Counterfactual Identity Swap

My favorite genre of takes is the Counterfactual Identity Swap (CIS). The way the CIS works is you take an event in the news and you speculate on what the event would be like if the identity of the actors involved were different. Unsurprisingly, the CIS always proves that the take-maker is correct about whatever their point is.

You can find CIS examples for almost any news event. Liberals and conservatives equally enjoy it.

When a problematic event involves an identity group conservatives have some sympathy for, conservatives either stay quiet about it, offer qualified support, or blame its happening on provocative liberal antics. Liberals then flood the channels with CIS takes and ask what would happen if the actors in the problematic event were an identity group conservatives do not have sympathy for. The big counterfactual identity groups used by liberals in current CIS takes are Muslims and blacks.

Likewise, when a problematic event involves an identity group liberals have some sympathy for, liberals either stay quiet about it, offer qualified support, or blame its happening on provocative conservative antics. Conservatives then give us the CIS takes, usually involving Christians, whites, or those who hold certain conservative views.

What’s so incredible about CIS takes is that the existence of them actually proves the point being made by them (at least as the point pertains to discursive responses). It really is the case that if [problematic event done by liberal-favored group] was [problematic event done by conservative-favored group], the perspectives and reactions of liberals and conservatives would completely flip. Conservative CIS takes would be replaced by liberal CIS takes. And liberal sympathy and qualified support would be replaced by conservative sympathy and qualified support.

What’s also incredible about CIS takes is that their speculative nature makes them almost entirely impossible to disprove (as it pertains to non-discursive responses). The Oregon militia situation is a great example of this. Since the Oregon militia people are a conservative-favored group, the channels have been deluged with liberal CIS takes. The most popular one seems to be that the response to a takeover of federal property like this from a nonwhite group would not be met the same way, but instead would be met with immediate overwhelming force.

But we actually have historical examples of nonwhite groups doing this that are directly on point. For example, in 1971, the American Indian Movement took over Alcatraz Island and held it for 19 months. The occupation ended after the government laid siege to the island and the thing more or less collapsed. Yet, despite actually having a nonwhite comparator for this fairly rare event, the liberal CIS takes will discount it as not on point enough and therefore not adequately instructive. Since you cannot literally rerun the Oregon militia thing with nonwhite actors, nothing will ever be able to adequately prove or disprove the liberal CIS take, and so it will flourish as a perfectly unassailable flatterer of priors.

As fun as CIS takes are, they do suffer from one main problem. The core of a CIS take is an accusation of hypothetical hypocrisy. I must admit that I don’t understand why accusing a phantom opponent of hypothetical hypocrisy gets people real excited. But worse than that, the CIS takes don’t really demonstrate any hypothetical hypocrisy is present. The reality is people don’t actually care that much one way or another about the form of some protest action. They only care about who is doing it and why. Thus they are perfectly consistent in how they approach protest actions: favoring them when done by people and for reasons they like and disfavoring them when done by people and for reasons they dislike.