Quotulatiousness

June 9, 2014

The not-so-hidden racism in the Bergdahl release

Filed under: Humour, Military, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 07:22

Nicole Mullen explains why you’re an awful racist if you don’t see the awful racism in the swap of five Taliban prisoners for US Army hero/deserter Bowe Bergdahl:

Treating politics like professional wrestling rivalries comes with its fair share of downfalls though, and this Bergdahl case is a perfect example of such shortcomings. As a leftist myself, I was quick to dismiss any notion of Bergdahl’s traitorous behavior, nor did I take exception to Obama’s decision to circumvent congressional approval when he released five terrorists from Gitmo. I simply read that a trade occurred, googled to find out how the right felt about it, and then blindly argued against every single point that they made. Is Bergdahl a deserter? Of course not, he’s a hero. What evidence do I have of that? None. Who cares? I’m right and you’re wrong.

But, this is where the breakdown occurs, because there’s something my fellow liberals are missing in all of this, and only part of it is to blame on fervent, unquestioning support of the president. It’s odd to me that in a whole industry of race obsessed blowhards collecting freelancing checks, I’m the only one who noticed how racist the Bergdahl trade was.

I want to make it clear that I’m not criticizing the president for his decision to rescue Bergdahl, but there’s something that the white left is afraid to talk about here. When Obama traded five men of color for one white man – he made a very clear statement about race. He let the entire world know that one white life is worth at least five brown ones, and that is incredibly fucked up and gross and problematic.

Think for a second – if Bush had made that trade, is there any doubt that we would be calling him out for how outrageously racist it was? If a white man had traded five brown men for one white man, we would be quick to see it for what it was – an affirmation of white privilege and power. But, because Obama is a man of color himself, it seems as if no one noticed.

I can only imagine the struggle Obama, a man of people of color, must have felt as he authorized that trade. He was betraying himself – the black part of himself – while simultaneously affirming the privilege and power structures inherent in the white part of himself. The courage it took to make that decision is remarkable, and again, I feel like he made the right choice, but we should really look at this situation and use it as a way to reflect on our cultural attitudes to the devaluation and reductive characterization of colorful men that we objectify through cisrace projections of cultural self-worth.

June 2, 2014

The fall and rise of racism

Filed under: History, Liberty, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 08:11

Frank Furedi says that what “everyone knows” about the rising tide of racism not only isn’t true, but it’s actually the reverse: racism has been largely defeated in the West. What we now call “racism” isn’t the same thing at all, as our definitions have changed dramatically.

It is astounding just how thoroughly the ideology of racism has been crushed. We should recall that until the outbreak of the Second World War, racial thinking was rarely questioned in any part of the world. Even in academic circles, critics of racism were very much in a minority in the 1930s. Back then, the term ‘racist’ was used neutrally and sometimes even positively in Western societies. It was only in the 1930s that the word ‘racism’ started to acquire negative connotations. It was in that decade that the use of the word racism in a derogatory way was first recorded in the English language. But even then, the idea of racial equality had few defenders – including within the intellectual community.

Since the 1930s, racism, with its oppressive claim that some people are superior to other, ‘subhuman’ people, has been systematically discredited. The idealisation of the racial superiority of whites and the dehumanisation of people from Africa and Asia has been culturally marginalised. Even the most extreme xenophobic cults and parties now find it difficult explicitly to use the language of racial ideology. The notion of racial superiority is conspicuous by its absence in public discussion in the twenty-first century.

People may still have their prejudices, but very few individuals now define themselves as racist. Indeed, the term racist is looked upon negatively even by people who do feel some form of prejudice against a foreign ethnic or religious group. The fact that such people feel obliged to say ‘I’m not a racist, but…’ indicates that racism enjoys very little cultural validation in modern Western societies.

[…]

Paradoxically, the sharp decline in expression of racial pride has been paralleled by a huge increase in public accusations of racism. One reason why such accusations are on the rise is because the definition of racism has changed to the point where it has almost nothing in common with the original meaning of the word. These days, any heated dispute between people of different cultural or ethnic backgrounds has the potential to be branded a racist incident. In his disturbing study, The Myth of Racist Kids, Adrian Hart reported that new anti-racist policies in British schools have led to the rebranding of everyday playground insults as ‘racist behaviour’. Following the lead of other institutions, schools have adopted an expansive definition of racism that includes name-calling and excluding a child from games.

