Apostasy in Singapore, Reza Aslan’s Moderate South East Asia, and Sally Kohn’s Laughable Tweet (A Conversation)
Can you tell me about you and your organization?
I’m Riz Rashid, 32, from Singapore. I was a Muslim then I apostatized at 16.
I contribute to Council of Ex -Muslims of Singapore, where we try to reach out to people who have apostatized or are on the fence. If they need moral support and contact with other people. There is a big taboo of apostasy here even though we consider ourselves a secular country because religion is very ingrained into the society.
I know that people make a big deal of Apostasy in Islam but how is it in Singapore as opposed to a more theocratic state?
I’m sure you know the penalty for apostasy in the Arabic nations — it’s death. You get killed. In southeast Asia we like to say we don’t kill people — we kill them legally (laughter).
If you are born a Muslim in Singapore then you are put into the Muslim registry. We have a system called the Faraid which is about inheritance law. If your name is not in Faraid (which happens when you legally apostatize) then you can’t do anything if a Muslim relative contests the will. Since you’re not in the registry you don’t exist, you’re a persona non grata.
So if I’m a Muslim then the first avenue, if there is an issue I need to settle in court, is to go through is a Shariah court?
For inheritance and marriage it is Shariah first. For other laws, normally it’s civil law unless one of the Muslims in the dispute opt for Shariah. Let’s take my example — I am already legally non-existent in the Faraid database because I removed myself. So if my parents Will gets contested by my siblings or my relatives, they can take every single penny away from me without my contest because I technically don’t exist in the database.
And if I want to get a divorce and I’m a woman?
I guess women can get a divorce, but it’s pretty hard because a man has to first agree to it. He has to say, “talak talak talak” in front of a Shariah judge.
Marriage, by the way, is not done through a civil court. It’s done through the Muslim marriage registry. So Muslims get a separate registry called the Registry of Muslim Marriages. Imagine then if a Muslim couple doesn’t want to believe anymore and decides to nullify their Muslim status, then their marriage also gets nullified and they have to go through another process to be registered as a married couple under the Registry of Marriages.
Then there isn’t necessarily a separation of theocratic influence from governance? You couldn’t call Singapore a secular government?
Yeah. It’s not — even our Prime Minister has gone on record to say that, “Of course we think religion is a good thing, without religion we’d have other problems like the communists found out.” It’s funny because a lot of people here decry Donald Trumps Muslim registry, but they are themselves part of a registry in Singapore.
Moving towards Blasphemy Laws — you can’t insult religions in Singapore?
Our blasphemy laws are things like you can’t make fun of religion. You can’t satirize religion. You can’t do anything that a religious person will find offensive. Like a certain “kid” here facing legal troubles for his making fun or religion….
For making certain videos….
I can’t really talk about it on the record because they recently passed a law. Basically, you have to be really mindful when you’re talking about religion. You have to criticize it in a way that is nonoffensive — and that’s really hard to do because offense is never given, it’s taken.
Correct. You might say something and 90 percent of people will see as it rational but 10 percent might get offended by it — and then you’re in trouble?
Exactly. If I say to a Muslim, “in Islam, apostasy means death.” Then they might say, “well that’s offensive, you’re taking the Quran out of context.” I’m not taking it out of context! It’s right there you can read it yourself! Quran 4:89.
Many people cite places like Indonesia, Malaysia as being Moderate countries with separation of religiously inspired laws from actual secular governance , probably due to that viral video with Reza Aslan on CNN. Is this true? Can you give me some more insight?
This is utter nonsense. Many people think he’s really got expertise in Islam and he always says he does, but really he doesn’t. If you live in South East Asia like I do, you will notice a lot of religious overtones in this area.
In Kelantan, Malaysia, they’re thinking about passing Hudud laws. Things like if you get caught for theft you can get your hand chopped off. If you’re caught for adultery, you can be whipped in public. Because we don’t stone people here — we’re more civilized in that sense.
And one Imam from Pahang has said anyone that criticizes our decision to pass Hudud laws can be killed by a Muslim because it’s them blaspheming against Islam. And that’s not what a moderate Islamic country would do, right?
Also in places in Indonesia: in Aceh, a 60-year-old Christian was whipped in public for selling alcohol. Also, they shut down the eatery of an illiterate woman who was serving food during Ramadan. Unmarried couples can be caned for being too affectionate towards each other. So you want to say these countries are moderate? Yeah right.
