The Dream Café

Steven Brust: “A masterful storyteller of contagious glee and self-deprecating badassery” —Skyler White

On Defining Prejudice

| 36 Comments

This is Steve, even though it says posted by Corwin. WordPress is screwed up.
I’ve come across this before, but only recently have I seen it so perfectly expressed: “Only women can decide what is mysogeny, only people of color can decide what is racism, only Jews can decide what is antisemitism.”
 
Please take a moment to think about that.  Either it assumes a homogeneity of opinion among, for example, women, which is both nonsensical and offensive, or it is telling us that the very definitions of mysogeny (anyone remember when that word meant something?), racism, antisemitism (and presumably homophobia, &c) are purely subjective, are up to every member of the group in question to determine.  According to this approach, to ask the question, “what is racism” must be left up to individuals, and even a subset of individuals. This is how we end up in those absurd conversations that go, “That is racist.” “I don’t think so.” “People of color say it is.” “Not all of them.” “Do you expect them all to agree on everything?”  In short, the instant one hears conflicting definitions from two people in that group, anyone not in that group is effectively paralyzed.  
 
If we cannot define it, how can we fight it?  If it is individual, how can we subject it to scientific analysis?  And without scientific analysis, how can we fight such immensely powerful institutions as those that benefit from these forms of systemic prejudice?  To deny that there can be an objective understanding of these different forms of prejudice is to undercut the possibility of effective action against them. The result of such thinking is exactly what we have seen: efforts to “combat racism” for example become nothing but mental exercises, “calling out,” empty gestures, concentration on words without the least effort to change anything in the real world beyond increasing the privileges of certain already privileged layers of “marginalized” groups.  Such an obvious and straightforward subject as police violence against minorities has been turned, in practice, into farcical calls for “better training” and to elect Democrats–even in those very cities such as Oakland, Baltimore, and Detroit in which it is Democrats who are already in overseeing the murderous thugs in blue.
 
Prejudice in its many forms, antisemitism, racism, sexism, homophobia, are reflections in the human mind of objective, material interests. Racism provides us the clearest example; most of us are by now familiar with its origins in the late 18th Century and early 19th Century as a justification for the African slave trade, and its resurgence in the late 19th and early 20th Century in the American South as a means of driving down the wages of both white and black workers by insuring they didn’t work together.  Anti-immigrant prejudice (often flavored with an anti-Muslim tinge as it used to be flavored with an anti-Catholic tinge) is deliberately incited for much the same reason.  And so on.
 
If you are interested in combating prejudice and injustice, and I hope you are, is not the first step to attempt to fight for an objective, scientific understanding of the forces that not only created it, but continue to exploit it?  But instead of science we get magic: “Well, the powerful are white and male, therefore anyone who is white and male has a share of that power.”  That isn’t science, this is the magical principle of similarity, which makes for good fantastical fiction but lousy social action.
 
When the workers at the River Rouge plant in 1941 defeated Henry Ford’s efforts to pit black against white and won the first Union shop in Ford’s history along with tremendous gains in wages and conditions for all of those workers, that made a positive contribution (and, incidentally, struck a blow against racial prejudice among those workers).  Compare and contrast this action with Joe Superwoke “calling out” Aunt Mabel’s racist joke at Thanksgiving.  The latter, it seems to me, is something one does, to give it the most charitable explanation, because one is outraged at racial injustice and sees no other way to make a contribution to the fight.  I believe there are better, more powerful ways to make such a contribution: the fight for class unity that takes on all forms of backwardness as part of the struggle for our common needs, combined with a class-based fight against all forms of institutionalized systemic prejudice.
 
TL;dr: All forms of prejudice, in the harm they do both to those who directly suffer from their effects and to those whose conditions are hurt because they buy into them, are the result of objective social forces.  To limit the very definition to the subjective mood of individuals makes them impossible to fight effectively.
 
corwin

Author: corwin

Site administrative account, so probably Corwin, Felix or DD-B.

36 Comments

  1. Only dogs can know what is dog abuse. Only the oceans can decide whether we are abusing them.

  2. I guess we can go ahead and dismantle our court system, then. Well that would probably be a good thing.

  3. Good points. Add the Social Justice Warriors into the mix and you are pretty much guaranteed to alienate so many people that nothing can be improved. “It’s impossible for Blacks (Jews, minorities, etc.) to be prejudice.” Now we can’t even rationally discuss the problems without being sucked into the emotional quicksand.

