Great interview on the state of the left: identitarianism, appeals to authority, transactivism as McCarthysm, and more

“When you challenge an oppressor, the first thing you have to be able to say is ‘You are not who you say you are’. And what identitarianism does is that it deprives us of the ability to say that” – Stuart Parker

This is a great interview with Stuart Parker – a guy I hadn’t heard of before this – on the state of the left. I am generally not a big fan of Meghan Murphy’s youtube content (though I think she is an excellent writer when it comes to feminism) but this interview hits it out of the park. There is a lot that’s spot on and well articulated regarding transactivism as a new McCarthyism, the stupidification of the left and how gender identity fits into that, identitarianism and more.

A couple of comments: Regarding this stupidification, he points out that the billionaire class pushes gender identity ideology because it’s in their interest that we be incapable of having coherent conversations with each other. While I appreciate that he names that this is what’s happening, I think it is only part of the picture. They don’t mention in the same context that this is also a direct attack on women’s rights, which also serves the billionaire class (not to mention men as a whole) because the exploitation and disempowerment of women is foundational to capitalism and especially to several industries that are currently flourishing.

While this is mitigated by the comments on billionaires in a different segment, they do also depict the gender ideology movement as being genuinely about the safety of trans people, which is misleading. For example, they rhetorically ask who it serves to repeat the mantra “transwomen are women” and assert that it serves no one, not even trans people. But this isn’t true. It serves men as a class for women to be erased politically, legally and conceptually, and for women’s spaces and resources to be up for grabs again by men. Many transactivists and supporters and funders of the movement are not trans themselves, however I think that in recognizing this point they are also portraying all trans people as being separate from the larger movement, outwardly gender non-conforming and at risk of violence. It seems that the speaker is referring to the trans people of 30 years ago and not taking into account how the definition has changed, especially with gender self-ID. There are men who identify as women, present entirely as male and are therefore not remotely at risk of male violence or in need of third spaces. There are people who identify as trans and also participate in misogynistic harassment and advocacy, who are motivated by misogyny and not merely the discomfort of gender roles or a sexed body. These are not mutually exclusive.

On the question of third spaces, they point to the example of transwomen pushing for separate bathrooms in Thailand as an obvious solution, but that doesn’t square with the current reality of the movement here. Instead, it generously presumes that the problem the movement seeks to address is male violence against trans-identified males, which isn’t true. If it were, why admit entirely male-presenting men to women’s spaces? Third spaces aren’t the solution most advocated for because both on a micro level and certainly on a macro level it’s not only about safety.

Regarding McCarthyism: this is not unique to the gender movement but is instead a fact of woke culture in general. In the few years that Seed the Commons (STC, the organization I co-founded) was active in local animal rights circles, we experienced a lot of unethical behavior from within the movement. I’ve written about the backlash I received for my disbelief in gender, but it actually started before that. One of the issues that people took with us was that we weren’t seen as sufficiently opposed to Direct Action Everywhere (DxE), an animal rights organization/network that is highly contentious and maligned within the movement. My organization never partnered with DxE and none of the founders or board members of Seed the Commons were ever members of DxE. In fact, I have had my own reservations about, and frustrations with, DxE. But what we did was enough to tarnish us as friends of the bad guys and therefore bad guys ourselves.  

This is what we did: In 2016, Seed the Commons signed a letter of support for DxE when they were facing an eviction, we shared a video of theirs on Facebook, and we invited one of the founders of DxE to speak at our conference. For context, we have shared content from numerous groups, many of which are not vegan. I also invited a wide range of speakers to my conference, again, many of which weren’t vegan. Somehow this was never an issue for animal rights folks, but any sign of anything other than hostility towards DxE was subject to veritable policing.   

On the letter and video: When the Berkeley Animal Rights Center (the de facto DxE headquarters) was facing what seemed like an unfair and politically-motivated eviction, STC was one of many organizations to sign a letter of support addressed to the mayor of Berkeley. Both myself and the other founder of Seed the Commons had been very involved in anti-eviction activism in the Bay Area in previous years, and one of our board members was a professional housing advocate and anti-eviction organizer; it would have been strange and hypocritical for us to not extend this barest level of support to a local organization facing an unfair eviction. As soon as the letter was made public (like, instantaneously) one of our volunteers emailed me to ask for an explanation. She had been contacted by a friend of hers who sounded the alarm on, I guess, our questionable associations, or her questionable association to us. 

