It’s Gross to Use Otto Warmbier’s Tragedy to talk about White Male Privilege

Otto Warmbier was a 22-year-old American who, early in 2016 was convicted by a North Korean court of stealing a poster. He was put in a North Korean prison, until he was returned to the US in a coma on June 13th of this year. Warmbier died without waking up on June 19th.

affinity-mag-is-gross

A few progressives have responded by saying… Well, I’ll let Affinity Magazine’s (now deleted) tweet speak for itself.

The comedian Larry Wilmore (who I’m usually a fan of) also criticized Warmbier harshly about a year ago, making fun of Warmbier for crying as he begged for mercy:

Look frat bros dudes, if your hazing includes international crimes, you’ve got to read the fine print on your American frat bro warranty. It’s all the way at the bottom so it’s easy to miss, but it says: “Frat bro privilege not valid in totalitarian dystopias.” Listen, Otto Von Crybaby, if you’re so anxious to go to a country with an unpredictable megalomaniac in charge, just wait a year and you’ll live in one! It’s coming, you guys! You know that shit is coming! Make America Great! It is catchy. I’m going to cry. Okay, to get a better sense of Otto, let’s talk with some of his fraternity brothers. So, please welcome Preston and Hawes. So guys, is it upsetting to see your frat brother begging for mercy in North Korea?

Do I have to explain how repulsive that is?

(Wilmore apologized a couple of days ago.)

The writer La Sha wrote the HuffPost article “North Korea Proves Your White Male Privilege Is Not Universal.

It’s important to note that La Sha’s article was written before Warmbier’s coma and subsequent death. Also, the article’s approach is all over the place; for a few paragraphs, it verges on satire, demonstrating what it would sound like if people responded to Warmbier’s case the way many whites respond to police shootings of Black people. But that satiric tone, if it was intended at all, is ambiguous and not maintained. Both the introductory paragraphs and the conclusion seem very much in earnest.

All these views fall somewhere on the spectrum from wrong to disgusting. Here’s why:

1) It’s blame-the-victim. Placing the blame on a victim when what happened to them is grossly disproportionate for whatever they allegedly did wrong is, well, wrong. And it blames the wrong person.

The reason I object to people saying “well, rape is horrible, but she shouldn’t have gotten drunk” when a woman is raped is not that I think it’s never a mistake to get drunk. (For example, if she had gotten drunk, slipped in a puddle, and thereby gotten mud on her favorite shirt, I probably would think it’s her own fault for getting so drunk.) My objection is, first of all, that it’s unreasonable to say “well, she shouldn’t have gotten drunk” regarding a rape victim, because the harms she suffered is so grossly disproportionate to anything she did wrong, that bringing it up that way is frankly indecent. And, secondly, it fails to put the blame where it belongs – on the rapist.

That the person acknowledged “rape is horrible” in passing on route to their main point doesn’t change any of that.

The logic in this case seems similar to me. Even if Otto Warmbier did steal a poster, what happened to him was so vastly disproportionate that blaming Warmbier himself becomes indecent. And La Sha’s passing acknowledgement that the punishment was wrong doesn’t make it okay.

2) All of these people take it as fact that Otto Warmbier stole a poster. But we don’t know if that’s true. The face of the man in the video is impossible to make out. Human Rights Watch called his trial a “kangaroo court.” And it’s safe to assume that Warmbier’s “confession” was coerced.

This is not a trivial point. When we accept without question North Korea’s version of events, we are (effectively if unintentionally) taking the side of the oppressor against the victim.

3) Using “privilege” to explain one individual act (that may not even have happened) is the wrong way to think of privilege.

Privilege is a useful way of talking about aggregate disparities between groups of people. We can say, for instance, that employers favoring thin job applicants over fat job applicants (because they assume fat job applicants are lazy) is an example of thin privilege. But we shouldn’t point to a single instance of a thin person being hired and say that it’s an example of thin privilege.

We don’t know that. Even if thin privilege didn’t exist, some thin people would still get hired. Similarly, if even white male privilege didn’t exist, some 22-year-olds would still make foolish mistakes.

Privilege is a little like global warming in this way. We can say for certain that extreme weather events are happening because of global warming. But that doesn’t mean we can point to any one storm and say “this was caused by global warming.” Global warming tells us what’s happening in the aggregate, but it doesn’t establish causation for any single event.

Even if Otto Warmbier stole a poster – and I feel compelled to repeat, we don’t know that he did – we can’t know what caused him to be do that. It could be white male privilege, but it could also be any of dozens of other factors that make up any individual’s personality. Privilege is real and important, but it’s not a one-size-fits-all explanation of any time a privileged person acts badly.

4) It’s not always wrong to politicize tragedies. Sometimes a tragedy suggests policy actions we can take to make future tragedies less likely, and in that case not talking about the steps we could take might be irresponsible. (Questions of time and place still apply, of course). Are there policy options that would make it harder for firms to promise American tourists that visiting Korea is safe (as the tour firm that took Warmbier promised)? If so, now might be a fruitful time to push for that change.

Similarly, BLM activists are 100% right to use each new police shooting as an occasion to push for change.

