63 Comments

Everything you say rings true, but I would add a few notes:

What Hamas did (with no small amount of outside support) was not just terrorism. It was specifically and clearly genocide. The ritual slaughter of babies, children, the elderly was an eliminationist act on par with the Holocaust. This was not a political act, but a psychopathic act of unbridled hatred.

The identity politics that drove otherwise bright Harvard students (et al) to reflexively side with genocide is ultimately rooted in Marxism and reflects the Left's success in its long March through institutions.

As for the follow up tidal wave of ignorance and pat phrases about Israel (apartheid state, stolen land, etc.), this reflects the Left's pathological aversion to history. As they say, for the Left the future is always certain, it is just the past that keeps changing.

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The left's betrayal of its supposed principles has deep and dark historical roots. Consider the nauseating story of Gareth Jones who in 1932 reported on the Holodomor (Terror-Famine) in Ukraine and was denounced by the leading progressives of the time, including the NYT Walter Duranty. Of course, the dominant ideologies of the left mutate, from communism to what Yascha defines as "identity synthesis", but the underlying impulse to see the world as black and white, victims and oppressors, remains the same. And this impulse leads to worse cruelty than any greed or corruption. Nothing is as dangerous as a true believer. No matter how many pictures of deliberately murdered children you show, idealists will only see the faces of the "enemy", whether it be the kulaks or the colonialists.

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It sometimes seems like there is a perverse incentive to take an extreme, and facially unsupportable, moral position, to demonstrate one’s “bravery” and “commitment” to the “right side of history.” Based on the confused notion of oppressed / and oppressor deftly explained in your article, I suspect that many Harvard student’s felt, at least for a moment, the thrill of demonstrating their commitment to their principles when they supported the statement that Israel was solely responsible for the murders committed by Hamas (many other Harvard students who signed probably didn’t read it or think about it very carefully). Unfortunately, criticism more often causes people to double down on their beliefs rather than to question them - see MAGA. Criticism magnifies the “bravery” of the initial decision. People who can convince themselves and others that Hamas is not at all responsible for the torture, rape, kidnapping, and murder that it committed on October 7, 2023 frighten me because they may be able to convince themselves and others to participate in other appalling crimes committed for their conception of the greater good.

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I agree, but would argue that the political positions of the identity synthesis left aren't even consistent with their stated views. For example, there's a whole lot of talk of how important indigenous people are and how much we should fight to protect their rights, but I don't see that playing out in real life. Armenians were just ethnically cleansed from their homeland of thousands of years, and I've heard nothing on the left in protest of this. The Assyrians, who are indigenous to Northern Iraq, were ethnically cleansed as well, and again, the reaction of the progressive left was a collective shrug. You'd think that the progressive left would be championing reparations for what was a direct outcome of US policy in Iraq, but somehow these people are unworthy. In fact, you'd think that all Iraqi's would be entitled to reparations. But I guess reparations don't seem like such a good idea when you're the one paying.

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Oct 16, 2023·edited Oct 16, 2023

You are absolutely right: Identity does not determine morality; that is the absurdity of contemporary Critical Theory. I am no fan of luxury ethics and the boutique morality that comes from those ethical principles. When you apologize for the behavior of Hamas from the safety and wealth of academe you harm the living Palestinians and living Israelis who must live in the brutal blood soaked pain of what such wretched morals allow. Never treat a person as a means to an end. It is just that simple. Killing innocent babies to promote some greater good is never justified even if for every baby killed you could save a hundred lives. I feel pity for those whose luxury ethics led them to buy "Free Palestine" paraphernalia only now to discover their donations of those funds ultimately supported Hamas. So many on the left must now go to bed every night here ever after knowing they have the blood of innocents on their hands. The elite chi chi can no longer pretend their esoteric critical theoretical ethics makes them good people. They are today murderers.

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I'm half way through your brilliant book, "The Identity Trap". It could not be more timely. Your reasonable centrism is so appealing! I do hope that your ideas get spread more widely, and I intend to make my fellow progressives aware of them.

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I suspect a lot of this is just young people being Young People. As a 75-year-old (white male, if that’s relevant) who was raised a liberal Democrat and reflexively supported a lot of the radical nonsense of the Sixties (“Revolution”-advocating Blacks, North Vietnam/the Viet Cong, Castroism, and a lot else; “everybody” was doing it) and later came to see the folly of all those stances, it appears to me that about 90% of what we’re seeing in Western countries is basically just young people behaving that way all over again. The adult guides/mentors of such movements largely consist of radical professors at universities who prey on the credulity of young people towards radical claims and demands - plus, there’s a certain “hip” fashion to being a radical: it means that one is truly “in the know”. Lewis Feuer wrote a book on the phenomenon: “The Conflict of Generations: The Character and Significance of Student Movements”.

