Settling in, Leftist Identity Politics, and Ideological Purity


I’ve been absent from the blogging world (or blogosphere, or blogodrome) for a while now, due almost entirely to having spent the better part of two weeks moving myself and my partner to a new city to begin the penultimate phase of my education. The move was rather stressful; I am not, by nature, a nomadic person. I enjoy stability and order, and moving – and everything it entails – disturbs that order.

In addition to attending a new school, I have also begun a new job as a TA for a first-year sociology course. I’ve also been assigned to a new cohort of graduate students – most of whom are easily as liberal as I am – and that always involves a period of getting to know the new folks, and letting them get to know me. Part of that ‘getting to know’ process inevitably involves learning about each other’s political/social positions and during the course of this process; I’ve discovered something about myself that I apparently didn’t know: I’m not ‘really’ a leftist.

Let me rephrase that: I’m not really a leftist according to some of the people I’ve met. To me, being situated on the left-hand side of the political spectrum has normally come about as a result of my political and economic beliefs; I align myself rather closely with the philosophies behind social democracy, and I generally have a ‘live and let live’ attitude about other people and their beliefs. But apparently that isn’t enough to establish my leftist bona fides – at least in the eyes of some.

This isn’t unique to where I’m at currently; pretty much anywhere I go in social justice circles, conferences, workshops, etc., I find people who feel that since I don’t support their particular pet-passion, I ought to be disqualified from the group of people who generally inhabit the orange part of the political spectrum. Basically what I’m implying is that just as the right wing has its ‘purity tests’ to determine a person’s level of conservatism or republicanism, so too does the ideological left.

I point this out only because it’s become something of a favourite past-time of many of us who call ourselves progressive, to mock or ridicule movements like the Tea Party who while claiming to be all about fiscal libertarianism, often employ litmus tests as a way of ensuring the ‘correct’ level of ideological purity. I’m talking about litmus tests, and they’re lurking everywhere even among those of us on the progressive end of the spectrum. I know that for many of you who are reading this blog, this is something of a broadcast from planet obvious, but I am often surprised at how many people never really stop to think about it.

But what kinds of things do some people feel need to be attached to a leftist orientation? Well, the most obvious ones that come to mind are the distrust of the medical establishment and ‘Big Pharma’ more generally. There is also the environmentalist-born assertion that GMOs are bad – even if there’s not a lot of research to indicate that this is so (or without a handy definition of what ‘bad’ means to them) – or the insistence that farming organically and buying locally are the ‘appropriate’ ways for a person to ‘live ethically’. Those concepts of course, are rife with their own problems.

So what if we don’t agree with these positions? What if we’re not bothered by Wi-fi? What if we happen to think that vaccinations ought to be mandatory – and that they’re pretty good things to get, actually. What if we happen to think that chiropractors, acupuncturists, naturopaths and homeopaths are bloody fools at best, dangerous snake-oil peddlers at worst? What if I enjoy eating meat or am an advocate of increased reliance on nuclear power as opposed to fossil fuels? Is it truly the case that unless I embrace that other, additional suite of social, moral, or political views, I cannot rightly call myself a leftist?

Of course not. Being a leftist doesn’t mean that I must forego the use of showers, toiletry supplies, and shoes (although if you want to, well that’s cool too just stay downwind of me, please), it means being able to think both deeply and empathetically about the society we live in. It means thinking about how to order society beyond simply asking how it might be ordered to best service me. I don`t need to be a vegetarian or an anti-science conspiracist or a level five laser-lotus or whatever in order to be a part of the social/political left; I just have to think that the institutions of society can be made to work for the betterment of all, not just for the betterment of me.

(EDIT 22/09/12 9:51PST) Changed the direction of the wind.

Comments

  1. estraven says

    Well, this really surprises me. Because I felt hounded off of Daily Kos (a site most would consider leftist, surely) for questioning vaccinations (not saying they’re bad, but questioning timing, number, etc.), supporting my daughter’s decision to homeschool her kids, DIStrusting Big Pharma, etc. So your experience definitely has not been my experience on leftist blogs, at least!

