The G-File

Politics & Policy

The Zero-Sum Thinking Behind Group Rights

Intergenerational guilt is one of the oldest and nastiest bigotries, because it is among the most natural.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is Jonah Goldberg’s weekly “news”letter, the G-File. Subscribe here to get the G-File delivered to your inbox on Fridays.

Dear Reader (Including my guilty doppelgängers),

On my many travels this year (I am writing this quickly from the bar and lounge area at the Fort Worth Hilton), I have made what I believe to be many crucial observations. For instance, have you noticed that, increasingly, most Starbucks only put out the carafe of half-and-half these days, not bothering with whole milk or that semi-translucent bluish saccharine filth known as “skim milk”? This is fine with me, as I only use half-and-half. And, at home, we use heavy cream in our coffee because nutritionally skim milk is sugary garbage water that literally looks and tastes like the liquid that accumulates at the bottom of dumpsters.

But none of that is important right now. I’ve also noticed that there’s a whole lot of crazy out there (“Right, unlike here in your head where it’s totally normal” — The Couch).

I wrote my column yesterday (sitting under a tree outside the Oklahoma City Policy Center so that I could smoke a cigar) on how the Kavanaugh hearing is causing the Democrats to throw out millennia of moral and political progress in the name of tribal passion.

I’m not going to rehash all of that here. But there are a few points I’d like to explore further. I saw this tweet last night:

Like the man said when he went to the vet to pick up his dog only to be given an aardvark on a leash, “I have questions.”

What does Ms. Cummings think the state of mind of women 6,001 years ago was? And where exactly are we talking about? Is this some feminist Rousseauian idea that, prior to some “wrong turn” in Western civilization or the Judeo-Christian tradition, women lived an idyllic life free of fear of men?

More to the point, does she really think that society would be better off if men live in fear of women? Why?

It seems that the answer for many people is, Yes.

It’s like we’re living in one giant feminized version of Seinfeld, where all manner of things can be justified for spite.

I know this one tweet isn’t worth dwelling on when it is but one drop in an ocean of intellectual skim milk. But look at one of the popular replies:

Yes, that will be a much better society.

I find the concept of historic grievances fascinating. There is something very “sticky,” in an evolutionary sense, to the idea of getting payback for the crimes committed against your ancestors. If you find this to be an astonishingly novel insight, here’s a list of history books you should read: all of them.

The human — never mind the Hebrew — in me can relate to some of this (Damn Jebusites, you haven’t suffered nearly enough!). But a Jew born in, say, 1980 shouldn’t have any hate in his heart for a German born the same year, never mind an Egyptian. A German born four decades after the Holocaust isn’t responsible for the Holocaust any more than an Egyptian today is responsible for Hebrew bondage millennia ago.

I am making a moral point rather than a political or geopolitical one. Nation-states, for example, can hold grievances against other nation-states on all sorts of issues. It is right for Armenians to demand an apology from Turkey for the Armenian genocide, even if it was long ago.

But at the ground level, intergenerational guilt is one of the oldest and nastiest bigotries, because it is among the most natural. For much of human history, people were born into communities that were in large part defined by their hatred for other communities.

We see it all over the place on the issue of race. Some argue that white people today should carry some of the guilt for slavery. Never mind that many white people today are descended from people who: did not immigrate here until after slavery ended, were not slaveholders in the first place, were not considered “white” when they moved here, etc.

But, as much as I find such arguments unpersuasive and often ludicrous, I can at least understand them on an emotional level.

I can’t quite get my head around the idea that men today should suffer or be treated unjustly to make amends for how men, now long dead, treated women, now long dead.

And yet, this is now the very definition of a woke take.

Someone get Matt a copy of To Kill a Mockingbird stat!

One common response among the more asinine rejoinders to my column is that I am arguing for “men’s rights” or some such. I’m not. First of all, I don’t believe in men’s rights, because I don’t believe in group rights. I believe in things such as natural rights, human rights, American rights, or, simply, individual rights. I understand that this can get tricky when whole groups or classes of people are denied rights wholesale. This is why, for example, it was perfectly proper for suffragettes and early feminists to talk about “women’s rights.” But while the bigotry that is associated with the denial of group rights is offensive, the bigotry itself isn’t the crime or injustice, the denial of individual rights is.