Incidentally, for anyone who actually puts any stock in Judith Butler’s incoherent word salads, it would be instructive to watch a video about the immense difficulty of the construction of the underwater BART tube between the East Bay and San Francisco, a “masculine” project that Judith and her wife Wendy Brown likely routinely ride between their home ensconced in the Berkeley hills (perhaps) and “beautiful” San Francisco.

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In graduate school, I was instructed that “statistics do not apply to the individual” as a part of inferential analysis. Is this still true? It seems, to me, that structural racism within identity politics involves an ecological fallacy that you can infer the group behavior using individual behavior and individual behavior from group behavior.

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That was very well done, though I resent the finger-wagging at Israel, which will doubtless lose many cherished sons who would have lived if it fought only by the rules that America and Europe adhere to.

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The sympathy too many on the left have for Hamas is strikingly similar to the sympathy many old-style leftists had for the Soviet Union. Leftists who condemn Hamas but are quick to blame Israel for things are like old-style fellow travelers who blamed capitalism and/or American power for the world’s ills. All this is odd, because Hamas’ charter has more in common with Nazism than with anything communistic. Then again, I’ve always thought the horseshoe was really a circle.

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It's true, as I indicated, that there are significant ideological differences between neo -Marxists on the one hand, postcolonial and postmodern thinkers on the other. But historically, they have all called themselves "the left". And actually, there is an underlying impulse to impose a utopia by force and to disregard complexities of history that unifies all of them. You may call them "secular millennialists".

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Why did it take 40 paragraphs for you to say that “I feel as much empathy for the Palestinian children who are dying in bombardments of Gaza as I do for the Jewish children who were killed in Hamas’ attack on Israel.”? Just because there is a vocal minority on the left doesn’t mean that “The Left “ agree. Unfortunately Israel can not seem to learn how to govern fairly.

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I feel as much empathy for the Palestinian children who are dying in bombardments of Gaza as I do for the Jewish children who were killed in Hamas’ attack on Israel.

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Many publications use the word "militant" rather than "terrorist" because Hamas are state actors whereas terrorists are not. It's not a value judgment. It's an attempt by journalists to be consistent and accurate in the language they use. Yascha should know better than to assume that it implies tacit support for the actions of Hamas.

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Yascha writes: How could such a notable portion of the left side with terrorists who openly announce their genocidal intentions?

What comprises "a notable portion of the left"?

A professor from McMaster college in Canada, a Yale professor, chapters of the Democratic Socialists of America, and The Chicago chapter of BLM.

How do these people comprise "a notable portion of the left"? (I hadn't heard of the Democratic Socialists of America until this latest round in the news.)

Also, AOC condemned what the Dem Socialists said. (Yascha doesn't mention that. He only points out that they count AOC as a member. That's a sly way of making AOC guilty of anti-Semitism by association. It's an obvious attempt to smear AOC. Shameful.)

Further The Chicago chapter of BLM is a one man operation that is not affiliated with BLM. And he apologized and took down the tweet or xeet, or whatever.

Meanwhile the right has a race for speaker between Steve Scalise (a man who calls himself "David Duke without the baggage") and Jim Jordan, who refused to honor a Congressional subpoena and voted to overturn the 2020 election for no good reason. And the frontrunner for the GOP nomination for president called called Hamas and Hezbollah "very smart".

Compare that to all of the statements by actual elected officials on the left in America regarding the horrors of 10/7. Joe Biden is the leader of "the left" in America. He is a notable person on the left.

You are losing a lot of credibility with me, Yascha. You seem to have a completely distorted perspective on where the problems in this country lie. The left polices it's bad actors and they come to heel. The right either ignores, or cheers on their bad actors, and they then double down on their mean-spirited insanity. You are not seeing reality clearly. I think you are trying too hard to endear yourself to the right in the hopes of selling a lot of books.

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A ceasefire after Pearl Harbor would have 'saved lives' too. A ceasefire in the Middle-East would just give Hamas time and space to plan and organize the next blood bath. No surprise that AOC favors it.

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