Another thing that Aslan is wrong about is when he says FGM is a Central African problem. People are sending their children from England to Singapore to get their daughter’s clitoris cut off. They call clinics in Singapore and the doctors here say it is ok so they send them over for the procedure.
Brunei has gone full Shariah. Brunei is a special case because the King of Brunei is a man-whore who buys foreign sex workers and his son might be gay. And he puts Shariah on his entire kingdom and the minorities in his kingdom cannot hold their traditional festivals publicly — they have to do it in private.
So if I was a Christian there I could not celebrate Christmas, sing carols etc.? If I was a Hindu I couldn’t celebrate Ganpati, Diwali?
You can’t even celebrate Chinese New Year which has nothing to do with religion! While he’s out slutting himself to lots of foreign women and his son is having gay relations, I mean it’s cool he is gay — but he puts these restrictive laws on his people which would never allow them to do the same. And the majority of his people actually endorse it. I don’t know what’s wrong with these people Maybe they’re having Stockholm syndrome.
Circling back to that question, it’s would be a mistake to assume these places are relatively moderate?
Yes. If it’s not already under Shariah, there’s quite a vocal amount who want it. The mindset of the Muslim community is becoming more and more fundamentalist and slowly it’s influencing government. I wouldn’t say this is moderate by any means.
One of the best things in the past five years is how easily it’s been for people who feel ostracized by their communities to connect with like-minded people over the internet. What is your experience dealing with “liberals” on the internet?
Depends on what they are. If they are classical liberals like myself who actually value individual liberties over group identity then it’s no problem. But recently there is a rise in identity politics which has made it difficult for people who call themselves liberals to understand what they are fighting for.
They talk about Muslims as if Muslims are one homogenous group — and Muslims reformists are trying to get away from that mentality. They’re trying to promote being able to practice Islam in their own ways. Promoting being able to apostatize and even criticize Islam.
But as you know, a lot of these liberals think any criticism of Islam is Islamophobia.
Yes. Straight away you’re told —
I’ve been called Islamophobic more than once. I’ve been told, “you just wanna be a white person on the inside.” And I say, “Well, maybe I’m transracial. Maybe I’m white on the inside? Are you going to criticize me for that? Race is a social construct. I’m race fluid.” (Laughter) Sometimes you just have run along with their logic to make them realize how ridiculous they are.
Ok. To finish, Sally Kohn who is an openly Lesbian commentator on CNN recently tweeted:
She later double downed on her position with a CNN Op-Ed article. What are your thoughts on that?
(Laughter) Excuse me while I try to gather myself from the absurdity of that statement. I don’t know what kind of “progressive” Muslims she’s been talking to but the “progressive” and “liberal” Muslims that I know are against having Shariah instated where they live. They don’t want anything to do with Shariah because they know it’s a man made concept. It’s easily bastardized by people who are in power. Where she’s getting these ideas is mindblowing. She should talk to Maajid Nawaaz, Irshad Manji, Raheel Raza or Asra Nomani.
Where do you think this mindset comes from? She must obviously be worried about groups being “oppressed” or bigotry towards Muslims — which is fair enough.
I can’t say what the status of Muslims is in the west. But where I am they are definitely not oppressed. In Singapore where they are the minority, so much leeway has been made for them. We have so many eateries which turn into Halal outlets — which I’m against because it’s just animal cruelty. Basically, there have been so many concessions in the name of Islam that it’s giving Ex-Muslims a tough time trying to get out — because there are so many obstacles for them to abide by and customs they have to follow as to not arise suspicion.
For example with Hijab in uniformed professions in Canada. You can have an Ex-Muslim who hasn’t come out to her family and she’s in a profession where she now can wear a Hijab if she is a Muslim.
All her colleagues are wearing a Hijab. What’s more is they are going to hijab shame her if she doesn’t wear one — for sure. Muslim communities are so tight knit and the word’s going to get out to her parents or relatives. She is, in turn, forced wear something she doesn’t want to.
That’s an interesting approach you’re talking about. Because this conversation in the past few weeks has revolved around “Is she forced to wear her covering, or is it her own choice.” But there’s also the social connotations to think about — being in a group that is pretty much “soft” slut shaming you for not conforming?