May 25, 2014

The case for reparations

Filed under: Economics, History, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 09:34

Another discussion that seems to have taken centre stage recently (at least in some US publications) is the argument that reparations are owed to the descendents of African American slaves:

Ta-Nehisi Coates has an excellent essay about the historical treatment of African Americans over the centuries, the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow and all that. And more specifically he addresses the problem of what African Americans have had stolen from them over that period of time. All of which leads various economist types to try to put a value on the theft of that labour. Tyler Cowen thinks that non-slaves have lost as much (or, given their greater number, cumulatively) or more thus there is no amount of reparations possible. For slavery itself means that current society is poorer than it would have been without slavery. If we leave that argument aside there’s another way of calculating what reparations might or should be. And it has been done rather cleverly here. However, I think we still end up in roughly the same sort of place. Which is that even if reparations for slavery are logically or morally due, the actual amount is still going to end up being pretty much nothing.

[…]

Thus today’s value of what was stolen from the slaves is that $1.75 trillion. Which is, when you look at it, a formidable sum of money. Except, actually, it isn’t. The net wealth of the entire country is around $80 trillion or so. So it’s a trivial percentage of the national wealth. Or we could look at it another way. There’s 42 million or so African Americans (defined as having some possibly slave and black antebellum ancestry) so the capital sum would be some $40,000 for each of them. Which, while a nice enough sum to receive isn’t the sort of life changing sum some might think might be due in reparations.

And we can also break it down another way. Think of that as the capital sum and then apply that 4% return to it. That would be an extra $1,600 in income per year to each and every descendant of slaves. Or, in total, something like $70 billion a year. Which, in the context of a $15 trillion economy is pretty much next to nothing. About, in fact, the size of the food stamp or SNAP program.

Even if slavery reparations are righteously due they would amount to around and about the current cost of food stamps. Which is, as I say, around and about nothing given the size of the entire economy. And, I would also wager, not an amount that anyone at all thinks is going to fix the problems that beset parts of American society today.

May 18, 2014

When #hashtags don’t deter modern-day barbarians

Filed under: Africa, Asia, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 08:53

Victor Davis Hanson on the limitations of #hashtag activism to combat real-world evil:

Nigeria’s homegrown, al-Qaeda linked militant group, Boko Haram, brags openly that it recently kidnapped about 300 young Nigerian girls. It boasts that it will sell them into sexual slavery.

Those terrorists have a long and unapologetic history of murdering kids who dare to enroll in school, and Christians in general. For years, Western aid groups have pleaded with the State Department to at least put Boko Haram on the official list of terrorist groups. But former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s team was reluctant to come down so harshly, in apparent worry that some might interpret such condemnation as potentially offensive to Islamic sensitivities.

Instead, Western elites now flood Facebook and Twitter with angry postings about Boko Haram — either in vain hopes that public outrage might deter the terrorists, or simply to feel better by loudly condemning the perpetrators.

[…]

But if we are postmodern and sensitive, what do we say or do about premodern racists with nuclear weapons, like the North Koreans?

A recent article from North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency suggested that President Obama “does not even have the basic appearances of a human being … It would be perfect for Obama to live with a group of monkeys in the world’s largest African natural zoo and lick the bread crumbs thrown by spectators.”

How does the West deal with a mentality like that, originating from a country armed with nuclear weapons? Pyongyang owns no television show that we can boycott, no sports team that we can root against.

What do we do in the face of 19th-century evil that is unapologetic, has lethal weapons at its disposal, and uses savage rhetoric to goad us? Tweet it to death?

What about the sultan of Brunei, who just enacted sharia law that orders stoning for women found “guilty” of adultery or for homosexuals engaged in sex acts? That is a different sort of war on women than that invoked by Sandra Fluke, who lamented that she did not have free birth control from the government.

