Monday, July 29, 2013

Lawrence Sterne on race

In 1766, at the height of the debate about slavery, Ignatius Sancho wrote to Laurence Sterne [19] encouraging the famous writer to use his pen to lobby for the abolition of the slave trade.[20]
"That subject, handled in your striking manner, would ease the yoke (perhaps) of many - but if only one - Gracious God! - what a feast to a benevolent heart!"
In July, 1766 Sancho's letter was received by Reverend Laurence Sterne shortly after he had just finished writing a conversation between his fictional characters Corporal Trim and his brother Tom in Tristram Shandy wherein Tom described the oppression of a black servant in a sausage shop in Lisbon which he had visited.[21] Laurence Sterne's widely publicized 27 July 1766 response to Sancho's letter, became an integral part of 18th century abolitionist literature.
"There is a strange coincidence, Sancho, in the little events (as well as in the great ones) of this world: for I had been writing a tender tale of the sorrows of a friendless poor negro-girl, and my eyes had scarce done smarting with it, when your letter of recommendation in behalf of so many of her brethren and sisters, came to me — but why her brethren? — or yours, Sancho! any more than mine? It is by the finest tints, and most insensible gradations, that nature descends from the fairest face about St. James’s, to the sootiest complexion in Africa: at which tint of these, is it, that the ties of blood are to cease? and how many shades must we descend lower still in the scale, ’ere mercy is to vanish with them?—but ’tis no uncommon thing, my good Sancho, for one half of the world to use the other half of it like brutes, & then endeavor to make ’em so." [21]

from a writer's perspective, the greatest evil of capitalism is...

Too many people write for money instead of love, so the world of literature fills with jabber, to use Charlie Brooker's term.

It's amazing how much jabber I endure in the search for meaningful and entertaining words—but the jabber's wearing me down. It may be why I don't read much fiction anymore.

Yes, Samuel Johnson said, "No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money" but what's clever isn't necessarily true. If he'd simply said, "No man but a blockhead ever wrote," I'd agree with him.

Take a look at the world's great books, then tell me how many were written for money.

But don't tell me if you're just adding to the jabber.

Inspired by Too much talk for one planet: why I'm reducing my word emissions | Charlie Brooker

Thursday, July 25, 2013

"I'm not humorless, but...": Salon.com vs. Patton Oswalt

Thinking about the liberal equivalent of the conservative "I'm not racist, but...", I googled "I'm not humorless but". Among the results were a slapfight between Salon. com and Patton Oswalt:

Patton Oswalt makes Asian name joke, in response to racist KTVU news report - Salon.com

Patton Oswalt | A SALON I USED TO KNOW

If your first response to a joke is to ask whether your politics should keep you from laughing, you don't understand humor or human nature. In the case of Oswalt's initial joke, if you're a thinking being, you know his target was the TV station. But if you're on the literal side of the clash between the ironic mind and the literal, you'll only see the words he used.

Irony. It's only for real men.

See what I did there?

PS. The Salon editor thinks he's a "call-out" hero for spotting an Asian names joke. Figures.

ETA: I recommend the comments at Salon. People are pointing out that name-based jokes are juvenile—who doesn't remember I. P. Freely?—but that doesn't make them racist.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Do gun laws make it safe for white people to kill darker-skinned people?

In her Continuum GoH Speech, N. K. Jemisin says, "Right now there are laws in places like Florida and Texas which are intended to make it essentially legal for white people to just shoot people like me, without consequence, as long as they feel threatened by my presence."

Malcolm X would've disagreed:


So would the Black Panthers. From Fred Hampton's Power Anywhere Where There's People:
Huey Newton went and got Bobby Seale, the chairman of the Black Panther Party on a national level. Bobby Seale got his 9mm, that's a pistol. Huey P. Newton got his shotgun and got some stop signs and got a hammer. Went down to the intersection, gave his shotgun to Bobby, and Bobby had his 9mm. He said, "You hold this shotgun. Anybody mess with us, blow their brains out." He put those stop signs up.
Tell me there are problems with "stand your ground" laws, and I'll agree with you in a second. George Zimmerman should've been found guilty of second degree murder, and it's a tragedy that the jurors felt Florida's law prevented them from convicting him.