Yes. When Muslims talk about modesty culture that’s pretty much what they’re talking about. It’s the idea that if you cover up you’re morally superior to someone that doesn’t cover up. That to me is slut shaming. In the west, it would be called slut shaming. You look at a woman who is dressed “provocatively” and you call her a slut, to a Muslim mindset, provocative just means showing your hair.
But when a Muslim does it it’s not slut shaming? It’s essentially the same thing.
Different people get different standards…
Correct. It’s the bigotry of lowered expectations. Saying one group of people get’s to behave differently and pretty much “slut shame” — which would be considered a terrible thing to do if any other group was doing it.
Edited for clarity.
The Council of Ex-Muslims of Singapore reaches out to apostates in the country to provide moral and communal support by introducing them to other Ex-Muslims, informing them of their legal rights through the process of apostatizing in Singapore, and offering those who are on the fence about apostatizing a new perspective.
Riz Rashid’s personal “jihad” is to demolish the taboo of apostasy.
You can follow Riz on Twitter: @RizzyKhaos
Follow me on Twitter: @malharmali
On Islam, Christianity, Speaking Out, Mexicans, and Freedom of Speech (A Conversation)
Malhar Mali, Interviewer: In the wake of recent attacks in Europe, what would you say to progressives who take the position, “What we’re experiencing now is the result of everything bad we’ve done in the region — it’s retaliation,” as opposed to balancing out the blame on religious doctrine?
Lucas Lynch: I would say if you replace the word Islam with Christianity, and you don’t react the same way — you’re doing it wrong. I share the goal that it’s important that we make the distinction between Islam, which is a set of ideas, and Muslims, who are people that follow those ideas to varying degrees.
Obviously the vast majority of Muslims are peaceful, but that doesn’t mean that we can just deny that there is a problem within Islam today. Just look at the data from Muslim majority countries today, the average treatment of women, the average treatment of homosexuals, and ask yourself, “If these states were ruled by Christianity, would you find this acceptable?”
If you are a liberal answering honestly, of course you wouldn’t accept it. You have to ask yourself whether or not the way we have been reflexively programmed by modern political correctness to defend Islam — its ideas — at all costs is really serving the people you claim to care about.
Mali: Would it be fair to say that in America or the Western World, because those who follow Islam are considered to be the minority, that progressives feel they have to defend them?
Lynch: Yes, and naturally the ideology that informs this reflex comes from the best of intentions. It’s obvious why this reflex came into being — the kind of racism and sexism that was tolerated even just thirty years ago is jaw-droppingly awful compared to today. Modern identity politics and political correctness came into being when racism was a much bigger problem than it is now, and being a non-white, non-christian person was to be largely excluded from the best fruits of American and Western life.
Of course we cannot and should not give into the temptation to say that just because conditions are better in this regard that the problems have gone away. There are still burning problems that need redress — the question we need to ask is whether or the old moral algorithm we created is still serving the people we care about. I think it’s undeniable that we are beginning to realize that in in many cases, not only does it not serve these people, it is in fact making their problems worse.
Mainstream liberals don’t want to admit there is a problem at all — they want to silence anybody who points out these issues, and they now have the power of the internet and its ability to easily conjure mob enforcement to do so. And the longer they continue in this mode, the more they silence the ability to speak honestly, the more that people will feel that they have nowhere left to go but into the arms of the hard right.
Mali: Yeah, if someone is voicing out your concerns — and maybe not in the appropriate form of rhetoric, but at least the sentiment is the same, I can see how people can stand behind it.
Lynch: Right. And we have no problem with admitting the problems of Christianity.
Mali: Some of my secular friends, they love it. They froth at the mouth if the conversation comes to Christianity. If you change the subject to Islam, suddenly their hands go up in the air and their tone either gets uneasy or highly defensive.
Lynch: Why is this so taboo to talk about? Yes, absolutely we have done terrible things in the Middle-East. There’s no doubt. We continue to do bad things there. We should be aware of it, and we should make penance for it. But when you are self-flagellating to the point of ignoring the objective truth of what’s happening there, you’re making it about yourself — you’re not making it about the people you supposedly care about.
You’re in favor of gay rights? Well, try being gay in Iran or Saudi Arabia. Why are you ignoring the struggles of gay people in those countries? If you’re a straight person in the west, it’s already difficult to understand the pressures that LGBTQ people feel in our own countries — now just imagine the struggles LGBTQ people feel in countries where not only does society look down on being gay, but will actually use the power of the state to kill you for it.