Just like free speech is for everyone and not just those you agree with, illegal and unfair evictions are no less wrong if the people getting evicted aren’t to your liking. Opposing evictions is a cause that surpasses the story of any individual evictees, and all the more so in the Bay Area. Amazingly, this was not how our volunteer saw things, despite being a person who was building her career and identity on being at the forefront of progressive causes and preaching to vegans about social justice. Instead, she did some mental gymnastics to minimize the wrongness of the eviction and to criticize DxE for fighting back. Her friend then informed her of the video we had shared weeks prior, and that sealed the deal. The volunteer said she could no longer work with Seed the Commons, but that she did want to continue working with me and the other STC founder as individuals. What this really was about was avoiding a public association with a tarnished organization, not because of her personal conviction, but just for the optics. (1)  

As to inviting Wayne Hsiung to speak at our conference, this was used against us for years to follow. Lauren Ornelas, a person who has marketed herself as a reference and arbiter on all things social justice to the animal rights crowd, tried to get me uninvited from Berkeley Earth Day in 2018, using my invitation of Wayne (two years prior!) as a pretext. Berkeley Earth Day was organized by the same person who later dropped me from her book for my gender critical views, but in this instance, she agreed that this was an unreasonable level of guilt by association (and she shared with me that she herself had been bullied into not letting Wayne speak at another one of her conferences, and was very frustrated with what she saw as irrational groupthink on this issue). Lauren got angry with the organizer for not uninviting me and canceled her own talk at Berkeley Earth Day instead. I also later found out that this was not the only time that Lauren had berated organizers for giving my organization a platform, accusing us of being “in cahoots” with DxE. None of this was made public, indeed she asked the organizer of Berkeley Earth Day to keep the whole thing secret. By using guilt by association, a person with clout in the movement was throwing their weight around to exclude others. This was nothing other than behind-the-scenes bullying, which leads me to my next point.    

There is also a connection between identitarianism and McCarthyism, where the first enables the second. In my experience in the animal rights movement, the policing of others often came from people of color or other minorities who put forth this facet of their identity as a way to establish themselves as an authority on social justice. White people are typically not willing to challenge their ideas or behaviors, for fear of being perceived as too fragile, unwoke, etc. In cases where people of color with whom I’ve spoken have plainly used the words “bully” and “bullying” to describe certain individuals and their behaviors, white people were much more diplomatic and circumspect. Identitarianism can foster an environment in which bullying is unchecked, because the opportunity to use your identity to be an unchallengeable authority appeals to a certain type of personality. In his recent article Identitarianism created Jessica Krug, Jesse Singal wrote “If you’re a certain type of attention-seeking person — particularly the type who wants to be able to browbeat or bully others — it must be irresistible to seize this type of power. It’s something that no one can take away from you — who wouldn’t want to be the subject of that sort of deference?”. (2)  

We ended up in a different place than where we started, and it got more personal than planned! But going back to the interview: my few comments and bones to pick don’t change that I find it interesting and very insightful. A+, would listen again.

(1) This is the person whose book I helped make happen, as I mentioned in my post on getting dropped from an animal rights anthology. At some point I will tell that story because as I’ve said before, it is the perfect illustration of the problems with so-called “intersectional veganism”.

(2) Ironically and sadly, despite an apparent reversal of power and increased representation at a superficial level, ultimately power and wealth mostly remain in the same hands. Those who are from groups that have traditionally been unheard and unrepresented, typically remain so. This is also something that I touched upon in my recent post, How being a feminist got me dropped as an author of an animal rights anthology.

2020 Has Brought Us Meta-Strikes

El San Franciscan works for a union that has been organizing strikes and picket lines for their members. He was asked to attend a picket line tomorrow for a health worker’s strike. It’s come out that one of his co-workers contracted Covid, possibly at a recent picket line they were made to attend where the PPE provided was not adequate and social distancing was not enforced. And now, many other co-workers are being quarantined after being exposed to the virus. A few hours ago, I suggested to El San Franciscan that he not go to the picket line tomorrow, and he didn’t think it was an option.

But really, it should be an option. They are not being provided with safe work conditions. In addition to the lack of social distancing and PPE, the strikers tomorrow are nurses and many of them recently tested positive for Covid. So now, the union that represents El San Franciscan and his co-workers, which is a different union from the one for which they work, is urging them to strike by not attending the strike tomorrow. So… it’s a meta strike.

In no way do I want to make light of this. It is tragic that these people, some of whom have underlying health conditions and are at the risk of infecting larger families, are working in unsafe conditions. One of the reasons I am writing this is to simply share a slice of what’s happening in the Bay Area at this time of global pandemic.

But a vestige of my studies (two decades ago!), and of being momentarily obsessed with the concept of meta-communication, is a certain amusement with finding the meta. And to the many incongruous things that 2020 has brought us, we can now add meta-strikes.