But the idea that those laws are racist misses the point. So long as the US's class system is racially disproportionate, teasing out what's racism and what's class-prejudice is difficult, but what's clear is that stand-your-ground laws favor property owners.

George Zimmerman's killing of Trayvon Martin is presented as a narrative in white and black. What's missing is the full-color story: A black youth was killed by a Hispanic adult in a multi-racial gated community suffering from many foreclosures. Say it's about race, and you miss at least half of the story.

Related:

Who benefits from Stand Your Ground laws? Criminals by Jim Mitchell

No, Blacks Don't 'Benefit' from Florida's Stand Your Ground Law by Philip Bump

Trayvon Martin case: who’s really promoting prejudice? | Sean Collins | spiked

Shooting of Trayvon Martin - Wikipedia: Best overview of what happened that I've found.

The Secret History of Guns - Adam Winkler: "The Ku Klux Klan, Ronald Reagan, and, for most of its history, the NRA all worked to control guns. The Founding Fathers? They required gun ownership—and regulated it. And no group has more fiercely advocated the right to bear loaded weapons in public than the Black Panthers—the true pioneers of the modern pro-gun movement."

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

On the female gaze, Vampire Diaries, gothic romances, and SFWA

In her Continuum GoH speech, NK Jemisin says "two of the genre’s most venerable white male writers made some comments in a series of recent articles which have been decried as sexist". She's speaking of Resnick and Malzberg, who reminisced in the SFWA Bulletin that editor Bea Mahaffey was "competent, unpretentious, and beauty pageant gorgeous".

In Is it too late for SF?, Jemisin begins, "So yesterday I went to Crunch Gym to take part in my first Cardio Sculpting class. The instructor was a handsome young man..." The relevance of the instructor's looks is never made clear. Jemisin simply noted it.

Because she, like most of us, notices attractive people.

Unlike Resnick and Malzberg, she begins by mentioning the man's attractiveness, and only gets to his competence later.

I've been thinking about the female gaze because I've been watching The Vampire Diaries, which is clearly shot with the female gaze in mind: the men are often unclothed, and the women rarely. (Yes, some gay men undoubtedly enjoy the show for that reason, but they're a secondary audience.) The visual sensibilities are very reminiscent of illustrations for the various women's romance genres, which makes sense, since traditionally, the gothic romance is one, and The Vampire Diaries is a gothic romance.

I was a boy who always had friends who were girls, so I learned early on that girls notice boys' looks. I was painfully aware in second or third grade that all the girls adored my friend Johnny, so I tried combing my hair like his. When I was a teen, I heard girls comment on boys' butts, stomachs, shoulders, and biceps. I don't think I heard female friends comment about men's genitals until I was a young man—while women will disagree about whether penis size matters, most het and bi women will notice it.

All of which is to say that any discussion of the "male gaze" without the "female gaze" is nonsense. We're talking about variations of the human gaze. There are many male and female gazes, all influenced by culture and sexual orientation. The terms are useful in art, which is where they come from: in a story by a skillful artist, the "gaze" will always be that of the POV character, while the "gaze" in the work of a naive artist will usually be that of the artist. How useful the terms are in understanding sexual dynamics, I don't know. Those of us who have eyes and sexual impulses will have gazes that we will control to the degree we think our culture requires.

Relevant:

Gaze - Wikipedia

Male Gaze - Television Tropes & Idioms

Female Gaze - Television Tropes & Idioms

Monday, July 15, 2013

On name-calling and ad hominem, the bottom-feeders of Graham's Hierarchy of Disagreement

Yesterday, I was listening to the radio, and a psychiatrist was talking about people who hear an insult and cannot separate themselves from it. He was restating an old idea: the mature response to an insult is not to feel hurt, but to see that the person making insults is suffering.