In all fairness, this is not unique to the Middle-East. Our attitudes towards homosexuality were virtually identical until fairly recently in our history. But they’re not anymore, and that’s a tremendous accomplishment. So, to indulge in this cult of self-flagellation without looking at the objective accomplishments we’ve made, it is nothing but the most narcissistic virtue signaling. This taboo — wherein multiculturalism must always take precedence over concern for universal human rights — has to be broken.
I’m hoping that people on the left will wake up to this and break this taboo before Donald Trump does it for us — because that is the scary scenario.
Mali: Getting more philosophical, what motivates you to lend your voice to this discussion? I’m sure for every one of you, there are a thousand others who feel similarly, that there are issues we need to tackle head on, but just decide to let it go for fear of being ostracized.
Lynch: I think there are more people out there who agree with us than will admit it publicly, and they are just starting to wake up. When I talk to friends of mine in private, many admit that this problem of the left exists, but won’t say anything for fear of the social repercussions. The conversation is difficult, but it’s way past the time for silence. Trump, Brexit, and the normalization of racist rhetoric we thought unthinkable just 5 years ago are canaries in the coal mine for the greater problems to come, and I want to do everything I can to ensure that the worst scenario doesn’t happen.
Today a number of our own moral precepts are crashing into a wall. We want so badly to blame the West for everything — it’s a belief that we find comforting, one that gives us the illusion of control in an insane world. And yet horrific things continue to happen in other countries in a totally unrelated context, showing that oftentimes such events have nothing to do with us at all. I care about the victims of these events. We should all care about the victims of these events, not simply ignore them when they fail to fit the ‘the West causes every problem’ narrative.
Mali: Secular bloggers being hacked to death in Bangladesh. What did Bangladesh do? Occupy the Gaza strip?
Lynch: Exactly. Right. Or the murder of the social media star in Pakistan.
Mali: Qandeel Baloch.
Lynch: Yes, how did she oppress anyone exactly? Other than choosing to live in a way outside of her society’s norms and expectations?
A hundred or so children were massacred by the Taliban in Western Pakistan —
Mali: On Easter.
Lynch: Exactly. The mainstream liberal worldview fails to find a way to process and react to these events sensibly. The shooting in Orlando — if you rail against Republican gun laws, social media will reward you. If you wave a banner at a gay pride parade that says, “Republican Hate Kills” everybody will love you. In the meantime, how many terrorist related crimes have occurred in Europe, where the gun laws are much stricter? It’s to Europe’s credit that these crimes weren’t more deadly — I have no doubt that lax American gun laws make it easier for terrorists to harm us in greater numbers — but we are deluding ourselves if we think ideology isn’t a prime driver of this.
Moreover, if all these attacks were really only due to the imperialism and racism of the west – if the current mainstream liberal worldview were true – then other groups of people that have been brutalized by the West would act in the same way, with the the number of terrorists acts committed being proportionate to their population size.
Why is that Arab Christians in Dearborn, Michigan aren’t being radicalized? How come we don’t have Zoroastrian terrorism? Both groups have also suffered from western bombs in the middle east and the way in which the west historically interfered in their affairs.
If we want to talk about another area of the world that has suffered all the brutality and every humiliation of imperialism, let’s talk about Latin America. I’m sure many have noticed that Donald Trump has said a lot of really nasty things about Mexicans. How many of us are afraid of radicalized Mexicans? How many of us are afraid that the horrible racism against Mexicans we have seen normalized over the past two years is going to push an otherwise peaceful Mexican into thinking that blowing themselves up in a marketplace is a productive use of their time? How many of us are scared that a radicalized Mexican is going to shoot up a concert hall?
Similarly, Trump’s plans to deport 11 million people are unethical and immoral, but how many of us outside of those that may be subject to deportation fear for our own personal safety as a result?
Let’s remember this every time someone says that Donald Trump, when he utters horrible things about Muslims or suggests a blanket immigration ban, is doing the work of the terrorists for them. No doubt his rhetoric is awful, but why is it that we aren’t similarly concerned that awful rhetoric towards Mexicans is going to singularly tip them from the peaceful camp to the murderous terrorist camp?
