Thursday, March 30, 2017

Karl Marx—explicitly anti-sexist and anti-racist in 1880

Marx wrote the preamble of Programme of the French Worker's Party in 1880. The first clause makes explicit what's implicit in his earlier work:
Considering,

That the emancipation of the productive class is that of all human beings without distinction of sex or race;

That the producers can be free only when they are in possession of the means of production;

That there are only two forms under which the means of production can belong to them
  1. The individual form which has never existed in a general state and which is increasingly eliminated by industrial progress;
  2. The collective form the material and intellectual elements of which are constituted by the very development of capitalist society;
Considering,

That this collective appropriation can arise only from the revolutionary action of the productive class – or proletariat - organized in a distinct political party;

That such an organization must be pursued by all the means the proletariat has at its disposal including universal suffrage which will thus be transformed from the instrument of deception that it has been until now into an instrument of emancipation;

The French socialist workers, in adopting as the aim of their efforts the political and economic expropriation of the capitalist class and the return to community of all the means of production, have decided, as a means of organization and struggle, to enter the elections...

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Shetterly's Iron Fist guide—which episodes to skip for a better overall experience

Iron Fist's greatest problem is the writing, which means you have to blame Scott Buck, the show runner. There's enough material for a good eight episodes, but it's stretched out for thirteen. A dedicated fan editor could probably create a strong version, but since that fanvid doesn't exist, I suggest you do the following:

Watch the first two episodes. Then you have two choices:

a) If you decide you only want to know what would be useful when The Defenders airs, skip to the end and watch episodes 11 through 13.

b) If you like but don't love the first two episodes and trust me that the series is longer than it should be, watch episodes 3, 5, 8, and 10-13. (Warning: episode three ends with a cliffhanger, but its resolution is so weak that I think it's fine to skip episode four.)

If you take either of my suggestions, you can fill in the plot gaps with Wikipedia's episode summaries here: Iron Fist (TV series). Or you can just trust that you'll figure out what you need to know as you go along.

Related: What you lose if you make Iron Fist or Dr. Strange Asian

ETA: More in the comments, but it may get a bit spoilery.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Three and a half things I believe about writing and "cultural appropriation"

1. "Write what you know" means you should research the things you don't know, and you should research the things you think you know. When we get facts wrong, that's on us.

2. Readers have prejudices. Some readers out of ignorance or ideology or both will accuse writers of getting things wrong that we have actually gotten right. That's on them, not us.

3. Every culture appropriates. The term comes from anthropology, where it was used to describe a process without implying it was good or bad. The rule for cultures is appropriate or die.

3.5 The artist's duty is to appropriate wisely and inventively. That's how art grows.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Using Jessica Valenti to rant about Clinton feminists, and a question about all men

A friend on Facebook shared Trump did to Merkel what men do to women all the time | Jessica Valenti, which has the subhead, "Men constantly ignore women – but most of the time no one notices it. Except, that is, when it happens on the world stage."

So I've got a question and a rant.

The question: Do all men do this? Note that Valenti's claims are not qualified: she says, "men constantly" do this, a statement as absolute as "black people constantly" or "Muslims constantly" do something.

Also note that Valenti's opinion piece is backed up with nothing but a few anecdotes and a description of an episode of a TV show.

To be clear, I'm not denying a lot of men do this. In hierarchies, people at the top tend to be dismissive of the people they see as subordinate. Jane Austen's Lady Catherine de Bourgh is one woman's testimony that this is not inherently a gender issue. Men who believe in a sexual hierarchy naturally dismiss women.

But Valenti's statement is not about "some men". She uses Trump's encounter with Merkel to make a claim about all men. And she's using a situation where Trump, a xenophobic conservative, is meeting with Merkel, a foreign liberal, so gender is not the only issue at work in her example, for all that Valenti insists it is.

Whether Valenti consciously downplays other factors, I don't know. I do know she's a Clinton feminist who's named in Leaked Email Reveals Sady Doyle, Other Liberal Bloggers Coordinated with Clinton Campaign on Sanders Hits. Clinton feminists are, intentionally or not, very simplistic in their approach to feminism—for example, they don't care that the poor are disproportionately female; they backed the neoliberal woman instead of the man who fights for a $15 minimum wage, universal health care, and free public higher education, all of which would disproportionately help women.