Insults have fascinated me since I was called a nigger-lover as a boy: insults tell you little about their target, but they tell you everything about what the insulter fears. Since I had been taught that loving everyone is good, that particular insult baffled me. And yet, at the same time, it hurt because humans are social creatures. We don't want to be excluded or hated, not even by haters.

For many groups, the easiest way to be included is to insult the group's idea of the other, the person who may be mocked for being outside the group. Which may be why the internet has so many examples of people who enjoy life at the bottom of Graham's Hierarchy of Disagreement:


Graham says optimistically, "A DH6 response might be unconvincing, but a DH2 or lower response is always unconvincing."

But the truth is for many people, name-calling and ad hominem are extremely convincing. A study of the "nasty effect" involving over a thousand participants found "Uncivil comments not only polarized readers, but they often changed a participant’s interpretation of the news story itself."

Still, what's convincing is not necessarily what's good. If you don't like getting insults, don't give them.

A few favorite quotes:

"A gentleman will not insult me, and no man not a gentleman can insult me." —Frederick Douglass

"Observe which side resorts to the most vociferous name-calling and you are likely to have identified the side with the weaker argument and they know it." —Charles R. Anderson

“If you can't answer a man's arguments, all is not lost; you can still call him vile names.” —Elbert Hubbard

Related: Respect everyone

three reasons economic class does not fit in identity politics

In a capitalist society, class is a relationship to economic power, not a social identity. Here's why:

1. The goal for social identities is social equality. The goal for the working class is a fair distribution of wealth for everyone, regardless of social identity.

2. Most members of a social identity want to keep their identity. Few members of the working class want to keep working for capitalists.

3. In a capitalist society, anyone with capital is a capitalist; anyone without it is working class. You cannot change your race or gender, but you can change your economic class overnight if your luck is very good or very bad.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

fat women will kick your ass at Zumba

Dance classes are a great place to be reminded that general rules are essential for betting and useless for understanding individuals. A quarter to a third of fat people are medically healthy, and I suspect most, if not all, of them get their share of exercise. At the Y's dance classes, some of the most impressive dancers are fat.

If you're out of shape, you're out of shape, whether you're fat or thin. So if you decide to start exercising after a period of inactivity, don't think about your weight. Think about the fact that it'll take you a few weeks to be comfortable being active again.

Also, fat or thin, make sure you've got good shoes.

Possibly of interest:

Obese But Healthy? Gray Area Confounds Science | LiveScience

Evidence: Fat People Can Be as Healthy as Thin People » Sociological Images

If Obesity Is a Disease, Why Are So Many Obese People Healthy? | TIME.com

Fat but fit people as healthy as normal weight ones: research - Telegraph

the counties with the US's shortest life expectancy are white

The worst US county for life expectancy for males is McDowell County, West Virginia. It's 89.1% white. The worst for females is Perry, Kentucky. It's 97.34% white.

Counties identified in Life Expectancy in Some U.S. Counties Is No Better Than in the Third World - NationalJournal.com

Related: Facts are Cool: race and gender, now with class! notes that the poorest counties in the US are also mostly white.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Respect everyone

Steve Brust retweeted this:
16hTNH: “No. Ad hominem is attacking the argument by attacking the person. I said your argument was evidence that you're an idiot.”
It reminded me of a joke I loved when I was six: A boy told his sister, "You're stupid." His mom said, "Tell your sister you're sorry." The boy said, "I'm sorry you're stupid."

Little did I know I'd been given the template for political and religious discourse on the internet.

Both St. Peter and Malcolm X said, "Respect everyone." It's excellent advice.

The full King James Version of 1 Peter 2:17 is "Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king." The italicized men means the word was added by the translators. A modern version could be, "Respect everyone. Love your community. Worship God. Honor your leader."

The full Malcolm X quote is "Be peaceful, be courteous, obey the law, respect everyone; but if someone puts his hand on you, send him to the cemetery." The strength of the second part makes some readers miss the stress on the first: Until people put a hand on you, treat them with respect. If they put a hand on you, defend yourself—but even when it's over, be respectful. (As Malcolm undoubtedly knew, "Do not speak ill of the dead," is a saying attributed to Muhammad.)