  2. says

    I don’t really spend a lot of time on Kos, so I don’t know too much about the community. At any rate, I was referring more generally to interactions I’ve had in the real world, as opposed to online; I get weird looks for suggesting that a person seek medical treatment for an injury instead of say, telling them to head down to their local homeopath for a ‘remedy’. I’ve been told that I am a supporter of animal cruelty because I eat meat – it doesn’t matter that the animal I’m consuming was raised on my parents’ farm and spent its entire life wandering around eating whatever it wanted and generally living the dream of bovine bliss before being killed quickly and with an absolute minimum of pain.

    I suppose that people on Kos could have been interested to know why you question the timetables and numbers of vaccines, or why you support your daughter’s decision to homeschool or why you distrust ‘Big Pharma’ (or why you refer to drug companies that way). Some reasons for doing or believing certain things are more valid than others – some make more sense than others. If you question vaccines because you’re an epidemiologist and have noticed some interesting patterns in the data you study then that’s one thing; if you question them because you have a hunch that they might not be as necessary as people think or you have a feeling that they might do some harm, then that’s another.

  3. wondering says

    Thank you!

    The number of times I’ve pointed out that GMO is a tool; that of course the way Monsanto is using it is evil, but it doesn’t have to be (and then proceed to inform people about the NGO work on golden rice as well as point out that we’ve also been doing GMO the slow way for millenia via breeding) is practically countless at this point.

    I don’t automatically distrust Big Pharma and believe they have their place (although the patenting system is overwhelmingly in their favour, especially given how much pharma R&D comes out of public research).

    And I’m perfectly comfortable with BC Hydro’s Smart Meters.

    On the other hand, I do believe in supporting local agriculture and try to grow a % of my own food. But I’m a farmers’ daughter, so that comes with the territory.

    I am solidly orange. Where I primarily differ from your experience is that it’s not the other dippers I take flack from, it’s my greenie friends that get bent out of shape on the issues you’ve called out.

  4. Maxx says

    I think many on the far left hold the view that you must be anti-capitalist to be considered a proper “leftist”. Social Democracy is not anti-capitalist, even if it does strive for some level of economic equality.

  5. Gordon says

    The only one of those tests I would “pass” is that I don’t eat meat, and getting lumped in with anti-vaxxers would push me towards buying a burger!

  6. mildlymagnificent says

    I tend to get that anti-vax stuff from the knit-your-own-sandals end of the green voting populace rather than fair average quality left wingers. Though I’m Australian so there might be some local differences.

  7. Rodney Nelson says

    although if you want to, well that’s cool too just stay upwind of me, please

    Actually you want them to be downwind of you. Upwind means the wind is blowing from them to you, bringing their aroma to your locale.

  8. mynameischeese says

    Sometimes, thinking about things like this, it occurs to me how easily I could be a conservative…if I lived in a secular country with no oppression (like sexism, racism, etc) with a healthy mixed economy, good public transport and the right amount of social policies.

    The political spectrum can be a bit like space or deep water and you can lose track of up and down. For instance, reading Kundera, I think he’s such a rebel, but technically speaking, in the time and place where he started writing (a communist puppet state), he would have been a conservative.

    Green politics can be especially disorientating. I know conservative and libertarian vegans and they really throw me off when they use environmentalism to support their beliefs. It seems that if one imagined the ultimate eat-only-local-organic, knit-your-own-sandals anti-manufacturing, green society, then veganism would be rare. People nearest to the poles would eat mostly meat and people near the equator would eat mostly veg, but most people would eat a pretty mixed, omnivore diet.

    And I resent the way people tack on “ism” to certain things (likes “speciesism”) to imply that their dietary choices are social justice choices rather than middle class lifestyle choices.

  9. says

    This was one of my concerns about A+. (See: You don’t support social justice if you oppose calling people douchebags.) You missed the big one though: You aren’t a lefty if you don’t want to end capitalism.

