Here Are My Actual Dumb Opinions
a boring and tiresome list of principles
One thing I realized very early on is that when you become even a very minor internet celebrity, as I surely am, there is essentially another you that lives in the collective minds of others and which has very little to do with you yourself. It’s… strange to experience, although honestly sometimes it helps because you can more easily distance yourself from the nastier criticism. But you always have to remember that there’s some little imago of you stalking around the internet, buzzing into people’s brains, that you can’t control and yet which deeply influences people’s perception of you. I don’t know, it’s Chinatown. The human brain was not meant for online life.
Sometimes this represents itself as people “remembering” very specific things I have not written. For example, there is a small cohort of people out there who appear to be convinced that I once wrote an epic takedown of the podcast Chapo Trap House. Really, a least a half-dozen times in recent years someone has sort of vaguely waved in the direction of a supposed time in the past that I really ripped into them. But I never did! I am not a big podcast guy, at all, and I haven’t heard that one in five years. I am critical of the overreliance on irony in the socialist left, and I’m someone who thinks our post-2016 trajectory in general has been really depressing. But I don’t think those things are particularly germane to Chapo Trap House and I don’t bear them any ill will. In a similar vein, people will sometimes ask me for links to things I never wrote, like “where’s that post where you crushed people who like adult coloring books?” I never wrote that. I don’t care if people do adult coloring books. It’s certainly understandable why people think I walk around hating everything all the time, given my reputation, but I’m generally a much more easygoing fellow than people think.
Look: I have monetized a certain kind of dissident left politics - I am utterly sincere and motivated by authentic passion to write about it, but I have still monetized it - and I understand that doing so has consequences for the assumptions people make about me. I am a big boy and I have made my bed and while there are many who will always prefer to shun me I have enjoyed a good deal of forgiveness after personal scandal, for which I’m quite grateful. I do, though, get a little annoyed by some of the talk of the other me. There’s just no percentage in complaining about it, usually. Someone says that I hold some reactionary position that I don’t and have never held, I object to this, and I’m then accused of acting like a victim. This happens all the time. And, look - it’s the internet, people talk all kinds of shit, and you just have to accept it.
But there are certain issues of considerable sensitivity where my positions are frequently misrepresented, and I confess that it bothers me. Recently, a high-profile media type (who I will not name) referred to my recent post on abortion after Roe as a “rebranding.” Aside from the suggestion that my position is cynically motivated, this is also flatly untrue, as I have never, ever, ever written anything that would suggest anything other than total support for abortion rights on demand. I’m one of those normies who’s fine with the “safe, legal, and rare” framing if it is politically useful for securing those rights, but I’m an absolutist on this issue and always have been. My position is and has always been perfectly consonant with that of an organization like Planned Parenthood. Likewise, I am just baffled by the suggestion that there’s something hypocritical or inconsistent afoot when I show concern for LGBTQ issues. At the very beginning of growing up into adult political consciousness, pro-gay rights stuff was at the forefront of my efforts, and those issues remain personal for me. Yes, I have criticisms of the LGBTQ movement, just as I have criticisms of the progressive left’s recent history in general. But never have I ever wanted less than total equality and respect for people from minority sexual and gender identities.
Other issues are more charitably understood as justifiable misunderstandings. I wrote twice in support of Amber Heard in her defamation trial, and this confused some longtime readers. But the issues seemed straightforward to me - overly-broad defamation suits jeopardize free expression, and Amber Heard has clearly been the victim of canceling in just the way I have so frequently criticized. Those posts don’t seem contrary to my project but rather entirely in keeping with it. You are of course free to disagree with them. What I find frustrating is the assertion by others that my periodic counterintuitive (counter-counterintuitive?) positions are some sort of betrayal. I am me; the only person I could be betraying would be myself, and that’s hard to do when you are you, if you follow me. There’s a phenomenon that has gone back to the very beginning of my career as a writer - there are some rare souls who will fall in love with my writing and feel that certain pieces of mine speak to something in their hearts very deeply. The sad and inevitable next step is that I will eventually write something that they deeply disagree with, and the intensity of their love for the other stuff will make this unexpected disagreement hurt much more. It’s a privilege to make people feel so deeply. But we all must take care to not invent each other.
So I’m going to lay out my big-picture beliefs below the fold. Let’s mostly set socialist and Marxist details aside for now, as those things live only in the world of the theoretical, and generally concentrate on issues. Identity issues will feature prominently because that is where I most often argue with other people on the left. I would like to stress two points to start out.
