An unimportant story from Berkeley helps us understand an important one unfolding at universities around the country
I don’t think I’ve ever read something that so succinctly expresses why I felt so politically alienated from my friends in college and still do with some of my friends now. I'm not conservative but I can’t get on board with my friends’ identity-based worldview either. So often they have an opinion about who is right or wrong in a situation without reading any details based purely on the identities of the people involved. I always want to say, what if that was your brother or your daughter, would you want people to be so quick to cast them as the villain then?
It’s interesting because “color-blindness” has become a bad word, but I think it’s been taken to the point of being blinded by color now. They don’t just use someone’s identities as relevant information, but as the *only* relevant information.
Great piece. The tough question is how a university might get itself out of this self-created mess, assuming it wanted to.
This statement from the UCLA Asian American Studies department is a must-read: "As an academic department situated on the ancestral and unceded territory of the Gabrielino/Tongva peoples, we oppose settler-colonialism in all its forms, from Tovaangar to Palestine." https://asianam.ucla.edu/2021/05/21/asian-american-studies-departments-statement-of-solidarity-with-palestine/
How many Tongva do you see here? https://asianam.ucla.edu/faculty/
If you really oppose "settler colonialism" and you are an Asian American, don't you have a responsibility to return to Asia (even if your family came to California in the 19th century)?
As a female person, I take offense at how patronizing the attitude toward Del Valle is!
I know this article is not about Israel-Palestine per-se, so apologies for my comment being off-topic, but I do find it interesting how divisive this particlar conflict is, vs every other conflict in the world.
As a non-practing jewish who has nothing to do with Israel (I spent a week there on vacation once), and mostly have left-wing friends, I have at times taken flack for this conflict that has nothing to do with me.
It's interesting to compare the reactions of this conflict with, for example, the civil war in Syria. In that case, everyone was capable of saying that both ISIS and the Assad regime were bad (even if at different levels), that they felt sorry for the civilian victims on the ground, and that we should help refugees. And also it was a topic I could think about every once in a while without consuming my life.
I alluded to this before in Matt Yglesias' substack but I really think we need to see a lot of protests on campuses of all stripes as continuing attempts at 1968 cosplay. Sometimes repugnant cosplay, sometimes dangerous cosplay and oftentimes worthy of opprobrium and pushback cosplay, but cosplay nonetheless.
I brought this up on Matt's substack as well, but I participated in anti-Iraq war protests and it is amazing how much of the aesthetic, including how a lot of people dressed, was just clearly aping 1968 anti-Vietnam protests. And it seems very similar even today. There is a tremendous romanticism to hippie movement and anti-Vietnam protests driven I think largely by movies (Forrest Gump probably being a paradigm example) and probably most of all the enduring popularity of the music (if I tell you right now to think of a scene in a Vietnam movie, I think I can tell you not only which band but which song is currently playing in your head. Hint; the band name can be abbreviated to three initials).
I think it's been brushed under the rug of history just how radical these protests and this movement really was. I brought up these examples before, but Weather Underground was started at UMichigan, Black Panthers was started at Merrit college and that there were five attempts to burn down the military recruitment center at UGeorgia (remember this is late 60s and early 70s GA, not current GA. This happened when Lester Maddox was governor).
There's two ways to look at this. The worrying way is to say these late 60s extreme lefty college movements ended up going to some dark places sometimes; including outright terrorism*. Even a few people are "true believers" that's enough to form a real organization that engages in terrible acts in the future. The other is my "few people" reference. If you look at a lot of these videos, the worst ones of people tearing down posters or saying really hateful antisemtic things, the number of "protestors" is small. In fact in a lot of them, the onlookers who clearly have looks on their faces saying "can you believe this shit" out number the protestors screaming at someone. Those late 60s protestors that again were quite a bit bigger (even if we just limit ourselves to the most extreme elements), were not just engaged in peaceful protests (or more accurately, the more ugly elements of these mostly peaceful protests being excised from our collective memory) and yet the country ended up being...fine. The number of "true believer" extremists was actually quite small and in fact the backlash to this era helping leading to the conservative revolution of 1980 (my biggest worry in 2024; backlash to these viral videos pushing swing voters to Trump).
* I should state I don't include Black Panthers in this despite what more conservative outlets might say. I really don't want to dismiss the uglier elements which included reprisal killings against its own members. But COINTELPRO was quite real. You don't have to subscribe to far left identity politics that Josh describes to believe that law enforcement and FBI engaged in some really suspect actions in regards to Fred Hampton's killing.
That's the problem with a lot of ultra left-wing nonsense; it's all fun and games until someone starts justifying mass slaughter.
I don't understand the US obsession with the fact that college students sometimes hold foolish political views or do foolish things. They are barely adults, and a tiny proportion of the population.