If the equation is that racism and imperialism beget terrorism, we should have Mexican terrorists streaming over the border. We don’t, which can only mean one thing — that theory of the origins of terrorism is wrong. We have to have the courage to admit and entertain that another answer may be true — that bad ideas can lead to bad actions, even among underprivileged groups we strive to protect.
Many will now jump in and say that other religions can produce equally bad outcomes. Historically this is 100% true, and the extent to which other religions do not produce the same outcomes today is only the extent to which these other religions have been subjected to 400 years of secular enlightenment. This is why political correctness can be truly insidious — because it shuts down the process of free speech necessary to ensure this process continues. When people think that they’re being sensitive…
Lynch: Understanding, accepting, and tolerant by shutting down that conversation, they have to realize they’re harming the very people they claim to want to help.
Mali: I think Maajid Nawaz says something like the minorities within these groups are those who really lose out. You know, the gays in highly Islamicized countries, Atheists, or those who follow other religions, women there —
Lynch: Correct. And if you’re a feminist, then you don’t just care about women here, you care about them everywhere. If you are pro LGBTQ rights, then you care about LGBTQ everywhere. There is no context, cultural or otherwise, where infringement on their safety or freedom is acceptable. You know we live in strange times when people like Faisal Saeed Al Mutar or Ali Rizvi are called racists or imperialists simply for stating that such universal human rights should be truly universal, and the so-called “caring” people blithely turn a blind eye to oppression in other countries in the name of ‘tolerance’.
That is why I take part in this conversation despite how hard it is. I want to see a solution to this problem of the left, and being silent is only going to make this problem worse.
Mali: What would you say to people who are reluctant to lend their voice because of workplace worries, being cast out by their “liberal” friends, etc.?
Lynch: The most constructive thing I’ve seen is to directly appeal to universal human rights angle. If you keep the focus on the people that both we and mainstream progressives care about, it is easier, though still very difficult, to have this conversation.
We need to make it explicit why a scientific rational viewpoint is the best way to accomplish our shared goals. It does take bravery to speak out in this way – the social repercussions are real. Nobody is ever rewarded in the short term for challenging the status quo, and ostracism and accusations of blasphemy have been the burden of all reformers throughout our short history of civilization.
The wisdom of tomorrow always starts out as the taboo of today. If William Lloyd Garrison had not been willing to face the violence of the mob while preaching anti-slavery, we might not have had the emancipation proclamation at the end of the Civil War.
The ugly truth is that being a part of the righteous status quo is infinitely more rewarding in the short term than challenging our suppositions. Being a part of the mob, and gaining all the social approval that comes along with it, that’s the fun part.
Mali: Being that lone guy standing on the corner getting chased off by the mob is not so much…
Lynch: Exactly. The thing that our freedom of speech creates is the space for the wise man or woman who is ahead of their time to preach the wise blasphemy of tomorrow, even if people aren’t ready to hear it yet. It’s critically important that we allow for that space. When we don’t allow for it, when we demand to hear only our own opinion reflected, we are literally shutting down the engine of progress.
The first amendment of course existed in the law during William Lloyd Garrison’s time, but it’s clear both then and today that too often it does not exist in our hearts and minds. Imagine if it did exist in hearts and minds in Garrison’s time — just imagine if the mob just allowed him to speak. I have no doubt we would have had emancipation much sooner, and, incidentally, racism may have already been meaningfully conquered today.
Thinking that African Americans and white people should be equals used to be one of the most taboo ideas in our society. Even Abraham Lincoln said he didn’t envision that as an outcome. The social costs for believing or preaching such things were enormous. Imagine an America of the 19th Century that allowed the space for that conversation to continue unabated.
It is strange times we are living in when the very thing that creates the progress we seek is openly denigrated by those who claim to be the soldiers of progress. It has been disturbing to see really smart people that I otherwise respect openly denigrate freedom of speech and reconsider the first amendment in terms of its importance.
Holding up free speech and rational criticism as not just one priority, but the highest priority, is what I believe we need to get back to. Our future, and the political safety of America, depends on it.
You can find Part 1 of this conversation here.
On “Regressive” Liberals, Political Correctness, Social Justice, 3rd Wave Feminism, and Trump (A Conversation)
Malhar Mali, Interviewer: Lucas, thanks for being here. I’m curious how you got into this — you studied physics at Harvard. What got you interested in this conversation?