  10. says

    Pretty sure Ezra and Shaidle, let alone Barbara Amiel, would place you in the outer reaches of the left. Write a few letters to the Edmonton Sun if you want to feel vilified. Even the Liberals in BC are far to the right of us NDPers.
    Shit, you hang in tough circles. You’ve got your daycare and education and Arts funding, Planned Parenthood – legalization of pot! You people are sitting on a goldmine there and that would be in the litmus test as well. I would consider anti-clearcutting, driving a hybrid, and public transportation core requirements. Riding a bike to work should get you big points.
    Recycling, composting, no use of pesticides are de rigueur, of course. Gay marriage and common law rights can be thrown in as well.

    Perhaps if you showed up to a conference, or two, wearing a fine knit hemp toga and canvas sandals, they would get of your back!
    A good retort to your comrades would be, “What am I supposed to be, a hippy? Don’t see you wearing a hemp toga and canvas sandals there, comrade. I eat my share of tofu, so back off!”
    Ask the profs if they grade their students and scoff if they do.

    There’s ex NDL MLA in the family here, so I would consider being a member plenty good to assert your status as a full fledged progressive lad among your peers, and a commie pinko among the Rose party crowd, in AB, anyways.

    Seriously, though, I doubt that many, if any, in your circles haven’t been to a doctor or used prescription drugs or worn leather shoes.

  11. medivh says

    So… uh… in short, lefties aren’t immune from the No True Scotsman fallacy? I suppose it will come as a surprise to some, given that the visible witch hunts seem to come from the right.

  12. jesse says

    Edwin, the leftists you describe don’t bear much resemblance to the people I have met who actually get things done. In fact, your presentation here is a pretty classic cartoon.

    Yes on any university campus I can find all kinds of weirdness, and it’s pretty easy to dismiss sometimes.

    But the left I know consists of people who also work in factories, and on farms, and have names like Cesar Chavez. My own family has been deeply involved with it for 100 years. My grandfather was one of the people who invented the defined benefit system and faced down Congress when he was accused of contempt for exerting his 5th Amendment right. (He won that case, by the way). My father spent years trying to build a community of radicals in the IUE and failed in part, and succeeded in part. None of these people they worked with were particularly up in arms about GMOs. And “identity politics” looks a lot different when you are the only guy who will go eat lunch with the black workers because you are trying to organize people.

    One of the reasons you see the kinds of things you do in academic settings has to do with decisions that were made a long time ago. Back in the 1950s the purge of the American labor movement (which made anything like a Labor Party de facto illegal by placing severe limits on “acceptable” union political activity) made the unions institutionally unable to address deeper questions about capitalism. (In Europe this was less the case).

    By the time the New Left appeared in the 60s, there was already a big disconnect between the labor-oriented left and the one made famous by universities, though I should point out that the strongest base for SDS, for example, was always in public schools (UW Madison being one, MSU being another, and of course Cal Berkeley). A very, very large portion of the movement was made up of first-generation college students, in fact — working class people.

    Anyhow, the result was that the whole counterculture movement was just that — a cultural movement. It was, in a way, a pretty shrewd strategy on the part of capitalists and J. Edgar Hoover, who knew that if you want to disrupt a movement that divide and conquer was the way to go. That’s what COINTELPRO was for.

    I bring all this up because the stuff you are describing is a bunch of griping undergrads. I don’t know anyone who was in any part of the environmental movement that actually, you know, got shit done who was getting on anyone about ideological purity. The parts of the left that concerned themselves with that were and are irrelevant from day one. I knew some of those folks too. I haven’t heard that they’ve accomplished anything in the last 20 years.

    Now, I know you are also concerned with the anti-science streak on the part of leftists. There is one. The thing is, though, there are very real concerns here. It isn’t “God says X so evolution is wrong.”

    GMO, for instance. I am excited about the possibilities, but I have serious reservations. Why? Potatoes must have seemed like a miracle crop in 1840. That did not turn out well. Kudzu and water hyacinth seemed like harmless ornamentals. There are other examples and none worked out well.