But it doesn’t follow that every tragedy should immediately be politicized. When we consider responding to a tragedy with politics, we should ask ourselves: Is what I’m saying related directly to a policy change that could have prevented this tragedy? Am I discussing this in a way that disparages the victims? Is talking about this in this way showing a lack of compassion for the victim and their family? Will this actually help in any significant way?

I assume that La Sha, Wilmore, and Affinity Mag failed to ask these questions. They considered only one factor. That’s rigid one-note thinking; that’s doctrinaire politics taking precedence over compassion. And yes, it’s wrong.

I have no interest in being part of a political movement that blames the victim of an authoritative regime; that laughs at the suffering of torture victims; that can’t imagine any priorities other than their own political narratives could ever be relevant. But that’s what our movement would be if Affinity Magazine’s attitude, as displayed in that tweet, becomes the norm.

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53 Responses to It’s Gross to Use Otto Warmbier’s Tragedy to talk about White Male Privilege

  1. 1
    Ben Lehman says:

    Co-signed.

    Also, an important lesson to take away from this is do not under any circumstances visit North Korea

  2. 2
    Chris says:

    Wonderful post.

  3. 3
    Sebastian H says:

    This is a very good post. A recent slate star codex post talks about the civilizational technology of liberalism as being a hard fought mechanism of learning to live with people you strongly disagree without needing to kill them. Part of that is deliberately choosing not to make everything into a club to bash people with. There are lots of things to talk about without forcing them into cookie cutter narratives every single time.

    I especially appreciate you highlighting the fact that we don’t even know if he really did anything with the poster.

  4. 4
    RonF says:

    With regards to your point #2, I have been particularly astonished that a group of people who don’t believe the police and don’t believe politicians and claim they are not racist somehow take the people running North Korea at their word – apparently because it reinforces their bias against white fraternity members.

  5. 5
    Grace Annam says:

    Amp,

    I agree with you and Sebastian H that it’s critical to note that we don’t know if Warmbier committed the crime. Very few people are good at withstanding pain or threats of mutilation, for instance, and they can be coerced to say what their torturers want them to say. La Sha’s piece clearly proceeds from the assumption that Warmbier did commit the crime, that he is guilty.

    As Americans, that’s what we’re used to; a court system run on the principle that it’s better to let ten guilty people go free than to punish one innocent person. Also, as good as the American legal system is, we can and do get it wrong. But even so, we get it right enough that we feel free to conclude, absent other information, that people convicted of a crime committed the crime. (Though it’s worth noting that, on average, black people feel less confident of this than white people, and with good reason.)

    Clearly we cannot grant that presumption of correctness to North Korea, a dictatorship which lies as easily as breathing, especially when the sentence is so terribly extreme.

    I also agree with you that Larry Wilmore’s joke was way out of line. He was clearly mocking and putting the boot in.

    I also agree that privilege is better understood as a system which you are a recipient of, not as the driver of single, individual acts. However, clearly an experience of privilege can and does lead to certain attitudes. Peggy McIntosh, probably the foremost proponent of the idea of privilege, makes this central to her thesis in her writings and talks, and calls herself out for her own unconscious biases and attitudes (which is self-reflection, and as I’ve written about before here, is where thinking about privilege can work especially well, as opposed to calling others out, where it tends not to work well.) Here’s an example of McIntosh doing exactly that: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e-BY9UEewHw That sense of the word, that experience of privilege tends to engender a sense of personal safety or personal entitlement, is clearly how La Sha is using the word in her piece. (Also, I discount the headline. I don’t know if she wrote it; you and I write our own “headlines”, here at Alas, but at newspapers the writers generally don’t write their own headlines, and I have no idea how that works at HuffPo.)

    Victim-blaming is insidious because it’s so easy to do. I’ve made the same distinction you make, to fellow officers: if someone steps out into the rain and gets wet, that’s their fault, because rain has no agency, but if someone leaves their wallet unattended on the front seat of their car with the window down, it’s not their fault when the wallet disappears, because the thief is responsible for that. What makes it so easy to blame the person who left the wallet there? The fact that if they had locked the car, or put the wallet out of view, it would probably still be where they left it. Ethically, who’s at fault? The thief. The owner of the wallet is not at fault. At the same time, when I store valuables in a car, I make sure they’re out of sight.

    When I was about eight years old, my grandma parked the car and we went for a walk together. When we came back, the window was broken and her camera was missing. She replaced the camera, and it was clearly not her fault that a thief chose to steal its predecessor. But she never left the new one visible in the car.

    On the other hand, if the person is committing something we think is an offense, we swap the blame. If someone is doing 50 mph in a 30 mph zone, and they get a ticket, we don’t blame the officer, even though the officer had agency and could have chosen not to issue a ticket. This is what makes it so important to understand that we cannot know what Warmbier did. If he did steal a poster, then he earned a consequence — though 15 years of hard labor is shockingly beyond the pale. If he did steal the poster, then he’s the speeder. If, instead, the North Koreans manufactured a charge and coerced a confession, then Warmbier is the person who left their wallet unattended.

    And it seems to me that La Sha is using a frame something like that. She’s explicitly not saying, “Warmbier got what he deserved,” and she’s not even saying, “Warmbier is at fault.” She’s saying, “Didn’t someone teach Warmbier not to leave his wallet unattended [specifically, not to go to North Korea], and if they did, what prompted him to disregard the teaching [and go to North Korea]?”

