Archive for February, 2014

Secrecy, the ISO, and the Left, Part 2

February 26, 2014

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By now, most people on the Left have heard about the sexual assault allegation against a member of the International Socialist Organization (ISO). It is discussed in the ISO’s Internal Bulletin #19, which can be found on the Internet. What’s interesting about this is that this document was originally meant to be read by ISO members only. It appears that a disgruntled ISO member gave a bunch of the ISO’s internal documents to Ross Wolfe, who posted them on his blog, The Charnel House. This greatly angered many ISO members, even though there is nothing in these documents that is embarrassing or damaging to the ISO. Some of them said very insulting things about Wolfe. I find this inexplicable.

By now, most people on the Left have heard about the sexual assault allegation against a member of the International Socialist Organization (ISO). It is discussed in the ISO’s Internal Bulletin #19, which can be found on the Internet. What’s interesting about this is that this document was originally meant to be read by ISO members only. It appears that a disgruntled ISO member gave a bunch of the ISO’s internal documents to Ross Wolfe, who posted them on his blog, The Charnel House. This greatly angered many ISO members, even though there is nothing in these documents that is embarrassing or damaging to the ISO. Some of them said very insulting things about Wolfe. I find this inexplicable.

As I explained in my previous post, secrecy can be justified in some situations. However, most of what’s in these documents could just as well have in Socialist Worker. There is a danger in making a fetish out of secrecy. I remember when I was in the ISO, I would sometimes meet people who were hostile to our group because they saw us as secretive. As I said before, when you keep secrets, people assume you have something to hide. (Consider all the wild conspiracy theories that have circulated around the Freemasons, who are really just a glorified stag drinking club.) The ISO might consider having more openness.

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Secrecy, the ISO, and the Left

February 14, 2014

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Ross Wolfe, who edits the website The Charnel House has posted a number of internal documents of the International Socialist Organization (ISO) online. He claims that a disgruntled ISO member gave him these documents. At first, I was not sure what to think about this. (Personal disclosure: I am a former member of the ISO.) Mike Ely, who edits the Kasama Project website, has written an open letter to Wolfe, asking him to take the documents down. The letter is well-argued and well worth reading. Among other things, he points out:

    If we are to have necessary security cultures (and private debates) within specific left circles — we must of necessity respect the security and privacy of other organizations (even ones we consider wrong, corrupt or compromised.)

I agree with this. If the Left is going to be anything more than a sectarian hellhole, some standards of behavior need to be maintained.

I remember when I was in the ISO, their whole practice of having secret internal documents struck me as unnecessary and impractical. However, I never objected to it, mainly because I didn’t see it as important. (I remember once asking a “cadre” why we had secret documents. He replied that “sectarians” would take people’s arguments out of context and ascribe to the ISO positions that it doesn’t hold. In hindsight, I realize I should have pointed out to him that the “sectarians” were already doing this with the articles in Socialist Worker.)

I have recently discovered that some people see the ISO’s secrecy as extremely important. These people are mostly NOT in the ISO. When you do things secretly, people assume you have something to hide. Of course, I realize that in some cases secrecy is necessary, as when when a group is being targeted by the police. Aside from such situations, I believe that openness is the best policy.

In response to Ely’s letter, Wolfe has said he will take down the documents. (Except for one bulletin that deals with a controversy I will discuss in a future post.)

Lierre Keith and the Politics of Exclusion

February 13, 2014

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A young friend of mine who is a student at the University of Oregon recently sent me a message asking me to sign a petition demanding that Lierre Keith not be allowed to speak at a Public Interest Environmental Law Conference at the University later this month. The petition claims that Keith is a transphobe and a racist. I must admit, not without some embarrassment, that I did not know who Keith is. I subsequently learned that she is a feminist and environmentalist. She is a founding member of an environmental group, Deep Green Resistance.

The accusation of racism apparently stems from an incident in which she posted a comment on a DPR message board in which she called Lakota culture “patriarchal”. When some people criticized the comment, it was taken down. I don’t think there is anything to see here.

The transphobia accusation is more substantial. Deep Green Resistance is unique among environmental groups in that it doesn’t allow transgender members. This is due to the particular brand of feminism that Keith and other leading members of DPR subscribe to. These people hold, as Keith puts it, that gender is “not a binary but a hierarchy”. (You can find an exposition of Keith’s ideas here. You can find a critique of those ideas here) Keith objects to transgenderism because it seems to her to go against her theory of gender. (It apparently doesn’t occur to her that perhaps this means that the theory should be modified in some way. But what does an empiricist like me know.)

I am of two minds about this. On the one hand, I’m a firm believer in free speech, including for people I disagree with. On the other hand, if Keith insists on excluding some people, she shouldn’t be surprised if they want to exclude her in return. I would have to say that Keith should be allowed to speak, but with the proviso that people can protest her views if they so wish.

Philip Seymour Hoffman (1967-2014)

February 6, 2014

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Like so many people, I was shocked and saddened when I learned of the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman. Of all the actors who have emerged in Hollywood over the past two decades, he was the one I liked the most. His performances were always powerful. In Capote, he mimicked the famous writer’s voice and mannerisms, without becoming a caricature. My favorite performance of his, however, was in The Master, in which he played a cult leader. Hoffman exuded an air of authority and all-knowingness that you understand why people would follow such a man despite the demands that he made on them. (I was not that impressed by his performance in Hunger Games: Catching Fire, but I think that is because the character was not well written.)

Hoffman reportedly died from a heroin overdose in his New York apartment. When I lived in New York, I knew several people who became heroin addicts. One of them died from an overdose. There is a very strong drug scene in New York, one in which many people get caught up. I don’t know whether this was a factor in why Hoffman became an addict, but I can’t help but note the possibility. One of my first memories of New York is of people whispering “steelworks” to me as they passed me on the street. They were offering to sell me heroin. New York can be a very stressful place to live, which may be why some people turn to drugs.

James Urbaniak tells an interesting story about Hoffman here.