A note to those who complain that they’re “not allowed to criticize Islam”

I often see people complain that they’re “not allowed to criticize Islam”, that any criticism is framed as Islamophobia, or who voice frustrated and rhetorical questions like “why do liberals defend Islam?” (the feminist version of this is “why do liberal feminists defend Islam?”), and so on. I wrote an answer to someone on social media who posted that it’s “so frustrating when libfems call radfems Islamophobic for critizing the hijab”, along with the image below. Since this topic comes up so frequently I thought I’d also write an answer here.

The poster commented: “This! It is so, so frustrating when libfems call radfems ‘islamophobic’ for criticizing the hijab. They’re such imbeciles, it’s insane.”

It is not inherently Islamophobic to criticize the hijab, but when you think that the hijab is the all and everything and absolute pinnacle of women’s oppression, you seem myopic, and yes, likely prejudiced towards a specific group. 

Furthermore. The accusation of Islamophobia is not used just because people “criticize the hijab”. This is not a fair characterization of those who speak about Islamophobia and it dismisses valid concerns about bigotry. I know that when I point out Islamophobia, it’s not in response to people’s mere criticism of the hijab. I have no issue with the above quote.

When some of us name Islamophobia, it’s because of things like this:

– Focusing disproportionately on examples of sexism among Muslims in comparison to elsewhere.
– Blowing up the significance of the hijab such that it is assumed to be associated with the most extreme experience of female subservience and oppression. This simply isn’t true.
– Taking examples of news and customs from (frankly) backwater places and presenting them as representative of all Muslims, instead of realizing that like the Christian world, the Muslim world has differences based on country, ethnicity, class, rural/urban, and more.
– Downvoting* the women of Muslim origin who point these things out and tell you that their experiences are not the same as the news story you read (about the honor killing in Pakistan or whatnot), while simultaneously criticizing liberal feminists for not listening to the ex-Muslim women you want them to listen to (who are sometimes the Candace Owenses of the Muslim world).

The queer and liberal feminist whitewashing of Islam can be downright strange, but at least we can appreciate that it stems from something positive: The recognition of the bias and bigotry of much of Western discourse around Muslims, and especially the role that the focus on the oppression of Muslim women has played in right-wing demagoguery, including the drumming up for war in Iraq and Afghanistan. In an alternative timeline where Iran made nice with the US and South Korea was placed in the Axis of Evil, we’d have heard much more about molka than hijabs.

In regards to the hijab specifically, I am not sure liberal feminists are really saying that the hijab itself is inherently empowering. I can see Muslim women, and especially men, making that argument. But I think that what liberal feminists find empowering is simply choice. Any choice, all choice. That includes the choice to wear a hijab but it’s not the hijab in and of itself that they find empowering. They don’t care about the origins of the hijab anymore than they do about analyzing women’s nudity in the West. In fact, celebrating women’s choice through the example of the hijab validates their support for the increasing self-objectification of Western women in today’s porn-saturated culture. By framing feminism around choice, they’ve diverted it from analyzing where our behaviors come from and what their material impacts are.

Radical feminists are usually critical of equating liberation with the freedom to take off one’s clothes. But when it comes to Muslims, they tend to fall right into the long-standing Western view that “we’re civilized and equal because our women are in bikinis, Muslims are savages because their women are covered up”. I don’t view the hijab as a symbol of liberation, but when I see quasi-naked women in the West prancing or twerking or standing like ditzy adornments on TV shows, at parties, or in music videos next to fully clothed men, I can’t fail to see the bias in the notion that women covering their hair is the ultimate indicator of submission.

*Referring to the good old days of Reddit here.

Your Intersectionality is Bullshit

These days I’m less connected to the animal rights movement and less present on social media, so I’m not on top of trends, but for a while intersectionality was a BIG THING. It’s always been bullshit, but I thought people had moved onto different framing, different language…. like “radical veganism”. I guess I was wrong. Getting back on facebook has me coming across pro-intersectional posts from vegans, so the bs still needs pointing out. 

I see the appeal of the punchy, self-righteous language, but this is empty virtue-signalling. The people who popularized “intersectionality” in the animal rights movement are in no way fighting against ALL oppression. Or even the most widespread oppressions. Who right now is organizing against the wars in the Middle East? What vegans are working with the labor movement? And don’t get me started on how the “intersectional” crowd is purging women who speak up for women from the movement.

These messages are harmful because they shame people away from their activism. Single-issue activism is completely fine as long as it doesn’t serve to oppress others. Yes, your animal rights activism should not become a vehicle or an excuse for racism. This is not the same as saying that if you spend time on animal rights activism you must also spend some time doing anti-racism activism. Basically, this is an All-Lives Matter response to animal rights or whatever other activism is being shamed (typically animal rights or women’s rights; other movements are more often left alone to do the limited good they do).