Peter's "honor the king" and Malcolm's "obey the law" do not mean you should not work to change governments or laws. It means we make a better world by remembering to treat everyone with respect, no matter who they are or what they've done.

Some people say respect is a two-way street, but conditional respect is not respect—every mother knows "they did it first" is no excuse for bad behavior. Respect is a one-way street. Respect yourself, and you can treat anyone with respect, no matter how badly they treat you.

I am not fond of organized religion, which means even Unitarian-Universalists can be too restrictive for me, but I love their seventh principle: "Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part."

Who is excluded from that?

A few favorite quotes:

"If we lose love and self respect for each other, this is how we finally die." - Maya Angelou

"Civility costs nothing, and buys everything." – Mary Wortley Montagu

“I speak to everyone in the same way, whether he is the garbage man or the president of the university.” ― Albert Einstein

“Let every man be respected as an individual and no man idolized.” — Albert Einstein

“You should respect each other and refrain from disputes; you should not, like water and oil, repel each other, but should, like milk and water, mingle together.” — Buddha

"Men are respectable only as they respect." - Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Think for yourselves and let others enjoy the privilege to do so, too.” — Voltaire

"For me, politeness is a sine qua non of civilization." -Robert A. Heinlein

“I fear no one, but I respect everyone.” — Roger Federer

Recommended:

An Essay by Einstein -- The World As I See It

Golden Rule - Wikipedia

Name calling - Wikipedia: "Graham's Hierarchy of Disagreement lists name calling as the worst type of argument in a disagreement."


Related: On name-calling and ad hominem, the bottom-feeders of Graham's Hierarchy of Disagreement

ETA: the "respect" quote of the day is by Anthony Bourdain

Respect everyone, post #3: Kadampa Buddhism

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

a farewell to blogging

I might post news about my writing here in the future, but I think I'm done with this blog. I'll leave you with one of the poems my father recommended to me as a boy. Kipling's often damned as an imperialist by people with simple understandings of art and politics. If you think he's sexist, remember that he was probably writing to his beloved son. His advice applies to everyone, and on reading it again after many years, I'm struck by how much especially applies to life on the internet.

May you always keep trying to become your best self.

—Will Shetterly

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

in support of Edward Snowden

In my youth, my definition of patriotism was Carl Schurz's: “My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.” This was a time when "America: Love it or leave it" was a popular slogan with people who did not understand that if you love something, you stay and set it right. Daniel Ellsberg understood that. When he shared the Pentagon Papers, he became one of my first heroes. That list of heroes now extends through Bradley Manning to Edward Snowden.

The saying, "The price of liberty is eternal vigilance" has long been popular with Americans. Edward Snowden is the latest to step up and join the ranks of the eternally vigilant. Every lover of liberty is grateful to him, and must ask what is loved by those who hound him now.

This post was made in response to Defend Edward Snowden | The Dream Café.

On Vox Day and N. K. Jemisin, the feuding heirs of Racial Realism, and a note about respect

ETA: Some people have misread my intent here. I'm comparing Jemisin's and Beale's take on race because they're similar in kind, not degree—Fred Phelps and Benny Hinn are similar in kind, but not degree. For more on this, see the discussion in the comments with Brad De Long.

ETA 2: And some people have complained that I didn't quote anything to back up what I said about Jemisin. Oddly enough, they don't say this about what I said about Beale. In both cases, I assumed people would recognize their rhetoric, but in Jemisin's case, I was clearly mistaken. Here's a bit from her twittering that makes it clear she's a Critical Race Theorist:
Critical race theory -- understanding privilege, systemic oppression, etc. -- is how you stop associating racism w/Connor, etc.
It's true she usually uses the concepts of CRT without identifying their source.

ETA 3: There's a discussion about this post at MetaFilter's "there is no neutrality when bigotry is the status quo". I've answered some of those comments in the comment section at a simple question for N. K. Jemisin and Vox Day—and any anti-racist or scientific sub-speciesist who wishes to answer.