You absolutely do not have to read this list, especially if you’re a long-term reader of mine. Really. It will be boring. This whole exercise is defensive and self-indulgent.
Publishing this will do absolutely nothing to stop people from representing me as a reactionary.
Finally - what my conservative, libertarian, and moderate subscribers and supporters will have to decide for themselves is whether their fondness for my integrity and my political process, as well as how I express myself, overwhelms whatever distaste they may have for my substantive positions. Obviously, it’s good for me and my bank account if you decide that the intangibles are worth the disagreements on substance. But it’s crucial to me that you all make that decision while informed about what I actually think. I will say this: I think my cross-ideological readership owes a great deal to the fact that I believe that there are pre-political commitments to fairness and decency that are too often dismissed as a fetish for civility in our contemporary media. I am one of those rubes who still believe in passionate disagreement that does not close your heart to the other. Also, while I am a very weird person I would like to think that I avoid the bipartisan tendency in contemporary politics to talk like a complete lunatic.
Now for the tedious business.
I believe that the natural human condition is one of inequality and that the basic human moral and political task is to combat this inequality. (Civilization is man's war on the rational.) Our project is thus to increase certain types of equality in a way that ameliorates suffering and promotes human well-being, under the belief that a society’s well-being can only be improved if it is improved for all.
I therefore embrace a theory of moral and political universality: the idea that all people are deserving of lives of material security and comfort, that all people should enjoy the same human rights and civic responsibilities, and that any moral or political project that accepts the suffering of some as a necessary condition for the flourishing of others is therefore flawed. Naturally, because human societies are organized along lines of traditional inequality and injustice, a movement for social justice will necessarily invest considerable efforts in ameliorating inequalities along lines of race, gender, class, and similar.
I believe that achieving a just society cannot happen within a framework of capitalism, which inherently and necessarily increases inequality over time and which depends on exploitation for its basic functions. I believe in the peaceful and democratic replacement of capitalism with some kind of a socialist system. The exact dimensions of that system remain unclear, but they will surely involve removing basic human needs like food, shelter, clothing, medicine, education, and health care from market mechanisms; collectivizing ownership of the productive apparatus of society so that it may be used for the good of all, free from the profit motive; dramatically reducing the amount of inequality in material goods between different people and different groups; the gradual reduction (and perhaps eventual elimination) of what we conventionally consider the state, and bringing an end to the kind of permanent bureaucratic class which is inherently counter-revolutionary; an eventual end to our current rigid concept of paid labor, with guarantees that all people enjoy a certain standard of living so that they may engage in productive work that is not necessarily remunerative in the capitalist sense, thanks to an ever-growing technological abundance; and adopting a truly egalitarian, democratic system that protects the right to unpopular opinions, defends those who disagree with the ruling sentiment of the time, enshrines the will of the majority into tangible public action, and remains responsive to changing public sentiment.
I am an atheist in that I believe that there is no god or similar supernatural force. I am uninterested in convincing others to adopt atheism. I am sure that political arguments that depend upon invocations of god or other aspects of religious belief are inherently flawed and should be given no weight in determining public policy. I believe that people should be free to practice their religious beliefs to the degree that this practice does not infringe on the rights of others.
I believe that contemporary society and many societies in the past have been filled with a large amount of racism and racial inequality. By racism, I mean interpersonal bigotry against people of color; that is, feelings and beliefs that insist on the inferiority of people of color and the superiority of white people. By racial inequality, I mean structures in our society and economy that prioritize the interests of white people above and against those of people of color. The combination of racism and racial inequality, and the preexisting unequal distribution of power and money, contributes to white supremacy, a condition in which the currently-existing advantage in general of white people over people of color in general is enforced and perpetuated. I believe that racism, racial inequality, and white supremacy are powerful and entrenched conditions that cause deep harm to their victims and which prevent our society from being a just and equitable place. Addressing this injustice is thus of paramount importance to a moral political movement.
I therefore support policies designed to address these conditions such as reparations for slavery funded through government spending, affirmative action policies in higher education and hiring, an end to the Drug War and larger criminal justice reform, and through hate crimes legislation. I believe that only muscular government intervention can end racial inequality. I believe that, since we can never regulate thoughts or feelings, our focus must be on ending the material inequalities and injustices that afflict people of color, such as income gaps and police violence. I believe that the liberal obsession with linguistic, emotional, and interpersonal dimensions of racism has dramatically limited our ability to address the inherently tangible, material realities that contribute to racial inequality.