Clinton feminists cannot grasp the Nigerian proverb,
When the axe came into the forest, the trees said "The handle is one of us"
The reason is simple. Clinton feminists do not identify with the trees. They identify with the axe.

Related: Study: Men interrupt women more in tech workplaces, but high-ranking women learn to interrupt includes this:
Not only do these three women interrupt everyone, gender- and level-agnostic, they represent three of the four biggest interrupters in the study. Their rates of interruption/hour are, respectively, 35, 34, and 32, with one male colleague in Level E coming in at 34 and literally everyone else in every level showing a lower rate.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

What you lose if you make Iron Fist or Dr. Strange Asian


I get why some fans wish Iron Fist or Dr. Strange had been Asian. If no one else had argued they should be, I probably would have. Old comic books have no shortage of white male heroes.

But.

Let's be the best sort of conservatives and ask what's lost by making those characters Asian.

The quick answer: everything interesting.

1. As white people, Iron Fist and Dr. Strange find purpose in a culture that is not their own. The message: we do not have to restrict our learning to the culture associated with our race. We may find greater truths in other cultures than in our own.

2. As white people, Iron Fist and Dr. Strange are outsiders who struggle to fit into a new culture and are eventually accepted by most of its members. The message: we do not have to "keep to our own kind." We can find friends and lovers anywhere.

3. As white people, Iron Fist and Dr. Strange come from a culture where people who are superficially like them tend to rule, but they accept masters who are not white. The message: we should serve the best people of any race rather than the best people of our own.

Now, as a long-time fan of Hong Kong cinema, I would've loved having the contemporary equivalent of Bruce Lee, Michelle Yeoh, or Jackie Chan playing Iron Fist and the contemporary equivalent of Chow Yun-Fat, Anita Mui, or Maggie Cheung playing Dr. Strange.

But they would be playing Asian stereotypes. They might be playing great versions of stereotypes in movies I would watch many times, but they would be stereotypes none the less.

A more interesting change would be to make the characters black Americans. But that would also lose something. With white protagonists, the stories of Iron Fist and Dr. Strange imply great truths can be learned from people who are not white. With black protagonists, their story would imply great truths can be learned from people who are not black, an implication that would not necessarily be racist, but easily could be.

Mind you, I'm not saying Hollywood had to make the characters white men. My idea of the essence of a character is rarely defined by race or gender—the exceptions being characters like Captain America who are tied to a historical period in which a particular race and gender are logical. In the 1970s, I wished I could write a Legion of Super-Heroes story in which it was revealed that the heroes of the 30th Century had up until then appeared to be mostly white and male because that was a fad, but now the fad had passed, so they were reverting to the bodies they were born in, which would've created a Legion that was 50% female and very racially mixed. In the 1980s, I wished the British Avengers remake had cast Chow Yun-Fat and Michelle Yeoh as Steed and Peel. I love creative recasting in general—who doesn't love Samuel Jackson as Nick Fury?

But changes have consequences. You must always know what you lose when you make them.

That said, while Tilda Swinton did a fine job as the Ancient One, I still think they should've cast Michelle Yeoh.

ETA: BlackBeltJones On Iron Fist & The Ivory Issue: Is There Really A Problem?

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Why antiracists misunderstand Hugh Davis "defiling his body in lying with a Negro" in 1630—or the New York Times gets it wrong again

I thought What if the Court in the Loving Case Had Declared Race a False Idea? - The New York Times makes an interesting argument, but Brent Staples bolsters it with a common shallow assumption. I read this:
(In 1630, for example, a man named Hugh Davis was publicly whipped for “defiling his body in lying with a Negro.”)

Colonial-era court records are filled with crimes related to interracial sex and fierce debates about the legal status of children born of interracial unions.
My first thought was that sounded wrong because poor whites and blacks were treated very similarly before Bacon's Rebellion in the 1670s. My second thought was "Why do they think 'Negro' means a woman? The term sounds wrong for the time."