  4. corwin

    (Steve, posting as Corwin)

    What’s interesting about the three comments above is that I can’t tell if they’re mocking the points I made, or using mockery to reinforce the points I made. This may be symptomatic of, something.

  5. There’s a lot of comfort in being right.

    These guys know they’re right. They have an irrefutable argument that proves it.

    If you disagree with any of their definitions, then that would call for a debate to decide who’s right. But anybody who disagrees is by definition a racist and not a citizen they will debate, but a racist enemy they intend someday to defeat. They don’t debate racism with racists, except to point out that they are right and racists are wrong.

    If you agree with all their definitions then there is nothing to argue about. All their conclusions follow from their definitions, and you must admit they are right about everything.

    If you argue that their approach is ineffective for ending racism, they COULD point out that no other approach has succeeded yet either. They COULD say that their approach WILL end racism, in the future. They could say that they are doing the right thing regardless of outcomes. But if you argue that they are ineffective it means you are a racist enemy and they do not want to debate with you. They want to stop you. To do whatever it is they will do to racist enemies when they are strong enough to do it.

    I think these people are irrelevant and people who want to find out ways to improve the situation will find ways to ignore them. They don’t matter except when they get in the way. People who intend to do something useful will find ways to keep them out of the way.

  6. Corwin, I was not mocking, though I can see how somebody could read it that way.

    I keep getting the feeling that there are forces at work to sow deliberate disagreements so that people cannot discuss things to try and work out problems. Someone made up the argument that a person who has been subjected to prejudice cannot possibly be prejudice themselves. And that argument is readily accepted by some as gospel, and for one to suggest otherwise means that one is prejudiced in the extreme (and perhaps deserves punishment). End of any possible discussion on an objective basis.

    I was originally thinking that this was a clever manipulation by the GOP think tanks, but a recent video makes me think the Russians would also do this kind of disinformation as it weakens western society. But ultimately, some group is benefiting by causing friction between different types of people: divide and conquer. What ever the reason, it is very effective.

  7. corwin

    That wasn’t Corwin, that was Steve; wordpress is broken, so I can’t log in as myself.

  8. Calling out Aunt Mabel’s racist joke isn’t going to impact the lives of the race she derides. But isn’t it still the right thing simply because her comment should not go unchallenged in front of the kids?

    Superwoke Joe shouldn’t think that he’s striking a blow for racial inequality or addressing the class system in a meaningful way. But didn’t he still do a minor good deed?

    I think the major point you make, Steve, stands and you articulate it really well.

  9. Just read this month’s Scientific American articles about “The Science of Inequality”. Many more compelling arguments for a socialist world order! Highly recommended.

  10. I keep coming back to the stupid Megyn Kelly “blackface” comments that got her fired from NBC, and how many, many white people were telling black people that blackface wasn’t racist, while black people were telling white people “yes it is” and were being ignored. And how there are objective, historical facts showing that blackface was a performative caricature that dehumanized African Americans so that white people could listen to good music without having to have “those people” around to hear it. But having that constant debate, having to make that offer of proof, to every disingenuous MAGAtroll who would just reply “no it’s not” led towards plenty of people just throwing up their hands and saying “if black people are telling you it’s racist, then it’s racist you disingenuous idiot”

    I still think there has to be a recalibration and a debate over what definition of racism, we, as a society, need to agree upon. It’s not the B.S. “well, we can’t actually know whether she hated black people, so it wasn’t RACISM that caused her to call the cops on them for walking through her neighborhood” definition that so many conservatives seem to operate with. As a shorthand, actually listening to the marginalized communities who have experienced this sort of thing their entire lives isn’t necessarily a bad place to start.

  11. Steve- I think you might be conflating systemic racism and individual racism. Stokely Carmichael defined the difference.

