, they are resolutely against Hamas. Perhaps they'd even use the f-word--the one I'd use in private company. They accurately lump Hamas in with various Jihadi movements that they identify as both bourgeois and reactionary. They do not regard Hamas as a legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.

This is evident from many articles over many years. But I'll cite only the one by Emma Johnson in the most recent issue of The Militant. In a remarkably even-handed account, she describes
  • The murder of three Jewish teenagers, along with the subsequent arrest of hundreds of Palestinian suspects;
  • The "lynching" of a Palestinian teenager, along with the arrest of three, Israeli-Jewish suspects;
  • The fact that Hamas has fired "dozens" of rockets into Israel, killing three civilians: "Ouda Lafi al-Waj, a Bedouin Arab who lived in the Negev; a Thai migrant farmworker in Ashkelon; and Dror Chanin, an Israeli Jew."
  • That Hamas has been using Palestinian civilians as human shields.
Much of the article is about how the Hamas-inspired war has damaged the legitimate political efforts of Palestinians, both in Israel and in the West Bank, to organize for a better world.
The military conflict has stoked tension between Jewish and Arab workers in Israel. 
“In factories with both Jewish and Palestinian workers, arguments and divisions exacerbate along nationalistic lines,” Shay Cohen, organization secretary of Koach La Ovdim (Democratic Workers’ Organization), said by phone from Haifa July 21. “Some of the feeling of solidarity has been eroded. The large majority of the Jewish population is behind the campaign. Among the Palestinians here there are those who protest and there are those who keep their heads low in face of the nationalistic campaigns.”
A sidebar photo caption highlights a pro-Palestinian demonstration in New York. The Militant quotes one of the participants, who hardly sounds like a Hamas supporter.
“Israel has its own country,” said Tahira Lakhani, 27, who was born in Pakistan. “Palestinians should have their own country. It should be like India and Pakistan. They don’t always get along but they don’t fight like this.”
So the SWP remains resolutely anti-Zionist, but its consistent opposition to Hamas sets it dramatically apart from other Trotskyist grouplets and the rest of the Left. Uniquely, the SWP is not antisemitic, and for this they deserve great credit and respect.

Not so Socialist Action, where an article by Michael Schreiber is as pro-Hamas as one can possibly get. Inadvertently proving that Hamas holds civilians as human shields, he writes
Airstrikes at the start of the land invasion killed at least four Palestinian children playing on a rooftop, while several nurses were injured when Israeli tanks barraged the al-Wafa rehabilitation hospital. The hospital had also been hit by airstrikes a week earlier, destroying the holding tanks that supply water to patients.
What parents in their right minds would send their children to play up on a rooftop in the middle of an Israeli air raid? Actually, I doubt those kids were playing--more likely they were cowering in fear.

Nowhere in the article is a reason given for the Israeli invasion (the rocket attacks are mentioned only in passing, as an unimportant event). We read only that the Israelis have been ruthlessly murdering civilians left and right. The Jews have advanced weapons, state-of-the-art fighter aircraft, and a blank check from Uncle Sam. For all that, per Schreiber's article, the evil Zionists hadn't managed to kill more than 750 Palestinians--out of a population of two million.

Why? Why would Jews purposely target civilians in Gaza, bomb for over a week, and then only get 750 of them? Israel has hundreds of nuclear weapons--surely if they wanted some final solution to the Gaza problem they could eliminate the population within a couple of hours (if that long). Or failing that, they could drive the entire population across the border into Egypt within a day or two.

Even just using guys with machine guns they could've iced some tens of thousands by now. But 750? That's pretty pathetic as far as mass murder is concerned. It's not even high for wartime casualties. And still--the question is Why?

Mr. Schreiber never answers that question, so all we can do is infer. The inference is that Jews are sadistic bastards who love killing Arabs for fun--in between sucking the blood of dead babies. That, of course, is the Hamas line, and there is nothing in Mr. Schreiber's article that leads me to believe he disagrees.

Unless you're an anti-Semite, the only believable reason Israel has invaded Gaza is because of military necessity. The only reason there are so few civilian casualties in Gaza is that Israel (for obvious political and humanitarian reasons) is working hard to minimize them. And more--the only reason there are so many civilian casualties is that Hamas is sending their own children up on rooftops to die for their sorry, misbegotten cause.

The Militant understands that and reports that accurately, however reluctantly. Kudos to The MilitantSocialist Action probably also understands that, but they've bought in to the antisemitic groupthink that now pervades the Left.

That's really, really sad.

Further Reading:

Monday, July 21, 2014

The 47th SWP Convention

The Socialist Workers Party held its 47th Constitutional Convention in Oberlin, Ohio, in late June. It must have been a pretty tedious affair. The convention was preceded by an Active Workers Conference--a combination summer school and pep rally. Both events stretched out to a week.

My recollection is that conventions must occur every two years, but the 46th Convention happened in 2010--four years ago. So there's some extra-constitutional hanky-panky going on, though probably innocent enough. I think it results from there being very little for the Party to talk about.