    Leave aside whether or not Warmbier commited an act which we would consider a crime while he was in North Korea. La Sha writes:

    As shocked as I am by the sentence handed down to Warmbier, I am even more shocked that a grown man, an American citizen, would not only voluntarily enter North Korea… [emphasis added] … if he had heeded the U.S. Department of State’s strong advisement against travel to North Korea, he would be home right now.

    And then she points out that, in effect, she lives in a reality where she has no choice but to leave her wallet unattended:

    As I’ve said, living 15 years performing manual labor in North Korea is unimaginable, but so is going to a place I know I’m unwelcome and violating their laws. I’m a black woman though. The hopeless fear Warmbier is now experiencing is my daily reality living in a country where white men like him are willfully oblivious to my suffering even as they are complicit in maintaining the power structures which ensure their supremacy at my expense. He is now an outsider at the mercy of a government unfazed by his cries for help. I get it.

    In the context of the rest of the piece, those last three words are a rather backhanded sympathy, to be sure. But the experience which so surprised Warmbier does not surprise her, because it reminds her of her own life experience in her own country. She’s not putting the boot in on Warmier; she’s using his experience to illustrate how oblivious white men are to what she goes through. She’s

    Coming from a country filled with citizens who lambaste black victims of state sanctioned violence by telling us that if we obey the law, we wouldn’t have to face the consequences…

    I wouldn’t have written La Sha’s article. But “disgusting” is a strong word, and I don’t think it’s disgusting. I get it.

    Grace

  6. 6
    Mandolin says:

    Disgusting works for me.

  7. 7
    Ortvin Sarapuu says:

    “But the experience which so surprised Warmbier does not surprise her, because it reminds her of her own life experience in her own country.”

    Are her experience – or more broadly, the experiences of African-Americans – and the experience of Warmbier really that similar?

    Sometimes when we see something happening to us, and it reminds us of our own experiences, it has more to do with our lack of interest in things that don’t affect us than any genuine similarity.

  8. 8
    Ampersand says:

    And yet more disgustingness: Prof says Otto Warmbier ‘got exactly what he deserved’

    As bad as it is to say this sort of thing when he was “only” sentenced to hard labor, saying it shortly after his death is incomprehensible to me.

  9. 9
    Sebastian H says:

    “The hopeless fear Warmbier is now experiencing is my daily reality living in a country where white men like him are willfully oblivious to my suffering even as they are complicit in maintaining the power structures which ensure their supremacy at my expense…”

    I don’t think so. This is, at best a very weird thing to say. His reality was getting physically tortured combined with the knowledge that his only likely exit from being beaten and starved was through death.

    I won’t say that no one in the US ever goes through that. But La Sha is not one of those people. And even if she ever experienced a moment like that, it is a lie to say that is her daily life. That sentence performs a surprising hat trick of minimizing the cruelty of what was happening to him and over dramatizing the actually bad experience of being black in the US (which should need no hyperbole).

    It is in that sentence that she really confirms that she is using his body purely as a political object with no real sympathy or understanding for him as a human being.

    Another note that really struck me as gross was the totally gratuitous use of “cis” as a type of slur to pile on Warmbier and show him as not deserving of sympathy.

    I would tend to suggest that the number of times you need to say “definitely not trans” in common conversation is vanishingly small. Even if it were relevant, does La Sha know him beyond one report in a newspaper? She assumes he is cisgender then uses it as a label to pile on dismissals. Did she do deep research into his gender identity? Where is the evidence of that? “Cis” wasn’t being used in any helpful way there–purely to divide.

  10. 11
    Elusis says:

    Cis is not a slur. It is a description.

  11. 12
    Kate says:

    I have no interest in being part of a political movement that blames the victim of an authoritative regime; that laughs at the suffering of torture victims; that can’t imagine any priorities other than their own political narratives could ever be relevant. But that’s what our movement would be if Affinity Magazine’s attitude, as displayed in that tweet, becomes the norm.

    I have been particularly astonished that a group of people who don’t believe the police and don’t believe politicians and claim they are not racist somehow take the people running North Korea at their word – apparently because it reinforces their bias against white fraternity members.

    I agree that the linked responses are offensive. But, from what I can see, the “group” in question consists of:

    1.) A commedian who was called out, apologized and has since lost his show.
    2.) A journalist who tweeted, was called out and deleted the tweet.
    3.) A journalist with the Huffington Post.
    4.) A college professor in an internet comment thread at the National Review.

    Am I missing something? How does this tiny group of randoms stand for the progressive movement?

  12. 13
    Ampersand says:

    Kate – I wasn’t saying that they stand for the progressive movement. It is because I think they don’t stand for the progressive movement, that I can keep being a progressive.

    That said, it’s not just those four. I have seen some people defending those views.

    (And frankly, I very much doubt Wilmore would have apologized if Warmbier hadn’t died. I’m not saying I’m never going to listen to Wilmore again – everyone is more than their worst moment – but damn.)

  13. 14
    Ampersand says:

    Elusis, I agree.

    But Sebastian raises a true point. Odds are that Warmbier was cis – just because the majority of people are – but it’s certainly not safe to assume he was. I know any number of people who were identified as “cis” at age 21 just because they weren’t yet out (in some cases not yet out to the world, in other cases not yet out to themselves), who later identified as trans.