    With systemic racism questions of privilege predominate and can easily be defined scientifically. There is an objective difference in incarceration rates for petty crimes, in income equality, in health care, in political power, in educational opportunities. Whether you are white or black, or male or female, or gay or straight, any rational person can look at the data and admit an imbalance of power. Systemic racism can be addressed purely economically, by changing incentives and penalties in a system, e.g. holding police forces accountable for selective enforcement of laws against marginalized communities ( a case my office is bringing against police in upstate NY who set up traffic stops exclusively in neighborhoods of color.)

    Individual racism, the attitudes and prejudices that people talk about when they argue about what racism is, might have its roots in objective social forces as well, but it is expressed symbolically. However dedicated we might be to objective reality as the ultimate source of all phenomenon, we can’t forget the power of symbols on the human psyche. Words matter, and words can mean very different things to different people. Being exposed to persistent verbal abuse can shorten your life as much as physical abuse.

    Defining this sort of performative racism absolutely is much harder, and is necessarily a matter of personal experience. If you saw a NY cop wipe his hand across his face from top to bottom, would you know he was being racist? You might if you were a black New Yorker (or a fan of NYPD Blue). When it comes to symbolic expressions of racism and what is hurtful or not, who is going to be a better judge than the person affected?

  12. corwin

    (Steve Commenting as Corwin)

    Mike: No question, kids being present changes things. Whether speaking to them privately after dinner or addressing it at once is best depends on circumstances, but, in any case, it must be addressed.

  13. “When it comes to symbolic expressions of racism and what is hurtful or not, who is going
    to be a better judge than the person affected?”

    If somebody expresses disdain for somebody else, they might not know whether it’s racism or not. Maybe it’s something personal, or something that really has nothing to do with the person being hurt but is something from the attacker’s past that isn’t racism.

    It might not even be an attack. The “attacker” might be looking into the distance while remembering an unpleasant experience, and the attacked person misunderstands.

    Does that matter? People get hurt whether or not they understand why it happens.

    Maybe we have no right to emotionally hurt other people for any reason. Unless they deserve it. Unless they will be improved by the experience. Unless the world will be a better place if they get hurt. I’m not sure which justifications ought to be used and which shouldn’t.

    I remember _Missing Man_ by Katherine MacLean. People divided themselves up into communes where they tended to get along. There was a Society for Creative Anachronism commune, one where people pretended it was 50 years earlier and they had daily newspapers from 50 years ago, various artists communes, yoga communes, an aztec commune for sadomasochists, a commune of saudis who had been thrown out of expanded Israel, etc. People were happier among their own kind, but the different communes were often on the edge of war with each other because conflict was exciting. When they did that, the authorities would shut off electricity and other services to both sides until they made peace and each punished the criminals on their own side. They buried the news about it in the dullest places they could find so third parties wouldn’t get excited and pick sides to support.

    I kind of like the idea but I don’t know who to use for the authorities.

  14. Good comments. I wish I could add “likes”. Larswyrdson, good point about personal racism vs systematic racism.

    As Steven has said, racism is rooted in economic suppression. It is a tool of the elite to keep the working men at each other’s throats so that their wages can be kept at a minimum. It is no coincidence that if you compare wages to the GDP, that for the last 30 years at least, all the GDP increase has gone to the wealthy and virtually none to the working people. If income were more fairly distributed, racism would stop being a tool.

    Cops looking for an excuse to beat up and arrest blacks (or worse), is a tell tail of what the elites want. The cops look like they are acting on personal prejudice, but they are also acting as agents of the establishment, who also want blacks “kept in their place”. If a cop sees a black man with a gun, they kill the black man. It doesn’t matter the circumstances. They even shoot black cops.

    On the surface, this looks like extreme personal prejudice. But black cops shoot black men for being black. So it is a systematic prejudice. Some of it is psychological manipulation, where the cop training targets are all black men. And they are lectured to be fearful and to shoot first and think later.

    At the personal level, demonizing some counter person who sees a black guy hanging around for no obvious purpose and calling a cop, does not really address the systematic problems. Trying to get her fired does not help address the problems, she is a victim of the system too. She could as easily have been fired for not calling the cops. Obviously the calling the cop thing has been abused. But please don’t put your gun on automatic and start firing because it feels so good to be righteous.