    There have been at least a couple of studies out of China that have noted the effects of GMO crops (cotton) on local insect populations. The results are ambiguous to say the least, but they highlight that there are a ton of variables out there that we may not be accounting for. In a perfect world we know crops would be withdrawn if there was a problem, that there would be open exchange of information, that a crop’s profitability would have no effect on farm policy. We don’t live in that world and I get very, very nervous about what might happen as a result. I understand that this isn’t always directly related to the scientific merits, but to pretend that the way we evaluate those merits has nothing to do with living in market systems, for example, is simply foolish.

    The same is true of farm policy generally; eating locally isn’t a terrible idea, and the fact that we eat a load of meat in our diets has far-reaching effects. The burger you ate yesterday likely as not was from a cow in Brazil. All this is a result of the monomaniacal focus on food price rather than cost. Famines usually happen because of prices. (See: Amartya Sen).

    And none of this has an iota to do with “identity” as a leftist. Like I said, I haven’t heard anyone who actually accomplished anything argue about it since — I dunno, the 70s? Unless it was in an undergrad’s dorm room and we were writing a paper. But I could be way out of date.

  13. karmakin says

    Actually, I could very easily name economic circumstances that would result in me thinking that some more conservative economic principles are correct.

    To be specific, an economy where there are a lot of shortages of consumer goods/services stemming from a lack of capital resources may very well be an economy where more conservative economic principles are correct. Now, I don’t actually think that we’ll see this in our lifetimes (although I think that the development of some sort of warp drive might change that…no I’m not joking) but as a theoretical exercise I think it’s very important, as it represents that we understand what we are arguing against.

  14. says

    I think it is a realistic possibility that we see this in even 30 years which, granted, will be cutting it close as far as my lifetime is concerned. 30 yrs might or might not be realistic, but desertification and pollution and GW are starting to make not insignificant changes in prices already. It is already happening faster than expected, but I don’t think that makes a difference for consumer oriented free market type societies.
    I see societies starting to break down, let alone financial conservatism making any impact in time to stop or reverse changes. It’s getting so that being able to see past the next episode of Survivor on your 42 in LCD TV is considered liberal, so distant are the sensibilities of average westerners from considering consequences.

    I’m rarely pessimistic about hope for the future, but it’s going to take a lot of wealth, let alone capital, to avert a severe worldwide depression.
    I imagine!

  15. says

    You’ve made a number of good points here, Jesse. The New Left has to a large extent divorced itself from earlier labour movements – of this there’s not really any doubt. The systematic dismantling of organized labour by pro-capitalist agents throughout much of the second half of the twentieth century has had serious repercussions for workers in the modern economy – this is especially true now; the recession has provided corporations with any number of excuses to strip labour of its pension plans, benefits, even the right to assemble and organize.

    It’s also absolutely true that in many activist groups both past and present, the specifics of one’s personal philosophies haven’t been as important as one’s ability and desire to get to work and agitate for change. Certainly many groups care more about what you’re able to accomplish than what sort of food you like to eat.

    I also see you effectively dismissing some of the assertions I’ve made as being the cartoonish gripings of college undergrads. Those people don’t, in your words , ‘get things done’, and so they’re not really a group that we should be looking at – at least we shouldn’t be comparing them to the sorts of ‘real leftists’ that you’ve highlighted in your response. I get the impression that for you, the ‘real leftists’ are those who came from the labour movement – the ones who organized in factories and on farms to challenge the power and influence of the capitalist class. The overall impression I seem to be getting from you is that because the people I’ve mentioned are not your type of leftist, then they are not really leftists at all – or at least they are not any kind of leftist that we need to concern ourselves with. If that’s the way you see things, then I’m not too sure how that’s any different from the folks I’ve met who assert that I`m not ‘really’ a leftist because I’m not a vegan. The central point of my entire post was that just as the right has litmus tests to determine the extent or purity of a person’s conservatism, so too does the left have similar lists or criterion to denote the extent of one’s ‘allegiance’ to progressivism.