  14. 15
    Sebastian H says:

    “Cis is not a slur. It is a description.”

    Nearly all descriptions can be slurs in the proper context. Gay? Cocksucker? Faggot? Homosexual? Man? Woman? All of these can be descriptive AND can be slurs depending on usage.

    If someone is using a description to sever empathy they are using it as a slur.

    “But I’m not 11 anymore, and now, my mother’s callous reaction [he earned that] to Micahel Fay’s sentence is my reaction to another young white man who went to an Asian country and violated their laws, and learned that the shield his cis white male identity provides here in America is not teflon abroad.”

    She can observe ‘white’ and infer that he presented as ‘male’. She isn’t using “white male identity” as a positive description because she thinks it is part of “he earned that”. But at least it is an actual description of him particularly.

    She can’t observe ‘cis’. She doesn’t know him. She doesn’t know anything about his gender identity. She is just guessing.

    But WHY is she guessing ‘cis’? Why isn’t she guessing ‘trans’? What is the purpose of affirmatively defining him as ‘definitely NOT trans’ when she couldn’t possibly know that? Why does she think that his gender identity is important enough that she wants to insert it even though she cannot know it?

    She is doing it for rhetorical effect. What rhetorical effect? She is doing it to provide another layer of classification so she can more easily other him.

    The first step to excusing torture and oppression is to other the person enough that they aren’t really a person to you.

    Then you blame the victim.

    Then you minimize the trials they are going through.

    She did all of that.

    She also grossly compared her daily life to being tortured and starved in a Communist hard labor camp. How did she do that?

    “I’m a black woman though”

    Her piece is rhetorically excellent for her audience. She knows that “cis white male” will serve to other, to cause distance and sever empathy. She knows that “black woman” will signal that no further explanation is needed to prove she is one of us. She knows that her privilege with respect to her intended audience will carry her through.

  15. 16
    Mandolin says:

    I don’t know that slur is the right connotation for me, but I agree that Sebastian is characterizing an actual dynamic that is revealed by the choice to include cis.

    I’m not sure severing empathy is the goal per se — but it serves to reinforce that we should see this dead man as a symbol (of privileged arrogance), and that the author is willing to sand away possible conflicting edges to make him serve as a better symbol.

    Not consciously, necessarily. I watch people assume other people are cis regularly and never even think about it.

    And really, what else isn’t she thinking about?

    Was he disabled? It’s not impossible. Mental illnesses that affect judgment can crop up at that age without much warning. Would it change the algorithm if he were not arrogant but sick? Or sick -and- arrogant?

    Privilege is not only better understood in systems as amp says, but as a very large number of interlocking systems, and if we are going to try to bring it to the specifics of a complex situation, then there are a lot of variables. An individual’s identification along a broad number of axes are relevant to a broad claim like this one.

    There are reasons to be pissed (with the disparate reaction to this abuse and racialized abuse in American prisons), and reasons to have empathy fatigue. The way she has combined these is gross and cruel.

    Also, I don’t actually give a fuck about whether he was arrogant in privilege or not. It’s a fucking tragedy. I also don’t care how many cigarettes Mike Brown stole, or whether a given Holocaust victim was a real asshole who ate children’s pet hamsters and played Nickelback on car trips. Something like this death is abhorrent. Maybe one doesn’t feel empathy for him personally, but there’s a gap between a private reaction and public justification.

  16. 17
    Ampersand says:

    Here’s an interesting article about Warmbier’s time in Korea, with a focus on the touring company that brought him there: Who Killed Otto Warmbier? – POLITICO Magazine

    The article says about 1000 Americans visit North Korea every year.

    Fifteen Americans are known to have been detained in the country since 2009, with the majority of those held after the current leader Kim Jong Un came to power in December 2011. The reasons the 15 were likely detained varied: some snuck into the country, while some proselytized—violating the cruel norms of North Korea. But Warmbier was the only one to die as a result of his experience.

  17. 18
    Ampersand says:

    An interesting point that just came out: Warmbier was Jewish. His parents had been keeping that secret because they were worried it would worsen Otto’s situation in North Korea.

  18. 19
    Jason Shiga says:

    One common criticism I heard was that Americans don’t feel much sympathy for North Korean residents so it’s unfair that so much sympathy is extended to Warmbier (I hear variants of this criticism in regards to photogenic murder victims or even terrorist attacks).

    For me, sympathy works less like a tank that gets depleted and more as a muscle, but who knows.

  19. 20
    Nancy Lebovitz says:

    I don’t think the nastiness about Warmbier has much of anything to do with progressivism, but it’s a very natural part of Social Justice.

    Social Justice has no intrinsic brakes on its hostility. Instead, it’s got the idea that losing privilege feels like being abused. However, being abused also feels like being abused, and Social Justice doesn’t offer tools for telling when a Social Justice idea or behavior is abusive.

    My best bet for why Social Justice behavior isn’t worse than it is, is that Social Justice people are mostly from backgrounds where the use of violence isn’t normal. Some of them are working to take down the inhibitions against violence.

    It’s still true that Social Justice is pointing at problems that don’t necessarily get the attention they should– it’s a complex situation.