  15. For me- middle class, middle aged white girl- a lot of my “isms” were learned from society as being harmless. For example, I was an adult when I learned it was not “jipped” but rather “gypped” as in the racist trope about gypsies. So, out of kindness, I don’t use it anymore. I learned many things from people who loved me enough to educate me. So, on a personal level, I think it is often the case that it can’t be rigidly defined. People can also be rigidly defensive.

    Systemically, we must figure this stuff out.You literally have to teach people how to talk and listen about racism. All oppression is evil and should be stopped. When we say, well the Jews had it rough but not like Africans, we reduce both to a horrible competition. That’s one place we have to start. As a sexual abuse survivor, I know I kept my mouth shut for a very long time because I knew others had it worse than I. But no matter how big or small an incident, it is all evil.

    It’s a very difficult conversation, even if if you can get past the one-up-man-ship, as you have people who deny it exists. Look at our Prez. Nazi’s bad is not hard math yet he is unable to say it, regardless of his reasoning.

    I knew we would have a backlash after our first black president. But I was unprepared for how resounding it would be. Obama was a milk-toast,centrist politician in almost every way. He was certainly NOT a liberal or a progressive on most issues. But to listen to the talking points he was a straight up – dun dun dun duuunnnnn – socialist. He did an admirable job in many ways, he was shit in others like virtually every president ever. It was his blackness that engendered such hateful rhetoric. No one mentions it. Megan Markle a “historic” princess because she is black but no one said it. They just say historic wedding and leave out that detail. It’s weird.

    And the other is just as insidious. I was told by a person of color that only white people can be racist. He proceeded to give me a complex, master’s level definition of racism and it’s relation to power. This is all well and good and salient at times. But when you say only white people can be racist, I told him, you make people dumber. Shave IQ points right off the top. People have hated each other based in perceived differences since the dawn of time.

    Systemic racism in the judicial system and school, just needs it’s ass kicked at this point. No euphemisms. The Thin Blue Line is wrong. Nationalist? Nope, white supremacist. You want to believe in some hateful shit? Go right ahead and I will preserve your freedom to do so. But I’m going to do everything in my power to see that you are shamed. That’s also in the Constitution. You don’t even have to be mean or cruel, just honest.

    Rambling on. Sorry. This is something I do in classrooms every day.

    Suddenly I feel the need for some Led Zepplin…..

  16. Love your post. Very kindly put.

  17. I want to get into a point not brought up here: the epistemological standpoint of the marginalized (don’t know why you put quotes around that) is key to actually understanding how to objectively combat systemic oppression. This is because of a couple reasons, but primarily the systems (racism, sexist, and so on) you’ve described here are essential to the production of knowledge in our society, and thus vital to our understanding of things, but because they inherently biased against the marginalized, being a product of our society, it creates a information feedback that never actually understands oppression. To objectively study and combat systemic oppression having the people it is situated against is actually vital–or do you imagine that an all-white, all-male, all-straight cabal of Marxists could effective describe racism, or whatever, and then enact policies that could end it? That’s been tried, and its utterly failed every single time because the lack of experiential knowledge vital to actually combating it. Science is based in experimentation and observation–and when it comes to social systems we cannot create those conditions in a lab, so we need to constantly be in search of natural occurrences and natural informants–that means placing a higher order of importance on those who have actually experienced these things, at least in terms of offering a more complete picture of exactly how they operate.

    Re: Sandy, yes people have systemically discriminated against people because of differences, but we should not take that general idea as particular useful. These things in our society are historically and materially contingent–so while I think saying only ‘white people can be racist’ is a little bit off the mark (its not white people, but rather whiteness as an ideological category that maintains racism–whiteness is a modifiable category that doesn’t really have much to do with skin colour, and much to do with power–and white does imbue those considered white power), its more correct than the opposite, and more useful as a tool of measurement. Racism of today, that is white supremacy is a creation of capitalism, colonialism, the trans-Atlantic slave trade, and the genocides of Americas (among other places)–to ignore that is utterly ignore the problem. Non-white people can be racist, but only by appealing to the power structure of white-supremacy, which is the system of racial control and discipline and punishment. We get rid of white-supremacy we pretty much end any meaningful racism.