Doug Nelson's article hits the four highlights of Party activity for the coming year:
  • Expand readership of the socialist press (aka The Militant).
  • "[F]ree the Cuban Five and defend Cuba's socialist revolution."
  • "[G]ive more leadership attention to organizing party members to work together in industrial workplaces."
  • Recruit new members.
This is an extraordinarily modest agenda--much less ambitious than what they proposed in 2010. It certainly does not rise to the dramatic changes in American politics proclaimed by Jack Barnes: “Like coming out of a long tunnel, the decades-long political retreat of the working class is more and more behind us."

This year's event attracted 320 participants, compared to 350 in 2010. So the Party is shrinking slightly. On the plus side they recruited three new members, whose names they proudly report: Sydney Coe, Jose Acosta, and Lara Canales. The latter two hail from Edinburg, TX, and will move to Houston to join the branch there. New recruits usually don't last long in the Party--most of them are gone within a couple of years.

If comrades' median age is 60, then their median life expectancy is about 25 years. That means they'll lose 4% of their membership every year due to natural attrition. Thus they need to recruit five to ten people annually just to break even, something they are not doing as the decline in convention attendance indicates.

So it's clear they need to recruit new members. What about the other items?
The party’s regular sales of the Militant and books on workers’ doorsteps over the recent period has been, and will continue to be, the bedrock of this perspective. “We have built a large periphery of readers,” said Barnes, “but we have only started to focus on getting to know them,” to have the discussions that will lead us to more workers, more fights and other activity we can join with them.
Simply astonishing! The Party has a long history of renewal campaigns, forums, and get-togethers aimed a Militant readers. It's not as though comrades haven't tried to reach their audience--Mr. Barnes simply insults his audience.

Such efforts have failed. The reason for that failure is the Party is stuck in an early 20th Century communications medium--a print newspaper on a rigid, weekly publication schedule. They need to employ social media. Even the grandma crowd is avid users of Facebook, not to mention anybody under the age of 50. The Party's risible efforts to engage readers with their current tools are laughable.

I don't understand the fascination for the Cuban Five. These are five Cubans convicted of espionage in 2001 and sentenced to long prison terms. I have not followed this case at all because I think it is unimportant. All appeals have been exhausted and no judicial proceedings remain. There is no defense case anymore. Indeed, one of the five was released on parole and repatriated to Cuba.

Nevertheless, the Party is on an extended campaign to--do what exactly? For the last year or so they've been touting the prison paintings of Antonio Guerrero, though not for any aesthetic value. Instead, according to Mary-Alice Waters,
...still ahead of us is organizing the kind of events that really tap into the opportunities to win support for this campaign among working people — to take this fight deeper into the working class where a “jury of millions” can be built. That’s where we find those who are attracted to the Five as revolutionary fighters, not suffering victims.
It's not clear to me how these guys are "revolutionary heroes." All they did was go to jail. A 13 year-old case around people of at best ambiguous moral or political credentials is a loser. I don't think the Party has won any traction with this.

Their support for Cuba seems misplaced. Unmentioned is the fact that Cuba is supporting Russia rather than the Ukrainian government. Fidel even remarked that he thought the Ukrainian government had shot down the Malaysian airliner. Both of these positions are at odds with The Militant's. And nowhere is "Venezuela" mentioned--odd since it is the major financier of Cuba's much touted internationalism.

Finally, they greatly exaggerate the turmoil within the American working class. The lede paragraph of Mr. Nelson's article illustrates.
The worldwide slowdown of capitalist production and trade over the last half decade has spurred the propertied rulers to intensify their offensive to whittle away at the living standards, job conditions, rights and expectations of working people. This is generating stirrings of labor resistance and a widening and sustained receptivity to communist politics not seen in decades, creating greater openings and responsibilities for proletarian parties.
Elsewhere, they contradict this: "No electable politicians are calling for a frontal assault on Social Security, Medicare, or other social benefits, or even dismantling the Affordable Care Act."

The Party's pessimism about the global economy is overstated. Yes--governments the world over are in debt. But as Tyler Cowen points out, this is a political problem rather than an economic one. The economy is actually doing pretty good: stock prices are at new highs because of corporate earnings, housing prices are rising slightly, and technology promises to dramatically improve our standard of living.

On the other hand, the industrial working class as it existed in the first half of the 20th Century simply doesn't exist anymore. The Party's tactic of selling Militants in front of plant gates is doomed to failure. Outside the public sector the union movement is not just dying, but arguably is dead and gone--witness the most recent AFL-CIO convention.

So there is no evidence of any stirrings of labor resistance, Mr. Nelson's long list of anecdotes notwithstanding. We're all petty bourgeois now--everybody is an entrepreneur. The Marxist template which The Militant wants to impose on reality simply does not fit.

The Socialist Workers Party is doomed. In twenty five years it won't exist.

Further Reading:

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Sisters & Slackers

The Weekly Standard is one of the two publications for which I still receive a print copy via snail mail. Two articles about sexual harassment caught my attention--one by Charlotte Allen, and the other by Harvey Mansfield. The first referenced a blog post by a wronged woman named anonymous, while the second is commentary on the sorry state of romantic relationships on campus.