Beware of Fraudulent Vegan Products in Colombia

Colombia offers a sizeable number of vegan and vegetarian restaurants, especially in larger cities, as well as natural food stores and delivery services that sell vegan products. Be vigilant however: there are a few products that are fraudulently labeled vegan.

Fake fake cheese.

I bought this “vegan” cheese at Ceres Market in Medellin. The fat-free claim and ingredient list struck me as odd but I bought it anyway, vaguely thinking that the list might be false or incomplete without considering that the product might not be vegan.

I’ve been a vegan for so long that when I first tasted the cheese, the flavor didn’t tip me off. I then threw some in a pan of zucchini I was sautéing, wondering if it would melt. It melted immediately. It had barely touched the zucchini and it was already a puddle. I’ve cooked with many vegan cheeses and never saw one melt so quickly. The cheese was also extremely stringy, something I have again never seen in a vegan cheese.

I texted a local animal rights activist a picture of the package and asked if she knew the brand and whether she thought it was vegan. This was her response:

“We don’t consume it because we don’t think it’s vegan. They used to use the Follow Your Heart label, later someone contacted Follow Your Heart and was told that they had taken legal action against this company. The packaging used to say “vegan cheese” and now it doesn’t say that anymore. Anyway, there were several inconsistencies and we prefer not to consume it, especially since we’ve tried many vegan cheeses around the world and none of them are like this one, whereas it is exactly like non-vegan cheese.”

So this seedy company is using the vegan trend to scam people into paying a premium on cow’s cheese. Needless to say, this is wholly unethical. Of course, selling cheese made from cow’s milk is always unethical due to the unavoidable cruelty to the cows and calves, but this is also cruel towards humans. People who eat fake vegan cheese might be intolerant or allergic to milk, and/or are being made to support an industry they find morally abhorrent.

This incident also recast a doubt on an earlier incident, when I got a vegan tamale to go from a vegetarian restaurant in Medellin. Eating it the next day, the vegan chicken struck me as very different from any other mock meat I’ve eaten. I threw away the tamale, emailed the restaurant to ask what brand of veggie chicken they used and never got an answer. In the meantime I found a Colombian online vegan store that sold tamales that seemed to be same ones I had eaten, so I decided that my concerns had been unwarranted. I think this is the chicken they use. However, after the cheese incident, I’m less inclined to automatically trust that something is vegan just because it’s labeled as such.

For the most part, I haven’t had concerns with vegetarian and vegan restaurants, with the exception of the tamale and a couple times when my soup had a suspiciously meaty flavor. If the food looks like it’s made from scratch – and it usually is – there’s probably nothing to worry about. I don’t think anyone is adding non-vegan ingredients on purpose, but in the case of the soup I think it’s possible that some meaty bouillon made its way there unnoticed. Another criteria is whether the owners or workers are veg*n themselves. It would be obnoxious to ask this at every restaurant you go to, but if you’re already making conversation you can take the opportunity to find out. If the people running the restaurant are vegan and/or if they are making food from scratch, I would not worry. I still wouldn’t worry if that’s not the case, but I think that while mistakes are unlikely, they can happen.

One final note is that, like elsewhere, replacements of common foods are not always vegan. I recently visited a natural foods store where there were two cheese alternatives: the fraudulent ones from the brand above, and an almond-based cheese that contained casein. There was no dishonest marketing with the latter but it said “almond cheese”, so it’s a reminder to always check the ingredients. Also, not all plant-based milks in Colombia are vegan, as they may use animal-based vitamins or additives. Before buying a new brand of milk, it can be useful to contact the company or check to see if the product is featured here. I’ve noticed however that many of the coffee shops that offer almond and soymilk use Silk, which is vegan, so this isn’t often a problem.

While Colombian food is typically meat-heavy, it’s also easy to travel here as a vegan. Just avoid “Badem”* cheese and remember that if something seems off, it just might be.

* Badem means almond in Persian.

Update (Nov. 6): I’ve come across some Colombian restaurant reviews that warn that recipes labeled vegan – with vegan cheese – were not vegan. In one case, posters with lactose intolerance experienced strong symptoms after eating a lasagna with “vegan” cheese. The restaurant in question has both a vegetarian and meat-based menu, so this is the problem that I touched upon. No doubt, the owner’s intention was to create vegan dishes, but not being vegan or vegetarian himself, he did not do the research to ensure that the cheese he buys is really vegan. In these cases it’s best to stick to simpler dishes that don’t contain meat or dairy substitutes.