    Lastly I am deeply suspicion of people who try to separate the categories of ’emotion’ and ‘rational thought’ as if we can neatly divide cognitive functions that rely on each other constantly. Why is racism bad? Because it produces unequal results based on arbitrary reasoning that is ultimately sourced from greed and hate. You need emotional reasoning to eventually come to that conclusion–the opposite is literally the mindset of neoliberals and our capitalist ghouls. We can be acknowledge that emotion is a vital and fundamental part of this discussion, that it needs to be, these people aren’t just abstract bodies of utility being fulfilled or not, but subjective beings who are obviously going to have emotionally charged reactions to their own oppression and being dominated, and still come to rational conclusions, as many of the so-called ‘SJWs’ actually do.

    Anyways, in conclusion, I really do think many people here are lacking in both experience and analysis when it comes to the issues of systemic oppression. You write good books though.

  18. corwin

    (This is Steve, not Corwin, no matter what WordPress tells you)

    BDG: Thanks for taking the time to write a thoughtful comment. Let’s take a look at it.

    The key point you appear to be making in the first paragraph is this: “To objectively study and combat systemic oppression having the people it is situated against is actually vital.” In particular, you seem to be presenting this as an argument against something I said, which is what has me baffled. I object to the idea that only those who suffer from a particular form of oppression can define it, can say what it is. Where from that do you get the idea that I would disagree with the sentence I quoted? I’ll go further: “Without listening to the masses, there can be no revolutionary statesmanship.” — Trotsky. I think listening is important for anyone who wishes to fight oppression. I do not think listening to how someone is affected by oppression is the same thing as accepting (especially accepting uncritically) a definition. And, yes, definitions are important. Neoliberals in particular love to change definitions, to define a problem in such a way that we cannot actively fight it, but only band together to talk about how terrible it is and to point and hiss at those who are Evil according to that definition. That is one way they protect their privileges. So, yeah, being clear on what we’re talking about is important,

    Finally, I have no idea where the issue of separating emotion from reason comes up; I don’t recall anyone suggesting we ought to do that. What am I missing?

    Once again, thank you for going through the trouble of making a comment that demonstrates some thought.

  19. skzb

    Corwin seems to have fixed things: I now get to post as me again. YAY.

  20. “Only women can decide what is mysogeny [sic]”

    I think you’re confused here about the claim, at least in the majority of cases. Perhaps you saw this conversation on the left, where it has a rather different import than when one of the participants is on the racist right, but in my experience people who say this are talking about something in particular they understand better from a marginalized group’s perspective or are trying to carve out some legitimate limited area of discussion as off-limits. The former is good, the latter is bad. Rarely in my experience is this about coming to some overarching definition of prejudice. Here’s an example of a useful discussion of the former type from today: http://dsadevil.blogspot.com/2018/12/from-river-to-sea-guide-to-perplexed.html It would certainly help me to evaluate your viewpoint if you pointed to some close at hand real-world examples.

    “mysogeny [sic] (anyone remember when that word meant something”

    For what it’s worth, I see people on the racist right saying exactly this all this time. This post would in my opinion be improved by acknowledging that and discussing particulars where a good-faith reader would agree that the term shouldn’t be applied in some actual conversation. Similarly, when you write, “Joe Superwoke”, you don’t seem to me to be arguing in good faith. It doesn’t make one a caricature to refuse to let racist statements stand unopposed.

  21. Sometimes a statement can express something worthwhile without being literally true. When Smokey Bear says “only you can prevent forest fires” he doesn’t mean that I am literally the only person in the world who can do so (that would be a pretty crushing responsibility). It’s just a pithy way of expressing the idea that I should take responsibility for my own actions when I’m camping or otherwise enjoying the woods.

    I read the statement Steve leads off with in a similar way. It’s not literally true that only members of certain groups get to define certain words, as Steve eloquently articulates. But the statement isn’t meant to be literally true — it’s attempt to convey the idea that if you’re not a member of a group that’s been treated poorly, maybe you ought to listen to what members of that group have to say about their experience and not just assume you know better.

  22. skzb

    rilkefan: Thanks for the reply. I’m not sure what sort of “real world example” you’re looking for; the quote at the top is something I actually read, in so many words, that crystallized things that had been brewing for a while. So that is, in fact, a real world example.