    If my understanding of your position is correct, then you are effectively making my point for me. Just because an undergrad’s understanding of leftist politics comes from their readings of Foucault, Sartre, and Fanon, doesn’t make them any ‘less’ leftist than an old-school labour organizer. Their identity as a socialist or progressive, or whatever they choose to call themselves has simply emerged from a different source. You’ve stated on numerous occasions that the people I’ve highlighted – and the one’s you’ve pointed out – are ‘pretty easy to dismiss’ or ‘are irrelevant from day one. I knew some of those folks too. I haven’t heard that they’ve accomplished anything in the last 20 years’. But that’s exactly my point: no one should be dismissed as being ‘not really progressive or leftist’ just because we might happen to disagree with some of the particulars of their beliefs.

    I wrote this piece with the aim of illustrating that ‘litmus tests’ or ‘purity tests’ are problematic, and you seem to have illustrated that point for me.

  16. says

    Yep, that’s pretty much the TL;DR right there. Like I said, some people might find this to be a post from planet Obvious, but I figured that it ought to be said anyways.

  17. says

    Social democracy is in favor of heavily regulated capitalist enterprise, with the ultimate aim of gradually steering a nation’s economy towards a socialist model. I’m all for that.

  18. says

    Opposition to unfettered capitalism, sure. I’m talking about opposition to capitalism in all forms: The people who think you should be allowed to buy things, then resell them for a higher price in general.

  19. jesse says

    I wasn’t saying that people in universities can’t get things done. But as I understood your post you were saying that litmus tests are problematic; I was trying to get across that if you are applying any litmus test other than getting anything accomplished — a pretty important one, by the way — then not only is that kind of stupid, but it means that your conception of ‘the left is pretty narrow.

    No, I do not think ‘real leftists’ are only those from the labor movement. The whole point was that your experience with the left seems limited to a very narrow — and quite unrepresentative — segment thereof, and not the one that has actually accomplished much of late. Have you interacted with any labor people at all? How about the folks at various environmental organizations who do the real political work? Or the folks who are deeply engaged in the legal battles over civil rights? Or the people who try to deal every day with racism? I have a pile of stuff from people deeply involved in many of these areas and I am happy to put you in contact with several. None of them has every mentioned ideological purity tests to me. But maybe I wasn’t at that meeting.

    But the impression I get from your post is that you are complaining about the typical campus kid. And talking about that as representative in any way of a movement is a bit like taking only the students from engineering (they always seem to be in engineering :-) ) who spout Ayn Rand as representative of the conservatives. Or assuming that most people’s experience of Christianity bears much resemblance to that of Mitt Romney. (A general rule of thumb I have for religious people: probably 80% of adherents simply aren’t even devout enough to go to the “required” number of services. Weirdly, this seems true cross-culturally).

    ANd heck, I was probably one of those undergrads too once, and I find it embarrassing now. Because none of what I was banging on about accomplished anything. So if there’s a litmus test of sorts, that’s mine: what has a group of people done?

    I think the big issue is that you are conflating the movement itself with the effects; the ideological purity tests imposed by the GOP in the US on some elected officials are an effect of a long shift to the right that started with Barry Goldwater. But that isn’t the movement itself, if you see what I mean.

    I mean, complaining about how leftist you are on the basis of being a vegan? That’s so silly it sounds like an Onion headline. I don’t know what university you are at, but if that’s the left where you are, god help us all, the movement is doomed. But I don’t think that’s the case; I’ve seen too many counterexamples.

    Perhaps a better way to frame this is to think in terms of why, given that many ‘leftist’ positions are part of the mainstream, we have a situation where the undergrads you run into end up complaining about ideological purity and not thinking more deeply about why that’s important to them.

  20. says

    I think I see where the confusion between our points of view rests; I’m not talking about litmus tests as being actual things that people talk about or hand out as some sort of flier. I’m talking about a suite of beliefs that some members of a group apply to others (in informal ways) who they feel might not ‘really’ be representative of what they feel the ‘true’ form of their ideological or social movement ought to be. I recognize that there are a myriad number of different groups, movements, and individuals who make up the ideological left – from classic labour movements to environmentalist movements to stay-at-home parents who don’t take part in anything yet believe in – and vote for – progressive or leftist candidates. I actually don’t think that ‘doing something’ is a particularly helpful pre-requisite of being considered a leftist – although it’s a perfectly acceptable one for considering yourself an activist – because there are any number of people out there who believe in progressive, leftist, even socialist or communist values who nevertheless only ever act on them through their reading choices or votes during election season. And if those things count as ‘doing something’, then the category is perhaps too broad to be really meaningful.