So I went googling and found a surprising number of places interpreting this incident as the Times does. But then I found Abusing Hugh Davis - Determining the Crime in a 17th Century Morality Case (pdf) by historian Alan Scot Willis, who argues convincingly,
...it was different from the usual cases of adultery and fornication because it was, instead, a case of sodomy. Additionally, I argue that such a claim in not mere “conjecture.” We may never be able to establish definitively whether Hugh Davis committed fornication or sodomy, but we can demonstrate that it is more probable he committed sodomy.
Willis compares the case to similar ones that unambiguously involved heterosexual people of different races and notes that the treatment of those couples was very different. He also notes,
The Jamestown Court accused Davis of “lying with a negro” whereas they commonly used the words “Negress” or “Negro wench” in other cases specifying that the unnamed Africans in those cases were, indeed, female. Winthrop Jordan, in White Over Black, explained “the term "negro woman‟ was in very common use.” This led Jordan to speculate that Davis‟ partner “may not have been female.” Richard Godbeer ruminated on that problem in a footnote in his Sexual Revolution in Early America, noting that the “passage refers not to a "negro woman‟ or a "negro wench‟ or "a negress‟ but a "negro‟ suggesting that Davis may have had sexual contact with a male African.”
Humans tend to see what they expect to find. People who wanted to find racism failed to see homophobia.

If you object that sodomy was punished by death then, the answer is "Not in all cases." Willis covers that. His paper is fairly short and well worth reading if history, race, and gender interest you. It includes fascinating incidents like this:
...in 1629 Virginia dealt with what must have been a truly perplexing case of sexual identity. The Court demanded that Thomas Hall declare himself to be either male or female, but Hall maintained he was both. The Court, in disagreement with Hall‟s master, came to the rather ambiguous determination that Hall must present himself as both male 6 female; He was ordered to wear men's clothing but also an apron and to have his hair coiffed as a woman's. Yet it reached the decision only after two bodily inspections had resulted in contradictory findings.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Politics as Secular Religion: Special "Understanding Liberal Democrats" Edition

I made two comments on Facebook about liberal Democrats (meaning members of the US's quasi-Democratic Party) that apply to most people in large political parties. Freddie deBoer posted,
Honestly a lot of this liberal Democrat "I fight with the alt-right and I fight with socialists therefore they are the same" delusion comes from this badly misconceived idea of politics as a social circle where you're personally friendly with everyone in your movement, and I'm sorry to say the left isn't great on that score, either.
I said,
You're missing an element: for liberal Democrats, there are sinners and the saved. Why waste time trying to understand the damned?
To continue the analogy, to liberal Democrats, conservatives are infidels and the left are heretics. Heretics are more infuriating than infidels.
Always relevant when discussing the political impulse: Mark Twain's "Corn-pone Opinions"

ETA: If this feels like I'm picking on liberals, that's only the context. No group is exempt. Politics is just a secular religion. You get both from your family and your community in most cases, and in reaction to your family and community in a few. Either way, it's more about what makes you feel good about yourself than what's good for others. Preachers, politicians, and nondenominational scam artists understand this.

Guest post: Mark Twain's "Corn-pone Opinions"

Everyone should read this, so I'm making it easy. I got this copy from Mark Twain: Corn-pone Opinions and corrected a few minor typos.

Corn-pone Opinions
Mark Twain

FIFTY YEARS AGO, when I was a boy of fifteen and helping to inhabit a Missourian village on the banks of the Mississippi, I had a friend whose society was very dear to me because I was forbidden by my mother to partake of it. He was a gay and impudent and satirical and delightful young black man—a slave—who daily preached sermons from the top of his master's woodpile, with me for sole audience. He imitated the pulpit style of the several clergymen of the village, and did it well, and with fine passion and energy. To me he was a wonder. I believed he was the greatest orator in the United States and would some day be heard from. But it did not happen; in the distribution of rewards he was overlooked. It is the way, in this world.