  20. 21
    Michael says:

    I think that the problem with the reaction to the Warmbier case can be summed up by the film Split. In the film, a man named Kevin has DID as a result of being abused by a child and has 24 alternate personalities. 20 of the alters are benevolent. However, 4 of the alters, called the Horde, believe that their suffering has molded them into something superior to people that haven’t suffered as they have and are determined to kill people that haven’t suffered as they have. They decide to start with 3 teenage girls. However, as it turns out, one of the girls, named Casey, was sexually abused by her uncle. The problem many critics had with the film was that it pretty much validates the Horde’s point of view- the Horde are far more dangerous than normal criminals and Casey is the most resourceful of the 3 girls. Child abuse and rape don’t always make a person stronger.
    But that seems to be the ideology that’s popping up in the Warmbier case- he never suffered, if he had he’d be smarter and had never died.

  21. 22
    Kate says:

    My best bet for why Social Justice behavior isn’t worse than it is, is that Social Justice people are mostly from backgrounds where the use of violence isn’t normal. Some of them are working to take down the inhibitions against violence.

    What groups/people are you referring to? Do you havel links?

  22. 23
    Humble Talent says:

    Cis is not a slur. It is a description.

    It’s an interesting idea… And one that I think is almost universally found to be untrue the moment it’s used. Technically, cis is not a word, it’s slang… And I’m struggling to think of any slang used as a descriptor of a demographic that held to the pure purpose of describing that demographic without falling into the trap of being a slur.

    I think in general that the term cis was contrived to try to shift the standing of non-trans people away from “normal”, despite non-trans people making something like 99.7% of the population, calling that 99.7% “normal” was seen to stigmatize trans people, so social justice concocted the term to replace normal. However odious I find that, for the purpose of this comment, I’ll use the parlance.

    If you aren’t talking about something that specifically effects the cis/trans dichotomy, including the label is the kind of superfluous information that would normally have social justice frothing. As an example, Following the Virginia Mosque attack, TYT commentators Anna Kasparian and Francis Maxwell were incensed that the attacker has been referred to as “Clean Shaven”. And to be fair, they have a point: When you’re offered superfluous information, usually the person offering the information is trying to convey a deeper meaning than the words themselves mean independently. Now take that logic one more step…. Anyone using “cis” to describe someone in a situation where there is no cis/trans dynamic is attempting to use that label to describe something about a person. Otherwise… Why mention it? And I can’t think of a situation where that mention is anything but a dog-whistle for bigotry.

    Can you?

  23. 24
    Nancy Lebovitz says:

    Kate, the folks who are in favor of punching Nazis are trying to take down inhibitions against violence.

    I forgot to mention, but I’ve seen some anti-Warmbier stuff on facebook.

  24. 25
    Ampersand says:

    I don’t think either “cis” or “cisgender” are slang words. The OED listing doesn’t mark either word “informal” or “colloq,” the designations they use for slang terms.

    But in any case, slang words are still words.

    “Cis” is a useful word in my daily life, and I don’t find it insulting or a slur. But I think Mandolin was spot-on with this analysis of how it was used in that article: “it serves to reinforce that we should see this dead man as a symbol (of privileged arrogance), and that the author is willing to sand away possible conflicting edges to make him serve as a better symbol.”

  25. 26
    Kate says:

    The left is not perfect, but it has much stronger inhibiations against the use of violence than the right. This article argues that rightwing violence is a more serious threat that Islamic violent in the U.S.. That is a mater of debate (the article argues the former based on the number of incidents, but the latter has a higher body count during the time period covered by the article because of the Fort Hood shooting, and more broadly because of 911 and the Miami shooting). What is clear is that incidents of left wing violence are a small fraction of right-wing (only one-fifth).

  26. 27
    Harlequin says:

    I think this came up before when I didn’t have time to comment, but–in terms of possible damage done, you care about deadliness if the number of victims is in the control of the perpetrator, and number of incidents if it isn’t. (If every incident is a roll of the dice from 1 to several hundred deaths, the more incidents you have, the more you risk a high body count.)

    It’s not clear to me which type ideological violence in the US falls into. I mean, you might not expect “lone shooter on army base” to kill more people than “bomb in crowded public marathon course,” so there must be some element of randomness, but idk how significant.

    Anyway, drifting a bit far away from the topic. I think it’s clear rhetoric cam be harmful, too, if not in the same way; and harmful theoretic is definitely not restricted to one side of American politics. But the article you’re responding to, Amp, seems a clear example of something that is.

  27. 28
    Kate says:

    I think it’s clear rhetoric cam be harmful, too, if not in the same way; and harmful theoretic is definitely not restricted to one side of American politics. But the article you’re responding to, Amp, seems a clear example of something that is.

    As I said @12

    1.) A commedian who was called out, apologized and has since lost his show.
    2.) A journalist who tweeted, was called out and deleted the tweet.
    3.) A journalist with the Huffington Post.
    4.) A college professor in an internet comment thread at the National Review.

    No large group will be able to totally eliminate violent rhetoric from all of its ranks. I see the case being discussed in this thread as an example of the left policing itself pretty well, actually. But, I think the left is generally more self critical on these issues than the right. The right will cricicize the left, but they usually circle wagons when confronted about their own violent rhetoric. This is likely in large part due to the fact that the left is a more diverse coalition, with different groups with competing interests.

  28. 29
    desipis says:

    I think Sebastian’s comment @15 hits the mark.