Second, whenever I see a man receive a Nobel prize or win an election, I don’t pump my fist in the air and yell, “Yes! Another win for the Penis People!” Nor do I wave my “Men No. 1” foam finger in the air.

I understand that many people, not just women, do have this kind of reaction when women achieve important things, and that’s usually fine by me. But what I really don’t get is the zero-sum thinking that says men must suffer or be punished simply because they are men.

It shows you how frayed or even severed our connections to traditional — or simply, normal – forms of identity and association have become that we can demonize whole categories of people who are our fellow citizens, co-religionists, and, most importantly, our fathers, sons, and brothers.

Maybe liberals have sent their Rawlsian veil out to the cleaners, but a big part of the rule of law and justice is the idea that, when you walk into a court of law, your class, your heritage, and your connections should not matter. That’s why judges wear black robes and sit up on a high bench — to signal they are partisans of no cause or class. It is absolutely right to say that we do not always live up to that ideal; it is quite another to say we should discard that ideal to get some payback.

The notion that we should automatically believe the accuser because the accuser is white, black, male, female, or whatever is wrong, full stop. To argue that we should be wrong in the “other direction” to make amends for past wrongs is a perfect distillation of the tribal thinking running amok in Washington and the country.

What is really remarkable is how easily people can turn this thinking off and on as the moment requires. Yesterday, my friend and colleague Ed Whelan, justifiably furious at the effort to destroy Kavanaugh with unverified allegations, made a mistake by making unverified allegations against someone else. Ed, to his credit, realized his mistake and apologized.

I wish Ed hadn’t done it, but judged purely on its merits as trolling, it was spectacular. The very people who have been insisting that it is not only acceptable but morally necessary to destroy someone with unverified allegations were suddenly aghast by the use of unverified allegations.

We live in an age where any rule, custom, or norm that benefits the people we hate is wrong or irrelevant and any rule, custom, or norm that benefits the people we support is vital to the health of our democracy.

Last week, I ended this “news”letter with a quote from Thomas More in A Man for all Seasons. I should have saved it for this week. But since I can do whatever I want in this space, I’ll just use it again:

Roper: So now you’d give the Devil benefit of law!

More: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?

Roper: I’d cut down every law in England to do that!

More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned ’round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country’s planted thick with laws from coast to coast — man’s laws, not God’s — and if you cut them down — and you’re just the man to do it — do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law for my own safety’s sake.

Various & Sundry

Canine Update: I’ve been on the road most of this week, and I feel terribly guilty about it, in part because this was a bad week — and month — to leave the Fair Jessica with all of the canine and other domestic responsibilities. These beasts can be demanding. More to the point, I don’t have a whole lot of canine updating for you (though I do talk about the doggers at length at the end of this week’s podcast). I do miss them mightily and I hope they miss me too. Kirsten was out sick at the beginning of the week, so I had the midday walk on Monday. It was insanely muddy, particularly on one section of the trail. I barely managed to keep from falling over in the muck. So, when I came back around, I took a fork in the trail to avoid that spot. Instead I discovered a perfectly formed mud hole for Pippa. Anyway, I will see them tomorrow and Sunday before I have to head back out on the road. I will try to get in a week’s worth of dog tweets.

I’ll be on Meet the Press on Sunday.

I’ll be on the Adam Carolla podcast . . . soon.

I will be speaking at Claremont on Tuesday

I will be in Milwaukee speaking at the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty Gala on Thursday.

Check out for more upcoming things.

ICYMI . . .

My latest Fox News hit

Last week’s G-File

It’s not the economy, stupid

Socialism is so hot right now

Discussing my book with Mark Reardon

Clarence Thomas and Brett Kavanaugh

Dianne Feinstein is the only unambiguous villain in the Kavanaugh saga

Discussing my book with St. Louis Public Radio

The latest Remnant

The Kavanaugh saga and partisan politics

And now, the weird stuff.

Debby’s Wednesday links

Boy dying of cancer gets one last Christmas

Why women live longer than men

Snail kidnappers

The uselessness of Spidey Sense

William Shatner reflects on his career

Baby squirrels rescued

The man who swims to work

Don’t try this anti-aging method

How to get mice to kick the cocaine habit researchers gave them

The creepy midnight nursery rhyme

Lake Michigan shipwrecks

Noah’s school bus


The creation of the original Predator costume

Dog finds treasure

Texas grandma kills twelve-foot gator to avenge death of her miniature horse

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