Anonymous, a graduate student in philosophy (and I think also African-American) fell head over heels in love with a much older, Ivy League professor--the world leader in the philosophy of global justice. (Per Ms. Allen's suggestion, you can google ivy league global justice to learn his likely identity.) This gentleman won our lady's favor by intelligence, good looks, charm, money, and deceit. Even she admits that she should have known better. And despite threats to sue, she really has no legal recourse--she was neither a student nor employee of his, but rather just a member of an audience at a talk he gave.

What a hypocritical cad! That's the opinion of right-minded commentators on both the Left and the Right. What a lucky guy! That's the private opinion of some bloggers who write under a pseudonym.

My Leftist friends want to make the gentleman's actions illegal, though they don't know how to do that. For them it is all part of the rape culture that infests our elite colleges. After all, the male faculty at such places are almost by definition intelligent, charming, and moneyed. Most have passable looks, and a few are psychopathic enough to lie without guilt. Aren't women equally endowed with such talents? And shouldn't they be similarly rewarded?

With the exception of psychopathy (a mostly male, inherited trait), many women do have those skills--certainly those who work at Ivy League colleges do. But what good does it do them? After all, mere seduction is not a woman's hardest endeavor--it is instead convincing the seduced to commit. That's a much harder problem than a bouquet of roses, a nice dinner, and a few hours of conversation can solve. Psychopathy won't get you very far.

Leftists, now in the guise of feminists, want a society where men simply refrain from using their nature-given talents. They should voluntarily stop hitting on women--that's what they mean by ending the rape culture. A man should court only when he's ready to commit, and not a moment before. In the feminist's world, first comes the marriage proposal, and only then the courtship. That's sort of what happens in romance novels.

Of course that will rarely happen in real life. Attempts to end the rape culture will probably have no lasting impact whatsoever. At most, they will simply be another nail in the coffin of the higher education complex. Facts are very stubborn things, and feminists run headlong into the fact that men and women want very different things from their relationships.

But my Rightist friends--now in the person of Mr. Mansfield--are hardly any better. While the feminists blame men for all their problems, Mr. Mansfield blames feminism. However irritating it may be, I think feminism is a flea bite on a gnat--it is completely inconsequential. Or more precisely, it is a symptom of larger social change, rather than a cause. Changing feminism, or even abolishing it completely, won't solve a thing.

Mr. Mansfield argues that college women were better off in the status quo ante--the world of chaperones and curfews. Those institutions protected women from psychopaths, and hence actually gave them more freedom rather than less. But anonymous is a grad student, and it's hard to see how she could still be chaperoned into her late twenties and early thirties. So I think Mr. Mansfield overstates his case. On the other hand, I'm oversimplifying his argument--read the whole thing.

The causes of the problem (if problem it be) are 1) birth control and 2) technology. Birth control gives women the power to choose when they have babies, or even to choose not to have babies. Nothing wrong with that per se. The issue arises when most women reduce their fertility to two or lower, and many women choose not to have children at all. Indeed, many are even proud of their low fertility--witness Amanda Marcotte's pitiable essay here.

The result is that the educated sorts, people like Ms. Marcotte and anonymous, are not having children. Conversely, the people who are having children tend to be members of religious communities--Mormons, Orthodox Jews, Amish, Duck Dynasty types, etc., all folks who don't use birth control. People with children determine the future.

Thus is evolution happening in real time. The question confronting our species is How do we successfully reproduce in an environment that contains birth control? The answer appears to include membership in a religious group. Accordingly (if present trends continue) feminism looks to be literally dying out, and in two or three generations will be confined to Boston, Berkeley, and Madison, WI.

The second change is that technology has rendered male jobs disproportionately obsolete. Upper body strength is no longer a requirement for employment. Neither are the supposedly male traits of math or spatial abilities--long since supplanted by computers and GPS. The fact is, women can do many or even most jobs better than men can.

And so we're generating the new leisure class--slackers. These are men--typically without especial intelligence, good looks, or psychopathy--who have chosen to cash out of the economy and live off their women folk. Needless to say, they don't make good husbands, and women don't want to marry them.

So the Sisters (feminists) go to college--they make up over 55% of all students these days. At my college (a liberal arts, public school) the ratio is 62% female. And the slackers stay home, play video games, and watch porn. Women are all forced to compete for an ever shrinking number of eligible bachelors--a competition that is becoming ever more brutal and cut-throat.

No wonder anonymous throws herself at the Handsome Dude on the flimsiest pretext. She's all too willing to believe his lies--what other options does she have? She has two that I can think of: spinsterhood or prostitution. Anonymous doesn't need the protection that Mr. Mansfield recommends. What she needs are viable careers for men that enable them to be good husbands.

What about philosophy grad students, you say?--most of whom are male? Aren't they marriageable? A male graduate student is just another name for a slacker, albeit one who doesn't want to concede the obvious. His job prospects are approximately zero.

The female grad student, at least, can advance by spreading her legs. Though as anonymous discovered, that's not always successful.

Further Reading: