Our true feelings about race and identity are revealed in six words (Michele Norris, 1/11/24, Washington Post)

I printed 200 black postcards at my local FedEx Kinko’s on upper Wisconsin Avenue asking people to condense their thoughts on race or cultural identity into one sentence of six words. The front of the cards simply read:

Race. Your thoughts. 6 words. Please send.

I left the cards everywhere I traveled: in bookstores, in restaurants, at the information kiosks in airports, on the writing desks at all my hotels. Sometimes I snuck them inside airline in-flight magazines or left them at the sugar station at Starbucks. I hoped a few of those postcards would come back, thinking it would be worth the trouble if even a dozen people responded.

Much to my surprise, strangers who stumbled on the cards would follow the instructions and use postage stamps to mail their six-word stories back to me in D.C. Since my parents were both postal workers, this gave me an extra thrill. Here I was, doing my part to support the Postal Service. Who says snail mail is dead?

Half a dozen cards arrived within a week, then 12, then 20. Over time, that trickle became a tide. I have received more than 500,000 of these stories — and more arrive every day, though the vast majority of submissions now arrive through a website portal online. They have come from all 50 states and more than 100 countries. […]

To keep the conversation going, I created a complementary website for the Race Card Project, where people could submit their six-word stories online. Over time we added two words to the submission form: “Anything else?” That changed everything. People sent in poems, essays, memos and historical documents to explain why they chose their six words. The archive came alive. It became an international forum where people could share their own stories but also learn much about life, as if it were lived by someone else.


Scientist cited in push to oust Harvard’s Claudine Gay has links to eugenicists: Christopher Rufo, credited with helping oust school’s first Black president, touted critic associated with ‘scientific racists’ (Jason Wilson, 14 Jan 2024, The Guardian)

The 2019 paper is entitled Polygenic Scores Mediate the Jewish Phenotypic Advantage in Educational Attainment and Cognitive Ability Compared With Catholics and Lutherans. It argues that the high cognitive abilities of Ashkenazi Jews are “significantly mediated by group differences in the polygenic score” – that is, genetically caused. They speculate that “culture-gene coevolution” may influence “Jewish group-level characteristics” like high cognitive abilities.

The basis of the paper was an interpretation of publicly available data from the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study, one of the longest-running population surveys in the US.

Pallesen’s co-authors were Emil Kirkegaard, Michael Woodley and Curtis S Dunkel.

The paper was demolished in a direct response from academics from universities including Stanford, Georgetown and the University of Wisconsin, who wrote that “researchers have been warning against using polygenic scores for comparisons across race/ethnic groups for some time now, and a closer look at the data results [in Pallesen paper] provides another illustration of why”.

The lead author of the paper criticizing Pallesen’s paper is Jeremy Freese, a professor of sociology at Stanford. Freese was also part of a team that integrated genetic data into the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study – the same data the original paper draws on.

In a telephone conversation, Freese said that “we were moved to write something because the paper seemed to mistake correlation for causation in a question that obviously deserved more care”.

Freese added: “The problem we pointed out didn’t take a detailed interrogation to notice.”

Aaron Panofsky is the director of, and a professor in, UCLA’s Institute for Society and Genetics, and one of the authors of the paper How White Nationalists Mobilize Genetics, which includes the Pallesen-co-authored paper in its survey of the misuse of genetic data by scientific racists.

On the paper’s claims about Jews’ innately high intelligence, Panofsky said that this was a persistent trope among white supremacists that “fits into a larger narrative about Jewish conspiracies and the idea that Jews are controlling the problems of the world from behind the scenes”.

The paper Pallesen co-authored repeatedly cites Kevin MacDonald, a retired psychology academic whose antisemitic publications argue that Jews engage in a “group evolutionary strategy” that explains their financial and cultural successes, and that antisemitism is an understandable reaction to this phenomenon.


Weaponising Emotion (LORENZO WARBY, DEC 21, 2023, Not On Your Team, But Always Fair)

The imagined future progressives use as benchmark isn’t real. This gives them a huge rhetorical advantage: a future from which there’s no information is free from complicating sins and trade-offs. It can be imagined to be as perfect as one wishes.

That rhetorical advantage comes at huge cost for human flourishing. The problem is not the wish to do better. It is using one’s vision of the future as the benchmark for judgement rather than testing it against the accumulated experience of human action. This is especially so when mechanisms are adopted to block any testing.

Using the imagined future as one’s benchmark naturally inclines one to adopt a perfectionist outlook as perfectionism shines most brightly. However, perfectionist standards devalue human achievement, because all achievement is imperfect. Any failing can readily be construed as a de-legitimising failure.

The Right, in turn, does the same with the past.


We need to talk about Trump’s antisemitism (Noah Berlatsky, 18 December 2023, Independent)

Trump is most directly attacking immigrants and non-white people. He extrapolates freely from worries about South Americans crossing the Southern border to attacks on Asian people and African people, all of whom are tarred as a threat to pure (white) America.

The echoes of Nazi rhetoric here, though, also inevitably implicate Jewish people, white and otherwise. For Hitler, Jewish people were always immigrant outsiders corrupting Aryan society. The vicious Nazi propaganda film The Eternal Jew juxtaposed discussions of Jews with images of rats onboard ships, bringing contagion from port to port.

The invidious conflation of Jewish people and immigrants isn’t just in the past, either. The Great Replacement Theory is a conspiracy theory which argues that support for immigration is designed to undermine white power and white culture. Many versions of this argument are explicitly antisemitic, blaming Jewish “elites” for pushing for policies that increase immigration.

In 2018, Trump winked at an antisemitic version of this theory, saying he “wouldn’t be surprised” if Holocaust survivor and billionaire Democratic donor George Soros was responsible for funding immigrant caravans to the US.

The accusations against Soros were baseless but popular; he’s a favourite target of the far right here and abroad, who use him as a (barely concealed) antisemitic dog-whistle. And that dog-whistle can have horrific effects. That shooter who killed eleven people at Tree of Life synagogue was directly inspired by antisemitic Great Replacement conspiracy theories. He targeted the Pittsburgh synagogue because it partnered with HIAS, a Jewish nonprofit that helped resettle immigrants. “HIAS likes to bring invaders that kill our people,” the shooter wrote on the far right social media site Gab. “I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered.” He then went off and committed mass murder.


What is the oppressor/victim mindset and how did it conquer the academy?: A condensed version of Chapter 3 of The Coddling of the American Mind (JON HAIDT AND GREG LUKIANOFF, DEC 21, 2023, After Babel)

Two Kinds of Identity Politics
“Identity politics” is a contentious term, but its basic meaning is simple. Jonathan Rauch, a scholar at The Brookings Institution, defines it as “political mobilization organized around group characteristics such as race, gender, and sexuality, as opposed to party, ideology, or pecuniary interest.” He notes that “in America, this sort of mobilization is not new, unusual, un­-American, illegitimate, nefarious, or particularly left wing.” Politics is all about groups forming coalitions to achieve their goals. If cattle ranchers, wine enthusiasts, or libertarians banding together to promote their interests is normal politics, then women, African Americans, or gay people banding together is normal politics, too.

But how identity is mobilized makes an enormous difference––for the country, for the group’s odds of success, and for the welfare of the people who join the movement. Identity can be mobilized in ways that emphasize an overarching common humanity while making the case that some fellow human beings are denied dignity and rights because they belong to a particular group, or it can be mobilized in ways that amplify our ancient tribalism and bind people together in shared hatred of a group that serves as the unifying common enemy.

Common-Humanity Identity Politics
The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., epitomized what we’ll call common-humanity identity politics. He was trying to fix a gaping wound—centuries of racism that had been codified into law in southern states and into customs, habits, and institutions across the country. It wasn’t enough to be patient and wait for things to change gradually. The civil rights movement was a political movement led by African Americans and joined by others, who engaged in nonviolent protests and civil disobedience, boycotts, and sophisticated public relations strategies to apply political pressure on intransigent lawmakers while working to change minds and hearts in the country at large.

Part of Dr. King’s genius was that he appealed to the shared morals and identities of Americans using the unifying languages of religion and patriotism. He repeatedly used the metaphor of family, referring to people of all races and religions as “brothers” and “sisters.” He spoke often of the need for love and forgiveness, hearkening back to the words of Jesus and echoing ancient wisdom from many cultures: “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend” and “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” …

King’s most famous speech drew on the language and iconography of what sociologists call the American civil religion. Some Americans use quasi-religious language, frameworks, and narratives to speak about the country’s founding documents and founding fathers, and King did, too. “When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence,” he proclaimed on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, “they were signing a promissory note.” King turned the full moral force of the American civil religion toward the goals of the civil rights movement. […]

King’s approach made it clear that his victory would not destroy America; it would repair and reunite it.

The former is the essential characteristic of the Left/Right, the latter of liberalism/conservatism.


Identity Politics as Ersatz Religion: a review of American Awakening: Identity Politics and Other Afflictions of Our Time By Joshua Mitchell ( Jeffrey Folks, 12/24/23, University Bookman)

As Mitchell sees it, there is only one path back from the “debilitating pathology” of identity politics. It is for a community of thoughtful individuals to build, or rebuild, a society of honest “face-to-face” relationships and a “politics of competence,” and thereby restore a society in which individuals are judged on virtue, merit, and conduct rather than affiliation with one or more distinct identity groups. In this view, the rehabilitation of society depends on the actions of well-intentioned individuals to oppose identity politics in the public space…

The author probes deeply into the pseudo-religious origins of identity politics, and he demonstrates convincingly how widely this new ideology has spread across American society and Western society in general. An important point in Mitchell’s argument is that identity politics exists only in those societies that were once Christian but where Christian belief has lapsed, thus demonstrating that identity politics is in fact an ersatz form of religious scapegoating. Also important is the insight that, unlike Christianity, in which believers achieve forgiveness of sin through the intercession of the scapegoat figure, in identity politics the grievances of self-proclaimed victims can never be resolved. The model of Civil Rights protest has been hijacked and applied to a seemingly endless series of complaints, all of which obtain relief at the expense of some other group, only in time to be scapegoated by some other complainant. It goes without saying that the endgame of identity politics is an authoritarian society in which each identity group competes for recognition and relief, and in which the social cohesion that Tocqueville once highlighted as a crucial element of American democracy is replaced by distrust, isolation, and competition.

It is precisely the failure of personal “virtue, merit, and conduct” that drives such folk to submerge themselves in group Identity and victimization.