    Your mention that people on the right say similar things, if it intended as some sort of counter-argument, fails. While I don’t know you, I am guessing that there are more things that you and right-wingers agree about than things I agree with them about. For example, revolution should be avoided, the way to make change is with the ballot box, capitalism can be made to work better, the class struggle is not the driving force of society. Perhaps I misjudge you on those.

    As for the Joe Superwoke business, I make no apology. I am mocking something that deserves mocking. The effort among many (not all, of course) supporters of identity politics to show they are more “woke” than others is worth only jeering at, and if you haven’t seen it, I beg to submit you are choosing not to. Anyone who asks if I’m “woke” will be laughed at, anyone claiming to be “woke” will be hooted at. In the real world, what this turns into is mobbing, into deeply counter-productive behavior all over social media, with individuals attacked and driven away because and hurt because of some trivial remark. It is profoundly unhealthy, and I stand behind my mockery of it.

    The issue behind all of this is the method that underlies the support of identity politics: subjectivity, idealism (in the philosophical sense), support for positions that benefit a segment of the upper middle class. My post is about the importance of a careful, meticulous, scientific analysis of materiel conditions as a starting point in the fight for human equality.

  23. skzb, I agree on the whole “woke” thing and similar new jargon concepts. I have never been asleep, so I find it amusing when someone claims to be “woke” and now they are the sole experts and judges of acceptable behavior. I applaud that they have become aware of what is going on, just don’t assume everybody is as ignorant as you were before you woke up.

    Also, there is a hell of a lot more unacceptable stuff going on, besides race and sex, than “Joe Superwoke” is probably aware of. But hey, everybody has to start somewhere.

  24. While reading this, I couldn’t help but think of your 4th Street Fantasy tribulations, Mr. Brust. You have my support, and my sympathy, in taking the stance you do regarding identity politics – which I’m sure is made more difficult than it should be by the circles you seem to be in.

    “its not white people, but rather whiteness as an ideological category that maintains racism–whiteness is a modifiable category that doesn’t really have much to do with skin colour, and much to do with power” -BDG

    Describing racism (correctly, in my opinion) as a terrible, insupportable means to a bad end but then labeling the end in racial terms. Is this kind of rhetoric intentionally set up to be both self-defeating and ironic?

    “It’s not black people, but rather blackness as an ideological category that maintains poverty-blackness is a modifiable category that doesn’t really have much to do with skin colour, and much to do with personal responsibility”

    And with a wave of the wand, woke is now comatose.

  25. “its not white people, but rather whiteness as an ideological category that maintains racism–whiteness is a modifiable category that doesn’t really have much to do with skin colour, and much to do with power” -BDG

    It’s true that it’s modifiable.

    How was it decided whether Jews are white or black? And people from India? And people from the middle east, and points east of there?

    It isn’t arbitrary, but it doesn’t have a whole lot to do with race. People get their status by how they can usefully be inserted into the system. If they are more valuable defined as white, they will be defined as white.

    It isn’t really about race. Except that “race” is a word that gets used to talk about what it really is about….

  26. Steve Halter- interesting essay! Kyratzes example of Buddhist violence makes a very good point on the limits of using stated ideology to explain behavior. It is easy for Westerners to handwave Islamic extremism as somehow inherent in the religion, but Buddhist inspired violence and even genocides are actually far more common in history. There is one going on right now in Myanmar. When stressed, most people want to blame and punish the Other, however you define them. Any system of belief can be twisted to justify it. Even science can become pseudoscience and generate nonsense like phrenology or eugenics.

    On the other hand, there are systems of belief that seem to arise purely from that dark place. White Nationalism and other forms of fascism begin and end with defining in and out groups and seizing all power from the Others. Social forces don’t need to twist them from their stated beliefs– they start out vile.

    Creating a more just society is certain to reduce the pressures that create these divisions and hatreds, but I remain convinced that more effort is needed, both on the road and after achieving some measure of success. Our ultimate goal should be justice and equality for everyone, but why should our marginalized brothers and sisters have to suffer more on the way to that goal than the relatively privileged?

    Maybe it is a failure of imagination on my part, but I don’t believe even economic justice can completely eliminate prejudice. It is hard to point to real world examples, since every attempt until now has been flawed in one way or another, but it does not seem to me that socialism reduces societal prejudice, at least not if there isn’t also a serious effort at re-education. Does anyone have better data?