Around a third of the US population believes utterly crazy things like the claim that the 2020 election was stolen. Many more are willing to vote for a candidate who makes this claim. But most political discussion just treats this as a fact about political preferences, to be taken into account in horse-race discussions of electoral politics.
In the specific case of Israel/Palestine, the situation is much worse. The overwhelming majority of the US polity, including the Biden Administration, is willing to assist the Israeli government in committing war crimes with the aim of main taining an illegal and oppressive occupation, and to ally itself with murderous dictators like MBS to pursue this policy. The rationale is a combination of misguided realpolitik and unquestioning emotional support for Israel similar in kind to that of the Del Valle supporters. This goes almost unquestioned. But we get lengthy denunciations of a handful of young people adopting the mirror-image position regarding Hamas terrorism.
Really excellent piece here, Josh. Good to see you call this lunacy out for what it is - lunacy.
‘It is perfectly reasonable for policymakers to look to rein in this insanity at universities, which rely extensively on taxpayer largesse and are supposed to serve the public interest but instead often produce a combination of radical politics and useless scholarship, egged on by a non-tenured, easily-firable DEI bureaucracy that seeks to perpetuate exactly this kind of “academic” “study.”’
How would you suggest they do so? The only examples I can see are Ron DeSantis, which generates more heat than light though his antics and Mitch Daniels, who we are unfortunately not cloning. What scalable solution do you propose?
I agree with everything here, so it pains me to have to take what Josh considers to be the "crazy leftist side", but...the posters are a kind of disingenuous trap - classic motte-and-bailey. The motte (stated position that everyone agrees with) is "Free the kidnapped Israelis", and the bailey (actual message that's unsaid because it's harder to defend) is "we should continue to support Israeli's response - bombing the sh*t out of Gaza or whatever it takes."
A normal "missing" poster has a stated or unstated action to "call the police" if you see the missing person. Their purpose is to *find* the missing person. That is definitely not the purpose of the kidnapped posters. An equivalent would be putting up "Bombed and Missing" posters of innocent Gazan kids. That would obviously be a political statement too.
I don't think I support tearing them down, but there's are reasonable reason to dislike posters with a one-way, pro-Israel political message right now, and it doesn't require anti-semitism or a jejune oppression hierarchy.
Amen Josh. I was just talking to my liberal Colorado living, ski instructor brother. He’s not on board with all this, and wants the party to move to the center. I was kinda surprised, but relieved. It’s backfiring.
To cite John Adams, facts are stubborn things. If they are going to be displaced by "narratives" we are in for major trouble. We have to revive the concept of taking personal responsibility for what we dish out. At age 82, I remember hearing many decades ago the concept how would you like to see what you are about to say or do reported above the fold on the front page of the New York Times? I took it seriously, and on a number of occasions it kept me from saying things or taking actions that I would later regret. Often, I recognized afterward that my initial instinct was either mis-informed or making much ado about very little. Did this inhibit my behavior? Not in any instance I can recall as consequential. Does this paint me as a sage? No, I think it just paints me as normal.
Ah, the pet victim protection mentality strikes again.
Leftists have an impossible time admitting that sometimes “oppressed” people and groups bring disdain upon themselves and are unworthy of protection. Social peace is achieved when such people/groups and their defenders are suppressed by society and are too afraid to engage in antisocial behavior.
I think this stuff is making some American Jewish people frame things weirdly as well. My kid is a half Jewish college student in San Francisco and he was not a fan of his peers who were posting “from the river to the sea” but he was also a little skeptical of his fellow Jewish students who suddenly were expressing intense fears of antisemitism and suggesting that they were unsafe. He felt like many of them were a bit relieved to be able to claim victim/oppressed status and were also losing sight of reality. Not that there isn’t real antisemitism in the US but skeptical that leftist kids saying Free Palestine actually pose a risk of violence or persecution to Jewish students in San Francisco.
Excellent. This expresses my thoughts about identity politics exactly.
Thank you so much for this piece. As a liberal Jew, the last month has been the most politically alienated I’ve felt in my entire life. I’m now off social media because it’s become an absolute hellscape of reposts and infographics stating positions in absolute terms - anti-semitism (and Islamophobia) are rampant for sure, but I think the idea of perceived oppressed vs perceived oppressor is a very succinct way to summarize some of the dialogue on the left.
I’ve also seen a tendency for non-Jews to take a fringe-ish Jewish viewpoint / commentary (a Jewish Currents piece comes to mind that essentially said the terrorist attack was The Jews’ fault, and didn’t even mention Hamas once!) - is there any other religious minority that a “very liberal person” would do such a thing toward? As if to say, “I’m not Jewish, but here’s the way Jews should feel about this!”
Considering the history, complexity and nuance of such a delicate issue requires extensive research, conversation, and reflection - if someone isn’t willing to do this, I just wish they’d hold off from screaming / storying their views at the top of their lungs in a way that can incite aggression - it’s dangerous! And also undermines a lot of very important things that liberals are otherwise fighting for.