    Kate:

    How does this tiny group of randoms stand for the progressive movement?

    That group doesn’t stand for the progressive movement. However, they are emblematic of a wider undercurrent on the progressive side of politics that directs as much ridicule, contempt and even hatred as it can muster at anyone who is white, male, straight, cis, etc. While in the case of Otto Warmbier it has done little other than leave a bad taste with those who read it, I think the real concern is where such dehumanisation undermines efforts to help victims with these attributes, or even causes victimisation.

  29. 30
    Kate says:

    However, they are emblematic of a wider undercurrent on the progressive side of politics that directs as much ridicule, contempt and even hatred as it can muster at anyone who is white, male, straight, cis, etc. (my emphasis)

    That seems pretty hyperbolic to me. The sort of hate on display here in some members of the left wing fringe without real power, is paralleled by routine victim blaming which can be found almost on a daily basis from the mainstream right, sometimes by leaders with real political power (eg. of rape victims and victims of domestic violence, people shot by police, homeless, jobless, mentally ill and on and on – all groups that include cis, het, white men). The right fringe is even more vile. What, for example, is the left-wing equivalent of Stormfront or the Sandy Hook truthers or the Westboro Baptist Church? The right is many times more violent in both action (see my link @26) and rhetoric than the left, and a lot less likely to call out people on their own side when they go over the line. I’m all for members of the left calling out violent rhetoric from the left. But, people on the right need to STFU and clean their own fucking house before they have any moral authority in my book.

  30. 31
    Nancy Lebovitz says:

    Kate, I agree that the right is worse than the left. I’m concerned that the left has been doing its own anti-empathy campaign which doesn’t bode well for the future.

  31. 32
    Sebastian H says:

    Well just yesterday we got to see gay Jewish people escorted out of the Chicago Dyke march.

    It had all the classic tropes: Jew=Israel=oppressor, the presence of the Star of David made ‘people feel unsafe’, people claiming ‘triggers’. This is how you other Jews.

    I don’t understand why people think that all marches have to be about all things. The whole reason to have narrow issue groups is to let people who agree on the issue work together. If you want to commit everyone to everything you join a political party.

    A gay vegan should not stop a Pride parade until all gay dairy farmers get banned. It isn’t about your vegan-ness it is about both of your gayness. Respect what it is about.

    A gay vegan should not stop an animal rights march until the organization deals with HIV issues. It isn’t about gay issues, it is about your common goal of animal rights. Respect what it is about.

    If you are excluding gay Jews or gay cops, you aren’t helping out the cause of gay rights. You are trying to elevate other causes over gay rights. If you want to do that at other marches, or in other facets of your life, great I guess. But don’t try to shove everything into a gay rights march. Our rights aren’t so secure as to be able to bleed it like that.

  32. 33
    Nancy Lebovitz says:

    The email notifications of new comments aren’t working for me.

  33. 34
    Humble Talent says:

    “The left is not perfect, but it has much stronger inhibitions against the use of violence than the right.”

    I don’t think that’s true… And I think that you only get to conclusions like that by being excessively tribal. The article you linked to, for instance, didn’t compare left and right violence, it compared radical Muslims to home grown terrorists. Now if you, as a representative of the left, want to own jihadi violence, I won’t stop you… Although that’s a connection I wouldn’t make myself, and while we’re at it, I wouldn’t go and describe someone who describes themselves as “anti-government” as Republican. I know you might be confused by all the white supremacists in the mix there… But there’s nothing inherent to conservatism that fosters white supremacy. Ask Hitler.

    Who do I think is more violent, Democrats or Republicans? I think it depends who you count as a Democrat or a Republican and what you count as violence. I’m reminded of something Scott Adams once wrote on gun control that rang particularly true with me… Let me find it.

    On average, Democrats (that’s my team*) use guns for shooting the innocent. We call that crime.

    On average, Republicans use guns for sporting purposes and self-defense.

    If you don’t believe me, you can check the statistics on the internet that don’t exist. At least I couldn’t find any that looked credible.

    But we do know that race and poverty are correlated. And we know that poverty and crime are correlated. And we know that race and political affiliation are correlated. Therefore, my team (Clinton) is more likely to use guns to shoot innocent people, whereas the other team (Trump) is more likely to use guns for sporting and defense.

    That’s a gross generalization. Obviously. Your town might be totally different.

    So it seems to me that gun control can’t be solved because Democrats are using guns to kill each other – and want it to stop – whereas Republicans are using guns to defend against Democrats. Psychologically, those are different risk profiles. And you can’t reconcile those interests, except on the margins. For example, both sides might agree that rocket launchers are a step too far. But Democrats are unlikely to talk Republicans out of gun ownership because it comes off as “Put down your gun so I can shoot you.”

    If someone were to count every instance of someone registered D or R committing an act of physical violence… I think Democrats would probably win for all the reasons listed in the third paragraph there. But if we took a step back and looked at politically motivated violence… I think it’s closer. Probably too close to call. I think that campus outrage culture is boiling, and the violence there is ramping up… But it still isn’t particularly common.

  34. 35
    Kate says:

    The article you linked to, for instance, didn’t compare left and right violence, it compared radical Muslims to home grown terrorists.