I believe that contemporary society and essentially all societies in the past have been filled with a large amount of sexism and gender inequality. By sexism, I mean interpersonal bigotry against women; that is, feelings and beliefs that insist on the inferiority of women and the superiority of men. By gender inequality, I mean structures in our society and economy that prioritize the interests of men above and against those of women. The combination of sexism and gender inequality, and the preexisting unequal distribution of power and money, contributes to patriarchy, a condition in which the currently-existing advantage in general of men over women in general is enforced and perpetuated. I believe that sexism, gender inequality, and patriarchy are powerful and entrenched conditions that cause deep harm to their victims and which prevent our society from being a just and equitable place. Addressing this injustice is thus of paramount importance to a moral political movement.
I therefore support policies designed to address these conditions such as equal pay laws and other anti-discrimination laws, affirmative action policies in higher education and hiring where needed, both a legal right and practical access to abortion on demand and without qualification or restriction, both a legal right and practical access to birth control on demand and without qualification or restriction, and through hate crimes legislation. I believe that only muscular government intervention can end gender inequality. I believe that, since we can never regulate thoughts or feelings, our focus must be on ending the material inequalities and injustices that afflict women, such as income gaps and sexual assault. I believe that the liberal obsession with linguistic, emotional, and interpersonal dimensions of sexism has dramatically limited our ability to address the inherently tangible, material realities that contribute to sexual inequality.
I believe that contemporary society and many societies in the past have been filled with a large amount of homophobia, transphobia, and other forms of sexual and gender inequality. By homophobia, I mean interpersonal bigotry against gay, bisexual, lesbian, queer, and similar groups; that is, feelings and beliefs that insist on the inferiority of members of those groups and the superiority of cisgender heterosexual people. By sexual and gender inequality, I mean structures in our society and economy that prioritize the interests of cisgender heterosexual people above and against those of these groups. The combination of homophobia, transphobia, and other forms of sexual and gender inequality, and the preexisting unequal distribution of power and money, contribute to a condition in which the currently-existing advantage in general of cisgender heterosexual people over members of those groups in general is enforced and perpetuated. I believe that this injustice is powerful and entrenched and causes deep harm to its victims and which prevents our society from being a just and equitable place. Addressing this injustice is thus of paramount importance to a moral political movement.
I therefore support policies designed to address these conditions such as equal protections laws for LGBTQ people, hate crimes laws, laws protecting same-sex marriage and adoption, laws ensuring the right of all people to define their own gender identity, laws ensuring the right of all people to use whichever bathrooms are consistent with that identity, and similar laws. I believe that only muscular government intervention can end sexual and gender inequality. I believe that, since we can never regulate thoughts or feelings, our focus must be on ending the material inequalities and injustices that afflict women, such as income gaps and sexual assault. I believe that the liberal obsession with linguistic, emotional, and interpersonal dimensions of homophobia and transphobia has dramatically limited our ability to address the inherently tangible, material realities that contribute to gender and sexual inequality.
I believe that the interests of the disabled, cognitively and physically, are frequently marginalized in contemporary society in a way that compels us to collective and government action to protect their rights and interests, such that they may live lives of equal material security and abundance as those who are not disabled. I believe that the interests of Muslims are frequently marginalized in contemporary society in a way that compels us to collective and government action to protect their rights and interests, such that they may live lives of equal material security and abundance as those who are not disabled. My failure to list various other marginalized groups in this space should not be construed as a lack of caring about their interests or any particular political responsibility we might have to help them.
I am a civil libertarian, in a way that was once perfectly common on the left. I believe that the purpose of human society is to reduce suffering, promote well-being, and engender freedom. Far from a bourgeois or capitalist concern, the pursuit of personal freedom is as Marx argued a natural and beneficial endeavor that reflects straightforward human desires to live without coercion. We should therefore maximize personal freedom to the degree to which it is possible to do so without hurting our ability to provide for the material need and comfort of all people. Civil liberties, and in particular both a legal right to free expression and a robust norm of free expression, are to the benefit of the left, because the left is a traditionally unpopular group that will more often be the censored than the censors. More, left-wing rejection of free expression ultimately demonstrates a lack of faith in the power of our own beliefs, as it is the person who cannot win an argument that seeks to prevent one. Driving unpopular beliefs underground does not stop them. Indeed, it is precisely in the underground that unpopular beliefs flourish. Only through the rigorous rebuttal of wrong or bigoted beliefs can they ever be defeated. That is not a normative claim; that is an empirical claim. There is no alternative.