  27. All paths to a more just/equitable,… society take a lot of work. A number of problems, such as prejudices have their roots in societal structures — that’s the big picture that Jonas is talking about.
    At an individual level, these problems may become ingrained into the core personality set such that “fixing” them becomes an intractable problem and really only get fixed across time (i.e. when the intractable people pass away).
    As we fix societal problems, there will be fewer reasons for people to engage with the problem belief systems and fewer people who try to force those beliefs into their descendants.

  28. I think that the “Ideology and Causation” essay misses a fundamental point: the people who tend to commit violent atrocities tend to be people who embrace violence as a valid means to solve their problems. Many of these mass-shooters are people who have been previously reported for domestic violence.

    While a congenital predisposition towards emotional instability is undoubtedly a factor, and a chaotic world will certainly exacerbate that tendency, it cannot be overstated that we live in a culture that not only fails to teach its young men how to deal with their emotions in a safe and healthy manner, but explicitly tells them that doing so emasculates them. That talking about your feelings with another person is something that only women do. And then friends and family wail loudly about how it can’t understand how “such a nice man” could lose control and become violent when they get angry or scared or desperate.

  29. SKZB: “The effort among many (not all, of course) supporters of identity politics to show they are more “woke” than others is worth only jeering at, and if you haven’t seen it, I beg to submit you are choosing not to.”

    If we’re just relying on petitio principii and not bothering to argue in good faith here, I beg you to submit you hold the position you argue for above because you are an old racist heterosexual white man. I mean, I’m all in favor of a revolution – it’s just that I’m looking forward to useful idiots on the supposed left who align themselves with the racist right by sneering at “identity politics” being up against the wall along with the Republicans. I mean, why bother identifying the context of a quote, when we can just pretend confirmation bias is for other folks, that Kahneman and Tversky, well, and all of literature, never taught us anything. I mean, if I agreed with the right on anything I would sure as sunrise examine the hell out of that belief.

    If we’re actually talking about evidence, science (to the extent social sciences are science at their current mediocre level of sophistication) for example says Trump was an effect of race not class: https://www.vox.com/identities/2017/12/15/16781222/trump-racism-economic-anxiety-study. But perhaps you’re happy Trump won, wrongly thinking it will accelerate your revolution not mine.

    In any case, I come back to my experience that this conversation takes place in many different contexts with very different valences, positive and negative, and if you want to convince anyone who doesn’t happen to already agree with you you’d be better served to eschew sweeping, mocking statements and to be specific about who said what to whom when where and why.

  30. skzb

    Steve: Good link; thanks.

    rilkefan: You keep coming back to this “arguing in good faith” thing as if it is beyond your comprehension that someone understands your position and disagrees with it. As for my use of irony, I maintain that it is appropriate when the irony exists within the situation, rather than imposed from outside. The ideological base of identity politics (various forms of subjective idealism, in particular post-modernism with its denial of objective truth) carries its irony with it.

    As for changing minds, well, yes and no. Someone as committed to a petite-bourgeois ideology as I am to a working class ideology will no more be convinced by argument than I will. But experience teaches far better, and all around us the privileges that have permitted middle-class ideology to flourish are falling apart. Under these conditions, people are beginning to question previously held ideas, and it as at that point that I hope to step in and shed some light on the (utterly reactionary) social role these ideas have played. That is where argument can sometimes be useful.

    The Vox article still, to my mind, fails to explain how such a supposedly racist society elected an African-American president. Twice. Moreover, it bases itself on three metrics, economic fear, sexism, and racism, yet fails to tells us how to it made those determinations beyond one passing mention of being told non-whites will outnumber whites, but still nothing about how the question was phrased. Those are all extremely subject to how the question is put. I recall one study that asked men, “Have you ever made a sexual or romantic overture that was rebuffed?” and then went on to form conclusions about how many men made, “unwanted sexual advances.” I’m not making that up.