    The article I linked to compares terrorist incidents and foiled plots perpetrated by three groups – right wing, Islamist and left wing 0n all it’s charts. From the article:

    Incidents related to left-wing ideologies, including ecoterrorism and animal rights, were comparatively rare, with 19 incidents causing seven fatalities – making the shooting attack on Republican members of Congress earlier this month somewhat of an anomaly.

    Note that’s compared to 115 incindent with 79 deaths for right wing extremists and 63 incidents with 90 deaths. In this category, incidents of left wing violence don’t even come close to those of either Islamsit or right wing violence.

    Scott Adams’ theory is just that – a theory without any data to back it up.

  35. 36
    Humble Talent says:

    Note that’s compared to 115 incindent with 79 deaths for right wing extremists and 63 incidents with 90 deaths. In this category, incidents of left wing violence don’t even come close to those of either Islamsit or right wing violence.

    Kate, you realize your citation was exclusively on the topic of terrorism, not violence in general, right?

    And what did they count as left wing terrorism: Environmental activism? What did they not mention once? Protests. I wonder if they count the riots at UC Berkeley?

    Like I said last time: It depends on who you count and what you count as violence.

  36. 37
    Kate says:

    Sebastian @32 – that incident needs to be unambiuously condemned.

    Nancy @ 31

    I’m concerned that the left has been doing its own anti-empathy campaign which doesn’t bode well for the future.

    Can you link to any data that suggests your concern is warrented? The left is certainly less violent now than it was in the 1960’s and 70’s. I don’t remember the sort of left-wing rhetoric you’re referring to being any less common when I was in college during the first Bush administration. I’m having trouble finding data specifically on political violence and violent rhetoric, other than the link I provided above, which supports my view pretty strongly.

  37. 38
    Kate says:

    Terrorism is the most extreme manifestation of politial violence. On that metric, the right is roughly five to six times more violent than the left. They also commit more murders by far according to the Anti-defamation league (ADL), and the Government Accountability Office (GAO). Although this article begins by declaring an “unsubstantiated” verdict for the ADL’s overall statement, they go on to conclude:

    Our findings support the ADL statistic. Using their definition of right-wing extremists, we found that 92 percent of ideologically motivated homicide incidents were committed with a right-wing extremist or white supremacist motive.
    The Government Accountability Office (GAO) conducted a somewhat similar analysis of domestic extremism since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and found that 73 percent of all domestic extremist incidents that resulted in death were perpetrated by so-called right-wing extremists.

    The ADL statistic may well be accurate, but other statistics from START paint a more complicated picture.

    Left-wing and environmental extremists committed around 69 percent of all extremist property attacks, which often involved acts of arson. Muslim extremists committed about 62 percent of all homegrown bombing incidents and 29 percent of all armed assaults by extremists. Besides homicide, right-wing extremists are responsible for around 48 percent of all armed assault incidents by extremists with a clear ideological motive.

    In perspective, different extremist groups commit violence in different ways. Focusing on incidents of killings alone gives a misleading picture.

    So, the left does commit more property crimes. But, when it comes to violence against actual human bodies (which I consider far more important) the left is less violent than the right.

  38. 39
    desipis says:

    Kate:

    The sort of hate on display here in some members of the left wing fringe without real power, is paralleled by routine victim blaming which can be found almost on a daily basis from the mainstream right,

    Well I mean the right can point at ISIS, at Iran, at North Koera, etc. and say how those groups are so much worse. But “look at those bad people over there” isn’t a particularly compelling defence.

  39. 40
    Kate says:

    Well I mean the right can point at ISIS, at Iran, at North Koera, etc. and say how those groups are so much worse

    Yes, and if members of ISIS or the governments of Iran or North Korea (lets maintain a distinction between these oppressive states and the citizens they oppress) started lecturing me about how awful the American right or Republican party is, I’d tell them to STFU and clean their own house first too.

  40. 41
    desipis says:

    Humble Talent (quoting Scott Adams):

    But we do know that race and poverty are correlated. And we know that poverty and crime are correlated. And we know that race and political affiliation are correlated. Therefore, my team (Clinton) is more likely to use guns to shoot innocent people, whereas the other team (Trump) is more likely to use guns for sporting and defense.

    That’s bad logic that relies on a whole heap of unstated and unevidenced assumptions.

  41. 42
    Kate says:

    But “look at those bad people over there” isn’t a particularly compelling defence.

    Depends on what you are defending against. I’m not defending the words or actions of the people attacking Otto Wambier. I’m defending the larger left against the postion that they are:

    …emblematic of a wider undercurrent on the progressive side of politics that directs as much ridicule, contempt and even hatred as it can muster at anyone who is white, male, straight, cis, etc.

    We have a model in the right wing that demonstrates that the behavior of the left doesn’t even come close to “as much ridicule, contempt and even hatred” as can be mustered.

  42. 43
    Nancy Lebovitz says:

    Kate, I think proud claims of lack of empathy as in the original post count, as do actual violence followed by saying there should be more damage.

    http://www.cnn.com/2017/06/24/politics/nebraska-dem-fired-scalise-shot/index.html

    Montag says he was taken out of context, but it’s hard for me to imagine what the context might have been.

  43. 44
    Kate says:

    I think proud claims of lack of empathy as in the original post count, as do actual violence followed by saying there should be more damage.