I believe that human beings live in the environment, and thus have an intrinsic self-interest in protecting the environment. I further believe that as conscious beings who will be proceeded on this earth by other conscious beings we have a moral duty to protect the planet’s finite and delicate resources and abundance for later generations. I further believe that human beings have a responsibility to protect the interest of other animals who lack the ability to conceive of an environment and the ability to protect it. Therefore environmental issues will always be of tantamount importance to any movement for true social justice.
I believe that adult, informed, uncoerced consent is the sole criterion of whether a sexual act is healthy, moral, and legally permissible. With the informed and uncoerced consent of all parties, no sexual act is impermissible; without that consent, no sexual act can be condoned. Children, animals, the severely cognitively disabled, those incapacitated through drugs or alcohol or similar agents that restrict full cognitive functioning, and those who face severe power imbalances such that they effectively cannot refuse consent, are not capable of giving adult, informed, uncoerced consent and are thus not eligible for permissible sexual contact of any kind.
I believe that the death penalty is an abomination that reflects the full depravity of human civilization and the utter failure of our people to live according to anything resembling coherent or correct moral values and that ending the practice is thus of immense and immediate political importance.
I believe that borders are an illegitimate fiction and that immigrants contribute to the flourishing of our culture. I therefore advocate for dramatically looser immigration policy than our current status quo
I believe that the government has no legitimate interest in defining what is best for an individual’s body, which must belong solely and inviolately to the individual. Therefore I object to any prohibitions about which substances an adult human can knowingly introduce into their own body, including drugs and alcohol, and I am opposed to the criminalization of suicide, as the individual’s inviolate ownership of their own physical body implies the right to end one’s own life. We fought a civil war in this country to determine who owns the human body, and the answer produced by that war was the individual.
I believe that contemporary left-wing and progressive people generally have better policy positions than their conservative counterparts, and their social and institutional cultures are generally more healthy than their conservative counterparts. However, the superiority of the 21st century American left and liberalism does not mean that those cultures are themselves healthy. I believe that in a large variety of ways liberals and the left have lost sight of absolutely basic political and philosophical conceptions of what our goals are, how best to achieve them, and where to expend scarce argumentative and personal resources. I believe that the liberal obsession with the linguistic, the cultural, the social, and the symbolic has handed conservatives a powerful advantage which has resulted in failure for our causes time and time again. I believe the left has lost sight of the meaning of real political power. I believe both groups (liberals and leftists) have responded to consistent political losses by shutting themselves off to internal criticism, ostracizing those who ask hard questions, and generally making their own groups resistant to the kinds of debate that are absolutely necessary for a political movement to thrive, particularly in a time of crisis.
I believe that neither the term “woke” nor “identity politics” is ideal, or perhaps even minimally useful, as both often destructively conflate precisely what we must keep separate, and that debates about them are characterized by a consistent and counterproductive tendency to obscure the actual subjects which we should be discussing. However, there is certainly a coherent tendency within the American left that they describe, albeit clumsily, and I remain patiently waiting for the members of that tendency to come up with a name they like. It is of no advantage to anyone to refuse to name such an influential tendency.
I believe that a fundamental instrument of the intellectual oppression of marginalized people is the condescension and pandering of members of dominant groups, and I have consistently refused to take part in this form of engagement myself. I have never and will never engage in a politics of personal deference through which white people, men, and other dominant groups have traditionally engaged when in conversation with members of marginalized groups, and through which they subtly but powerfully reinforce essentialist fictions about the supposed fragility of those people. That is to say, I will not “step back and shut up” when debating with members of marginalized groups, as the inherent and inescapable logic of that demand is that members of marginalized groups are incapable of debating people like me. That’s patronizing and degrading.
Anyone who tells you that I hold now or have ever held political beliefs other than the ones listed here is operating under a misconception or engaging in dishonesty. When in doubt, demand a link before accepting someone else’s representation of my opinions. Let me make me.
I know, I know, I know - there's no point to doing this, they'll just say what they want to anyway, it seems defensive, etc. Which is always easier to say when you're not the one who is constantly accused of wanting to put trans children in camps or whatever.
“I am one of those rubes who still believe in passionate disagreement that does not close your heart to the other.”
In a democracy, this is the only principle I care about. Happy 4th, friend.