    If you wish for links based on exit polls, here’s one: http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/11/09/behind-trumps-victory-divisions-by-race-gender-education/

    And here’s another, that directly addresses the education issue and the assumption it makes about class: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2017/06/05/its-time-to-bust-the-myth-most-trump-voters-were-not-working-class/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.4a9bbe4c4ecd

    And another: https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2016/11/debunking-myths-about-trump-voters-with-exit-polls.html

    Yet another, and (to me) unexpected factor was war weariness: https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/07/08/comm-j08.html

    Those should be sufficient to make the point.

  31. larswrdson:Eliminating harmful modes of thought (such as prejudice, racism, misogyny, …) would seem to arise out of a twofold approach of removing the underlying societal pressures that encourage producing essentially broken people and educating people.

    At the current point in time, we certainly want to oppose suffering and marginalization as we progress towards a better societal structure just as, if we were in a boat with a leak, we would encourage bailing while also fixing the leak. Some people seem to think that only bailing is needed and others (very unfortunately) seem to think that leaks are great and punching more holes in the boat is the way to go.

  32. nimelennar – I’m troubled by this statement. “I think that the “Ideology and Causation” essay misses a fundamental point: the people who tend to commit violent atrocities tend to be people who embrace violence as a valid means to solve their problems.” After The Holocaust, there were countless studies of the German people to determine if this was somehow a genetic condition (condition=willing to murder countless innocent people) or a German-specific cultural one. We now recognize that virtually no country involved in the conflict was unaware of what was happening in the Death Camps.That even the vast majority of civilians living in Europe on both sides of the conflict knew exactly what was happening. The conclusion that was reached is that ALL humans are capable of great evil
    and we must guard against that. Especially when it turns up in our systems. The idea that there is a predispostion to violence and that the rest of us are above it is a reason we fail to do anything about mass shooters. We sit on out high horse and wonder at how damaged some people are. I’m not suggesting that you are wrong in terms of shooters being victims of violence themselves. Just that we must understand that any person is capable of committing atrocities. I would want to see a person executed if they murdered a family member. Hell, I could probably do it myself. That is a very natural reaction. But the state being in the business of killing people as punishment, particularly a rigged system like ours, is an evil that should no longer be tolerated.

    SKZB – There is an article on the HuffPost today about Milk and White Supremacy. Fascinating stuff but I find the article to be a bit like, only I can say what’s racist argument.

  33. “it is telling us that the very definitions of mysogeny (anyone remember when that word meant something?), racism, antisemitism (and presumably homophobia, &c) are purely subjective, are up to every member of the group in question to determine.”

    I think the intention is more negative than that.

    The point isn’t that every member of the group in question decides it.

    The point is that members of the oppressor group do not have any say in it.

    So for example, there is the question of reparations for slavery. If we accept that reparations are in order, who gets to decide how much?

    It’s generally accepted in law that if you are liable for a crime and must make restitution, you do not get to tell the victim how much you will pay. You don’t bargain with the victim. “Your car wasn’t worth that much, I wouldn’t have paid $500 for it. But to be generous I’ll give you $500. Your wife wasn’t worth that much either….”

    An impartial court and jury is supposed to decide how much you owe in reparations for your crime.

    But there is no impartial court that can decide how much white people owe black people for slavery. And surely white people don’t deserve to have any say in it. So the obvious approach is that white people should pay black people until the black people decide they have enough.

    And white people don’t deserve to have any say in how black people organize to distribute the reparations, or to decide how much should be collected each year, or when to stop. It is entirely up to black people to do all that, with no interference from the oppressors.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%93tr

    There is a germanic and celtic tradition of such things. But I think it’s pretty obvious why only identitarian whites have agreed to reparations for slavery, and it has never gotten serious consideration from the US congress.

  34. Jonah: The problem all of that leads towards is in defining who is the oppressed and who is the oppressor and who has been oppressed and who has oppressed either directly or via ancestors and …

    Socialism cuts through that. How do you make your living? Do you own the means of production or not. You, not your ancestor or the guy down the street, you. That is the key relationship via which all the others take hold.

  35. Socialism is more direct that way. I like that.

    But in reality people are in social networks, and where you fit into the network matters a whole lot. It can supercede how you officially make your living, or it can determine how you make your living.

    It does no good to come up with a simple direct way to categorize people if that doesn’t produce the categories they actually fit into in their real lives.

    Unless we can break up the society and create a new society where that’s the only thing that matters.

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