Lucas Lynch: I would say I first became interested around the 2008 election, when I became an affirmed mainstream liberal. And it was around the time of the rise of ISIS, which happened alongside the rise of modern Social Justice, that I became what I could best describe as a non-regressive liberal.
I say that because It’s hard to identify what we are, and what we are exactly is a fascinating question. Dave Rubin uses the term classical liberal, but I’m a little hesitant to use that term because it has associations with Milton Friedman and specifically relates to economics as well, and I would say that’s not necessarily what we are. There are people who are economically progressive, economically conservative, etc. that all agree with this resurgent mode of thinking and approach to solving problems.
I think it’s actually important that we define what we are. We need a banner to fly. It sounds superficial but it’s important in building what I strongly believe is and needs to be a new intellectual movement. I often ask people who think like you and I what we are, and they say, “universal humanist” or they say…
Mali: A slew of terms come out.
Lynch: Right. Ali Rizvi says, “New Center.” I like the term but again like “classical liberal” the term has all these implications with regards to specifically being in the *political* center. There are conservatives, libertarians and economic progressives who all agree with this mode of thinking, and so the term ‘New Center’ may be unintentionally exclusionary.
So what do we believe in? We believe in a rational scientific viewpoint as the way we analyze problems. We believe in something close to free speech absolutism. We’re willing to take on taboos or at least talk about them. We resist believing in something just because. Most of us are Atheists, but Atheism is perhaps the least interesting part about us. We believe in multiculturalism, but not a regressive multiculturalism that comes into conflict with a belief in universal human rights.
Mali: So in terms of the “label,” if you had to define the difference between “Liberal” and “Progressive,” what would you say?
Lynch: It’s hard because the term means and has meant different things in different contexts. It’s easy to identify what we’d call mainstream progressives, who have bought in wholly to the modern ideology of social justice. It’s a difficult conversation to have, because there is this mistaken idea that not buying into the modern social justice ideology automatically means no longer sharing the core goals of social justice.
Mali: Right. Who doesn’t want equality? Who doesn’t want people to be treated fairly?
Lynch: I want trans people to use whatever bathroom they want. I want gay people to get married. I don’t want laws to apply differently to anyone. I don’t want African Americans experiencing police brutality. The difficulty lies in how modern social justice ideology has made almost impossible to apply the very best tools that could actually solve these problems – reason and scientific rationalism.
Mali: You mean being able to approach these issues with logic, reasoning etc.?
Lynch: Yes. Being able to challenge assumptions. The problem right now is that if you challenge assumptions you are automatically labeled a secular blasphemer. I believe it was Melissa Chen who said it best that calling someone “racist” is really an accusation of “secular blasphemy” in this community.
We know it’s a religious ideology (Social Justice) because if we view it through a rational lens there are too many places where it falls apart. The most obvious example of this is how mainstream progressives, people not like us, will turn a blind eye to misogyny and homophobia if it happens in other cultures.
Mali: Not holding all people to the same standards?
Lynch: Exactly. They will turn a blind eye to behavior we would not find acceptable in any other context. If a woman is told by her male relatives where she is allowed to go, what she is allowed to wear, who she is allowed to see — that is totally unacceptable. There’s no “context” which makes this otherwise. There is no amount of history of Western Imperialism that should allow us to find such norms any less offensive to our liberal sensibilities.
It’s good to be aware of one’s own flaws, but to focus on that to the exclusion of everything else seems like a new form self-flagellating narcissism — where you’re only thinking about yourself and not other people. And you would think that’s the goal of social justice. It should be the goal of social justice to inform those who are privileged of what goes on to those who are less fortunate and to motivate them want to really help them, not just to say they want to help. The goal should not be mere virtue signaling of how superior one is in one’s awareness, but actually taking concrete steps to make their life better
I feel like a lack of scientific rationalism reduces the social justice movement today to exactly this – virtue signaling without any real solutions. Because if you can’t view the problem dispassionately then you can’t solve it. I work in tech and if a product I’ve written has a faulty line of code I cannot make excuses for the circumstances that created it. I have to be able to look at it and acknowledge that there’s a problem that requires a real solution. This is the core difference between the scientific and the postmodernist approach to solving problems. Scientific rationalism has this built in — you can adjust your algorithm, you’re not forever married to it. You can and should change it. I feel like the problem with social justice now is that there are too many times when it doesn’t solve the problem, and political correctness makes it impossible to adjust the algorithm.