    I disagree. They are just anecdotes and say nothing about trends over time or the prevalence of such odious views (which, I do support calling out individuals for). The problem, for me, arises when these few isolated examples are used to delegitimize the left more broadly, even as more systemic abuses on the right are ignored.
    As for Montag, he was fired. That actually supports my point that the left polices itself pretty well.

  44. 45
    Ampersand says:

    Sebastian: For what it’s worth, people affiliated with the Chicago Dyke March are claiming that the story has been inaccurately reported. For example.

  45. 46
    desipis says:

    Kate:

    I’d tell them to STFU and clean their own house first too.

    I’m not sure how that applies to me and my criticisms though.

    They are just anecdotes and say nothing about trends over time or the prevalence of such odious views

    About 10 years ago things were at the stage of a few anecdotes. Over the last ten years the frequency and publicity of incidents has increased that trend has become much clearer. The fact there are now university courses called “The Problem of Whiteness” shows how significant the anti-white attitude is within the left.

  46. 47
    Michael says:

    @Kate#44- where do I start? Let’s begin with the fact that many leftists view supporters of Stalin and Mao as martyrs. People like Dalton Trumbo are treated like free speech heroes. Why Polish-Americans, for example, might have viewed them as monsters is never considered.
    Next we have callout culture. People often find themselves hounded for saying what millions of other people have said. Look at Getting Racists Fired. Jezebel reported TEENAGERS to their school administrators for saying racist things:
    https://jezebel.com/5958993/racist-teens-forced-to-answer-for-tweets-about-the-nigger-president
    But of course, if a left-winger has a history of saying things that are offensive, then they should be defended:
    http://www.salon.com/2016/12/29/is-anti-racist-a-code-word-for-anti-white-no-but-the-people-behind-whitegenocide-may-think-so_partner/
    Then, there’s what I like to call “creepy protesting”. For example, look at the current mess at Evergreen. Yes, the right deserves a lot of the blame but it started when the protestors sent 50 students into a professor’s classroom to yell at him for some emails he wrote months ago and then complained that someone called Campus Police.
    Then, there’s the idolizing of people that were actually part of violent terrorist groups. Look at Oscar Lopez Rivera- he was praised by the same director of Hamilton that condemned Mike Pence. He even was honored in the Puerto Rican Parade, although that resulted in a boycott.
    Next we have the demonization of nerds. Neckbeard, basement dweller, and virgin are among the common leftist insults. Look at this article for example:
    http://reallifemag.com/what-was-the-nerd/
    Or look at Arthur Chu:
    http://www.ravishly.com/2015/03/16/nerd-masculinity-they-wont-give-it-without-fight
    “To paraphrase Martin Luther King, straight white middle-class dudes who are “nerds” are people who’ve been negatively judged on the content of their character.”

  47. 48
    Sebastian H says:

    Amp, here is the local (relatively comprehensive) reporting on the issue.

    “The Star of David makes it look too much like the Israeli flag, they said, and it triggers people and makes them feel unsafe.”

    Where is my eye roll emoticon? The Star of David ‘triggers’ people in a US march, and of course the classic “makes them feel unsafe” trope that is supposed to end all discussion.

    You know what makes some people feel unsafe at a Pride march? Muslims, because gays still get thrown off roofs to their deaths in some Muslim countries. But do you know why we don’t ask Muslims to leave Pride marches? Because that would be freaking racist and anathema to the whole concept of gay Pride.

    There were apparently 3 flags, 2 with white Stars of David, one with blue. All three asked to leave.

    And look at the thread you quote: “Plus dyke march is a small, intentionally radical event meant to be an alternative to much larger Pride. Zionist stuff is all over at Pride” “So if gay Jews want a place to wave their flag, they definitely have one.”

    Note the ratification of the idea that the flag was Zionist, despite the fact that all three when asked said it was Jewish. Note the ratification of the idea that if gay Jews want to publicly wave ‘their flag’ that the dyke march isn’t such a place. And equating ‘radical’ with the idea that the Jews should have known better than to fly a rainbow flag with a Star of David.

    And that is from the best face forward, after you already know that you are being looked at as anti-Semite, defenders. If that came from right wingers who had just kicked out people flying Star of David flags that were definitely not Israeli flags, would you be so generous?

    I also note that if you look at the Chicago Dyke March website you will find not a single mention of Palestine, so it isn’t as if the 3 Jewish women were coming into a place that was publicizing itself as hostile to Israel ahead of time.

  48. 49
    Mandolin says:

    I find that incident extremely upsetting, too, Sebastian.

  49. 50
    Ampersand says:

    Desipis, I replied to you regarding “The Problem of Whiteness” on the open thread.

  50. 51
    Sebastian H says:

    I wrote more about it on the open thread. I’m actually really troubled by the use of “pinkwashing” to try to silence Israeli LGBT voices. Just because the state of gay rights in Israel makes the rest of the Arab world look horrible by comparison, doesn’t mean that any LGBT voice talking on gay subjects should be shouted down as a “Zionist”.

  51. 52
    Kate says:

    I replied to desipis @46 and Michael @47 on the open thread @27 and 28, respectively.

  52. 53
    Jake Squid says:

    And talking about various wings of politics fomenting violence

    I’d like to see an example of a mainstream group affiliated with the other party that’s comparable.

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