ETA 4: Regarding Jemisin's claim that "most folks consider the Civil Rights movement the start of anti-racism, and critical race theory is its continuation", Critical Race Theorists "appropriate" the civil rights movement just as some religions claim to be continuations of the religions that preceded them.



In N. K. Jemisin's Continuum GoH Speech, she called Theodore Beale, aka Vox Day, "a self-described misogynist, racist, anti-Semite, and a few other flavors of asshole." He rejected that characterization in A black female fantasist calls for Reconciliation and called her "an educated, but ignorant half-savage, with little more understanding of what it took to build a new literature by "a bunch of beardy old middle-class middle-American guys" than an illiterate Igbotu tribesman has of how to build a jet engine."

Jemisin and Beale are remarkably similar—they're members of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, they graduated from expensive private schools, they're quick to respond to disagreement with insults, and their very different views on race were both known at one time as "Racial Realism". By standard dictionary definitions, they're both racists, but the kinder and more accurate thing to say is they're devout members of two secular cults about race.

Beale's "scientific sub-speciesism" can be traced through Ku Klux Klan Grand Dragon David Duke's idea of "racial realism" and 19th-century scientific racists like Samuel Morton to the 17th and 18th centuries, when the concept of race was developed to justify the African slave trade—as historian Eric Williams points out, "Slavery was not born of racism; rather, racism was the consequence of slavery."

The quest to prove scientifically that light-skinned Europeans and North Africans are superior has taken many names: racialism, race realism, racial realism, human biodiversity (aka HBD), and "scientific sub-speciesism", which has been described as "moderate" racial realism. "Scientific" racists are remarkably subject to confirmation bias: they become obsessed with trivialities to rationalize their preferred racial group's superiority. Inconvenient facts, like the evidence that differences between high-scoring and low-scoring countries are diminishing, are hastily waved away.

Jemisin's version of anti-racism comes from Derrick Bell's "racial realism", which got its current name, Critical Race Theory (aka CRT), from his protegé, Kimberlé Crenshaw. Bell came of age in the civil rights era, but unlike Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, his understanding of power never grew broader than race. Bell's racial realism was effectively a secular take on the Nation of Islam's approach to race, complete with an insistance that all whites are racist.

Some CRTers have modified that notion, but many have not. Recently, Kate Elliot, a white science fiction writer, tweeted:
My dad the educator says "when you grow up in a racist society you are a racist"
so yes I am a racist because I grew up in a racist society which means I have to work every day to be alert & to become better
Critical Race Theory promotes subjectivity, personal narratives, and story-telling, so its believers don't look for objective verification. If they did, they would find tests like Project Implicit and The Police Officer's Dilemma which show many Americans of all races have a bias for people of a different race than their own, and some have no bias at all. While white CRTers may be accurately recognizing their own racism, they're only projecting it when they say it's true of everyone.

The notion that societies mold all their members may be Critical Race Theory's greatest flaw: all societies produce people who reject their society—they're called renegades, traitors, and heretics. A capitalist society produced Karl Marx. A sexist society produced Charles Fourier, who coined "feminism". Warlike societies produce pacifists as well as warriors, and hierarchical societies produce levelers as well as lovers of privilege. The human tendency to conform is strong, but so is the tendency to question.

If Critical Race Theorists were more willing to question, they would ask whether it's meaningful to say the US is still a racist society when most of its citizens support equal pay, equal opportunity, and intermarriage. A minority of racists in a society does not make a society racist—there are Catholics, jaywalkers, and vegans in the US, but that doesn't mean we live in a Catholic jaywalking vegan society.

Though Beale and Jemisin have an incompatible understanding of race, they share a conviction that their righteousness justifies their love of invective.

Since Beale claims a Christian tradition, I'll remind him of 1 Peter 2:17, "Respect everyone," and Galatians 3:28: "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female."

Since Jemisin claims to be continuing the work of civil rights heroes, I'll remind her that Malcolm X also said "Respect everyone," and, a few days before his death, stated, "I believe in recognizing every human being as a human being, neither white, black, brown nor red."