    I also happen to think you’re right; whether or not someone is a vegan is a pretty piss-poor indicator of whether or not they ought to be considered a part of the left. I only brought it up because I have had this exact (and ridiculous) charge leveled against me. I seem to remember staring at the person for a long, long time and trying to figure out what their deal was. I brought it up as an example of a fairly extreme manifestation of a purity test.

    As to your point about how the things I’ve mentioned as being complaints about university undergrads; I don’t see how that’s relevant. How many people in the occupy movements were undergrads? How many social justice activists are undergrads? How many anti GMO protests have been organized or attended by undergrads? Undergraduates (and university students and faculty in general) aren’t some discrete category that can be safely walled away from the rest of the leftist landscape; they are often integral parts of modern protest and activist movements. The Occupy movement and the anti-globalization movements of the past few years (or decades in the case of anti-globalization) drew heavily from the ranks of young people – undergraduates and non-students alike. The environmental movement of the 1970s and beyond did the same. The point I’m trying to make is that just because a person is an undergraduate doesn’t mean that they’re not also an activist. There’s more overlap between the two realms than I think you’re granting.

    There are always going to be the ‘professional protesters’ in the activist world – the ones who don’t give a shit about what your personal pet project are; their concerns are with how to meet their stated goals. But they’re no more the ‘true’ left than the undergraduates you seem to want to dismiss. What we recognize as ‘the left’ is a massively complex and nebulous social construction made up of uncounted different forms of interaction, belief, and practice. We cannot simply partition off the sections of it that we think are ridiculous, ‘crazy’, or whatever and remove the label of ‘leftist’ from them. We ought to take it all in resist the urge to organize it into some sort of hierarchy onto such a chaotic thing. Should our beliefs be guided by evidence and reason? Yep, but that’s just good advice in general. On the left, we need to use that good advice to help us choose how we want to marshal our energy instead of wasting it by debating whether or not a person’s decision to buy (or not buy) hemp (for example) is a valid way of determining their progressive credentials.

  21. says

    Do you know that I’ve only ever met one person in real life who has advocated for the establishment of a communist regime at the state level? I’ve met tons of socialists, but only one “true” communist. Those are the people you’re talking about, right?

  22. Maxx says

    Yea, sorry. I did a terrible job of articulating myself in that comment and came of sounding a bit condescending. The point I was trying to make was some on the far left (anarchists, marxist,trotskyist, etc.) don’t consider social democrats to be anti-capitalist and therefor aren’t “real” leftists. Personally I think orginizing the entirety of all political thought into left or right is silly.

    Reading your post again though it sounds like the people criticising you were probably social democrats themselves. Anyway, sorry for detracting from the main point of your post. I have had similar expirences with conspiracy theorists and true believers of varous pseudosciences. I think it’s particularly bad on the west coast.

  23. jesse says

    Be aware, I don’t think being an undergrad disqualifies one from being an activist. And I think I understand better where we’re disconnecting.

    So I’ll ask this another way: of the people who asked you idiotic things about whether you were really a leftist, how many were actually engaged — ie. activists of any stripe, and how many were not?

  24. karmakin says

    I’ve been around the political internets a long long time myself, and I’ve only met I think one actually committed communist in that time myself. What we see however, is something a bit different. It’s people who are anti-capitalism, but they don’t really have any sort of clear alternative to put forward. All they know is that they don’t like the status quo.

    Which is fine, but there’s a clear danger to that. If you don’t know what you actually want, what you actually are pushing towards…and it’s more than just a goal, how you get there is crucial…the problem is that it can result in almost arbitrary decisions on who is on “our side” or not, to the point that it’s more about identity than policy.

    I was on another forum (which actually was a religious forum..this was before I was really a political atheist and I was mainly concerned with ethics, values and morality), mostly progressive. And it was pretty clear. I could name issues, and the people there generally speaking could make arguments and give some sort of policy recommendation on to what they would like to see.