Mali: With social justice, there’s an author named James A. Lindsay who proposes an interesting term. He calls it “Ophobophobia.” Defined as “the fear of appearing a bigot.” How much of social justice is a valid way of drawing attention to yourself, virtue signaling, etc., as opposed to actually trying to contribute legitimately?
Lynch: Well we’ve all known these people. For example, someone claims they are a dedicated, hardcore feminist. They’re not out there raising money for women’s homeless shelters, they’re not out there trying to end Female Genital Mutilation in other countries, they’re not out there organizing for better legislation. They’re literally just bullying the men around them, language policing them —
Mali: Raging about manspreading.
Lynch: Right. I don’t want to claim that there are never real problems there. But the people who only do that as opposed to the other things I described, I begin to suspect that they’re not serious. And I don’t want to belittle the existence of sexism in everyday life because it certainly does exist — and a scientific-rational worldview will show that. But we all know those people for whom it is all virtue signaling. It is the thrill of having an ideology tell you to let loose on the norms of civilized discourse.
When you’re able to bully and intimidate people there is a pleasure center that lights up in your brain. I remember reading an essay a couple years ago that described, for lack of a better term, what “social justice warriors” feel when bullying people. It’s the same pleasure center of the brain that lights up as it does for an alcoholic or chronic masturbator. It’s the psychology that has driven mobs since the beginning of time. It’s uncannily similar to the social pressures exerted during the Mccarthy era. Now there were some communists in Hollywood and in the government, but a fear of communist infiltration turned into an uncontrollable hysteria that engulfed everyone. So if you have a slightly left leaning opinion in the 1950’s, you’re terrified for your job, and you’re terrified of what being exposed will do to your family.
I feel like that is the essence of the modern social justice panic. We’ll look back on this era and see a time when gay marriage became law, trans bathroom rights were being defended in mainstream discourse, we had an African American in the White House, and people really thought that things were worse than they were 20 years prior, which objectively is not true.
That is not to belittle the real issues we face today. The fantastic book “The New Jim Crow” really opened my eyes to the horrific realities of modern mass incarceration of African Americans. I had no idea just how terrifying the reality of mass incarceration was, how smoking one marijuana joint, a drug less harmful than alcohol, can permanently ruin the life of a young black man who has never harmed another person. And again, the scientific rational worldview would say, “Things have gotten much better, but here is this real and terrifying problem. And here is the data.” We should be able to acknowledge that two things can be true at the same time without being declared a secular blasphemer.
There was a student at Wesleyan University who wrote an editorial basically saying, “I agree with the goals of Black Lives Matter but I don’t agree with their tactics.” And he was subjected to exactly the kind of mob bullying and intimidation that we’ve seen from every religious ideology, and yes, social Justice is the religious ideology of the left.
Mali: Sure. It fills the vacuum that religion normally did.
Lynch: Yes. And it’s hard to criticize at times, because “we” (Anti-Regressive Liberals if you want to call us that) share all the goals of those in the social justice camp. We want racial and gender disparities to disappear. But we’re not prepared to betray every other liberal value in service of that. We’re not going to give up free speech. We’re not going to give up the ability to discuss Taboo topics.
This is why the term “Regressive Left” exists, because time and again mainstream progressives betray their ideals thinking they are doing so in the service of their ideals.
Mali: It’s an area to be explored. I know you touched on feminism, but i’d like to hear your views on the third wave. The first wave being the suffragette movement, the second being the push for equal rights under the law — what are your thoughts about the third wave?
Lynch: Third wave feminism and the extremists in black lives matter are just different manifestations of the same thing — the postmodernist approach to social problems. Where a rational viewpoint doesn’t exist and everything supposedly depends on power, everything is defined by it.
Mali: Power and privilege?
Lynch: Yes. And again the problem is: you hear the rhetoric, you see the claims, and a number of them just don’t add up.
The most interesting example of this is the gender pay gap. There was a study by a female Harvard economist which analyzed how we get the number of 78 cents on the dollar, which is what you get when you average over everyone in every profession. But when you average over women and men in the same job, working the same hours, it shrinks down to 90-something cents, I believe. What they found was that women often make different choices. They’ll trade flexibility for wages. And you can argue there is a whole host of societal factors that force that onto women and you can argue that it’s unfair that women feel forced into having to make such choices. I’m happy to have that rational discussion. But to say, well, the wage gap is 78 cents —
Mali: And if you don’t agree, you’re a misogynist.