This should be an easy message to understand: Respect everyone because we're all equal.

But it's a message that threatens many people's worldview. It's no surprise that people like Jemisin and Beale haven't gotten it yet.

Related:

The Science of Seeing What You Want to See by Kenan Malik: "In one sense Gould has been proved right, though not in the way he would have wanted. His distortion of Morton’s data reveals how strongly held ideological beliefs – in this case not racism but anti-racism – can persuade one to see what one wants to see among the thicket of facts."

The Perversity of Human Biodiversity, a.k.a. “Scientific” Racism by bigWOWO: "HBDers push the ideas that black people will never be smart enough to run their own countries, and that while Asian people are smart, the men aren’t as “alpha” as other races."

The limits of anti-racism by Adolph Reed Jr.: "In the logic of antiracism, exposure of the racial element of an instance of wrongdoing will lead to recognition of injustice, which in turn will lead to remedial action—though not much attention seems ever given to how this part is supposed to work. I suspect this is because the exposure part, which feels so righteously yet undemandingly good, is the real focus. But this exposure convinces only those who are already disposed to recognize."

Why Anti-Racism Will Fail by the Rev. Thandeka: "Barndt's belief that all whites are racists is based explicitly on the Christian doctrine of original sin, which claims that through Adam's sin in the Garden of Eden human nature was corrupted -- a doctrine linked to the Trinitarian claim that only through the death of Jesus and with the assistance of the cleansing work of the Holy Spirit can human nature be saved. In every age, Christian theologians have found new language to explain this doctrine. The anti-racist doctrine is just such a recent example."

Race, class, and "whiteness theory" by Sharon Smith: "Designating class as the primary antagonism in capitalist society bears no inference on the “importance” of racism, as Roediger claims. Marxism merely assumes a causal relationship—that white supremacy as a system was instituted by capital, to the detriment of labor as a whole. Marxist theory rests on the assumption that white workers do not benefit from a system of white supremacy. Indeed, Marx argued of slavery, the most oppressive of all systems of exploitation, “In the United States of America, every independent workers’ movement was paralyzed as long as slavery disfigured part of the republic. Labor cannot emancipate itself in the white skin where in the black it is branded.”"

Blacks See Growing Values Gap Between Poor and Middle Class | Pew Social & Demographic Trends: "African Americans see a widening gulf between the values of middle class and poor blacks, and nearly four-in-ten say that because of the diversity within their community, blacks can no longer be thought of as a single race."

AP poll: Slight majority of Americans harbor prejudice against blacks: "When measured by an implicit racial attitudes test, the number of Americans with anti-black sentiments jumped to 56 percent, up from 49 percent during the last presidential election."

Project Implicit® - FAQs "Social psychologists use the word 'prejudiced' to describe people who endorse or approve of negative attitudes and discriminatory behavior toward various out-groups. Many people who show automatic White preference on the Black-White attitude IAT are not prejudiced by this definition. It is possible to show biases on the IAT that are not consciously endorsed, or are even contradictory to intentional attitudes and beliefs. People who hold egalitarian conscious attitudes in the face of automatic White preferences may able to function in non-prejudiced fashion partly by making active efforts to prevent their automatic White preference from producing discriminatory behavior."

An Anti-Racism Campaign: Who Needs It? – Parliament of Australia: "The problem with anti-racism campaigns is that there is no clearly understood or agreed method of changing people's prejudices, values, attitudes or behaviour. What is known is that direct confrontation is likely to be counter-productive. ... In 1997 the Council of Europe coordinated a year of anti-racism campaigns and activities throughout Europe. A survey at the end of the year, conducted in European Union countries by the polling organisation Eurobarometer, found that rather than a decline in racism, it had been marked by a growing willingness on the part of Europeans to openly declare themselves as racist."

And two of my posts:

Racism equals prejudice plus power, so only whites can be racist?

The "tone argument" or "tone policing": why social justice warriors act the way they do

Update: a simple question for N. K. Jemisin and Vox Day—and any anti-racist or scientific sub-speciesist who wishes to answer