    You generally don’t see that on the fringes which end up more focused on identity. Often they don’t even talk very much about policy, outside of vague notions of goals.

  25. smrnda says

    Your point reminds me of some parts of the Road to Wigan Pier by Orwell, where he deals with the types of issues that might actually affect a worker as opposed to ones that seem to have more to do with ideological purity or even cultural identification.

    Most people I’ve met have been what I would term heavily rational leftists that I’ve met at universities. I found that people who were into big-Pharma conspiracy theories and the whole ‘Western’ medicine conspiracy to make alternative medicine look bad thing were usually not dismissed but simply avoided, so a lot of the discussions that might have been interesting or instructive never happened, but I found similar things happen when you meet supposedly educated people who believe in astrology – people figure that the person isn’t worth a discussion.

    My biggest disappointment is that I find people who are educated and liberal just don’t form the types of bridges they need to with workers and other people they want to advocate for – how many people with college degrees know someone who actually works in a factory? Works for minimum wage? (Perhaps more now since a college degree is no longer a ticket into the $ that it used to be.) When I once pointed out to a friend in college that people who are poor can’t necessarily vote because they might have to work, or that they can’t afford to try to start a union because if they get fired for it, they’ll be on the street tomorrow just seemed unreal to them – I felt like my friend had just turned into a Republican who was now blaming the poor for all their own problems rather than saying “if you work 12 hours a day you might not get a chance to vote. You’re entitled to but this entitlement is purely theoretical.”

  26. lirael_abhorsen says

    It’s all relative. Whether I’m more accurately described as a “liberal” or a “radical”, for example, depends on the context (are we talking relative the whole US population, my social group, the general world of left-of-center activists, or what?), not to mention how the words are being used (are we talking about political positions, or views on certain tactics?). “Left” is a relative term as well. I am more left in the US than I would probably be in, oh, Sweden.

    I feel like you wrote this post about the No True Scotsman fallacy, but then you also subtly pushed your own views on certain issues. I had to bite my tongue, figuratively speaking, to respond to the point of your post rather than opening up a discussion on why, for instance, someone who identifies as a skeptic and a scientist might distrust the medical establishment or major pharmaceutical companies.

  27. smrnda says

    I can see some degree of mistrust for pharmaceutical companies being compatible with skepticism – they are out to make a profit, and agencies like the FDA can be lazy, corrupt or incapable of having the people or money to properly investigate drug efficacy or safety.

    Though the belief that drug companies are hiding cures for cancer, heart disease or anything else seem a bit too far fetched for me to stomach. Obviously a ‘cure for cancer’, if it existed, would likely be beyond the power of any one individual scientist or laboratory to come up with, so it would have to be a pretty massive conspiracy with everybody involved doing a very good job to stay quiet.

  28. ckitching says

    Not to mention, it’s a little ridiculous to think they’d suppress something like that. There’s good money to be made in pharmaceutics for old age. Why would they want you to drop dead at 70 when they could be selling you “quality of life” drugs like pain killers, and viagra into your 90s.

    Yeah, okay, I’m a bit of a cynic. But am I wrong?

  29. rory says

    It’s a bit of a derail, but from someone who works in pharma, I would say the problem is that the patent system doesn’t favor innovation nearly enough. The way it works now, you basically need to patent a drug before you can do any real work on it (certainly before human testing begins). From that point the patent clock is running down, which means there’s a powerful financial incentive to design trials which maximize the chance of success in as short a time as possible, rather than really exploring how a drug can be used effectively. This is somewhat offset by the existence of extensions and data exclusivity agreements, but these also create perverse incentives: e.g., studying a drug in a disease where it’s not likely to actually be used because getting a new indication approved increases your effective patent life. Having the patent clock start when approval is granted might improve this.

    I’ll agree that cases like Prilosec/Nexium or Effexor/Pristiq are shameful and I’d like to see the law changed to prevent companies from double patenting what’s effectively the same compound.

    Sorry for the derail, Edwin. I enjoyed the post.

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