Lynch: Exactly. If you don’t agree, you’re a misogynist. The thing that the Social Justice Warriors don’t understand is how the ideological, anti-free speech stance they have taken is a large part of what is fueling a vicious backlash, a backlash that is now coming in the form of Donald Trump. Identity Politics is not a one legged stool. If you build it up on one leg, other legs will be built up higher too. It has been interesting to see the same people affirming Identity politics as a good are simultaneously terrified by what they see as Trump’s ‘white nationalism’, which is essentially the same thing.
I watched the Republican National Convention last night. Rudy Giuliani gave this screaming speech, the angriest I’ve ever seen him. The crowd was cheering. You can deride this as merely an angry fringe, but as Sam Harris points out in a recent podcast, everyone is tired of the brand of political correctness that is fueling such rage — even many on the left who are afraid to admit it. Everyone is tired of not being able to discuss things openly. And the harder you push down on open discussion, the more virulent the truly nasty backlash will be as it erupts.
Mali: Sure. Well, someone has to fight back, right? Donald Trump is the guy for a lot of people — he’s the guy that’s fighting back and people are holding onto his coat-tails.
Lynch: He is painted more and more in that light in the eyes of many people, much to my horror.
And in addition to making people feel drawn to Trump in this way, Social Justice is drawing people to Trump is the way in which identity politics has been used in obscuring the economic issues that are also drawing people to Trump.
The thing that really saddens me, as a Democrat and Liberal, is that Trump’s much spoken-about base, the white working class voter — they should be our natural allies. If you believe in real social justice you want economic opportunity for everyone. You don’t want people living in poverty, you don’t want people living in desperation. But this moment arrived, as Andrew Sullivan described, where you had kids in Ivy League universities, many of them coming from economically privileged families, who started waving their fingers at people in places like Eastern Kentucky, where the suicide rate has exploded and the average life-span has decreased, and lambasting them as “privileged” solely on the basis of their skin color. I can’t think of a bigger betrayal of so called liberal values than that.
This issue highlights again why I have trouble identifying myself as a ‘classical liberal’, because a classical liberal in the Milton Friedman sense would likely have no problem allowing this desperation to continue. They might say…
Mali: That it’s a result of the free-market.
Lynch: Correct. They might express their compassion for such people, but affirm above all the limitations to what we can do, and how we cannot force the equality of outcomes. If you’re a progressive, you would, I would think, want to help such people in a meaningful way, and not be afraid to smartly use government to do so… These are underprivileged people. But we’ve created this world where skin color alone is the only thing that dictates whether someone is privileged, and when one applies an ounce of critical thinking to that moral algorithm too many contradictions and error arise.
Morality is a type of algorithm. If you create a moral hierarchy, it’s an algorithm, and if your algorithm is throwing out contradictions left and right, you have to adjust it or throw it away and find a better one.
So if you live in one of these unfortunate cities, where the factory moved away a generation ago and you were promised something was going to take its place because capitalism is this magical unicorn, and it never arrived, too bad. Meanwhile the progressives who are supposed to care about you basically hate you. Where is there for you to go? You should be able to come to the Democratic party, but that party wants nothing to do with you. And the fact that you can’t is a real betrayal of liberal values. We’re supposed to care about the poor and the oppressed, and yes, skin color does have a lot to do with that, but it’s not the only thing.
And if you dare to utter that, the screaming banshees of the internet will descend upon you. They could threaten your employment and livelihood, they could threaten your connection to your social community. That’s what we have to get away from. Because if we are interested in really solving the problem, then we want minorities to be treated equally and we don’t want anybody living in desperate poverty, regardless of whether they are white or not.
The only way you can solve a problem is to look at it dispassionately. And modern political correctness has left no space for us to do that.
Edited for clarity.
Part 2, coming soon, covers more Political Correctness, Politics, and Religion
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Originally published at allthink
Lucas Lynch is a writer and blogger who got his start writing for Carlos’ Watson’s “The Stimulist” when Watson was then an MSNBC anchor, invited to join by a then unknown, now world renown author Taiye Selasi. His interests include Science, Religion, Culture, Politics, and the Arts.