May 17, 2014

NPR – Young Americans want equality, but reject Affirmative Action

Filed under: Liberty, Media, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 09:34

In NPR’s Code Switch, Gene Demby reports that younger Americans share a lot of values, regardless of race, but are not fans of official Affirmative Action (although I wonder if MTV still qualifies as a “reliable weather vane of popular youth culture”):

“The first thing we wanted to just find out was how much our audience knew about bias, talked about bias and cared about bias,” Luke Hales, the lead researcher on the survey, told me. The poll was conducted ahead of MTV’s Look Different project, which is meant to help young people deal with bias and discrimination in their daily lives.

Equality Is Good …

What the pollsters found is that many values are shared across all racial groups, like a strong sense of the importance of equality. But they also found that the respondents seemed to lack historical perspective, which might not be too surprising because of their ages. Another reason they may not have much historical perspective? Race isn’t something they talk about very much. (More on that in a minute.)

Here’s what they agreed on, across all races. Respondents believed people should be treated the same, regardless of race, and they felt people their age believed in equality more than older people. Most felt President Obama’s election was proof that racism was mostly a phenomenon of the past, and that race was not a barrier to accomplishment.

Eight in 10 said they knew someone who was biased; 6 in 10 felt that they were not personally biased. More than half said that bias was a serious problem but that it was mostly hidden, and a solid majority said they’d worked to get rid of their own biases.

The pollsters found that respondents wanted a colorblind society and believed that “never considering race would improve society” — while at the same time they also said “embracing diversity and celebrating differences would make society better.”

Kids today! They just can’t seem to make up their minds.

… But Affirmative Action? Not So Much.

Significant majorities of both young whites (74 percent) and people of color (65 percent) said they were opposed to preferential treatment being given to one race over another, regardless of historical inequalities.

Relatedly, majorities of people of color and white people felt that people of color use racism as an excuse more than they should.

April 23, 2014

Desegregation

Filed under: History, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 08:04

An interesting article in the New Yorker by Jelani Cobb discusses some of the aspects of the struggle to desegregate American schools that I hadn’t heard of:

The architects of Jim Crow were fixated by notions of white racial purity, but black people subjected to that dictatorship of pigment were concerned with a different question: In a hostile society, is it better to be isolated from those who view you with contempt or in close proximity to them? In retrospect, it is easy to see segregation as a moral evil unanimously despised by black people, but even its fiercest critics betrayed ambivalence about what its end would mean. In the thirties, W. E. B. Du Bois inspired rancorous debates within the N.A.A.C.P. by arguing, in his writing, that there were important economic benefits — the built-in market for black businesses, for instance — that came with segregation. James Nabrit, Jr., an attorney who handled a school-desegregation suit in Washington, D.C., that became one of the cases grouped with Brown, went on to become president of Howard University, a job that entailed the seemingly paradoxical task of preserving and furthering an all-black educational institution. Three of the other attorneys who worked on Brown, including Thurgood Marshall, had, in fact, met as students at Howard’s law school, and they began their desegregation work under the tutelage of Charles Hamilton Houston, the school’s dean. Black teachers in South Carolina, where another of the desegregation suits had been filed, worried, with some cause, that integration would end a state of affairs in which black children, though deprived of equal resources, at least benefitted from teachers who did not calibrate their expectations according to the color of their students’ skin.

The Supreme Court decision on Brown, in 1954, marked a moral high point in American history, but the practice that it dispatched to the graveyard had already begun to mutate into something less tangible and far more durable. What would, in the end, preserve the principle of “separate inequality” was not protests like the one staged by Orval Faubus, the governor of Arkansas, who deployed the National Guard to Little Rock’s Central High School, in 1957, in order to keep black students out. Instead, it was policies like the Interstate Highway Act, whose passage one year earlier helped spawn American suburbia. In the wake of Brown, private schools, whose implicit mission was to educate white children, cropped up throughout the South. The persistent legacies of redlining, housing discrimination, and wage disparity conspired to produce segregation without Jim Crow — maintaining all the familiar elements of the past in an updated operating system.

To the extent that the word “desegregation” remains in our vocabulary, it describes an antique principle, not a current priority. Today, we are more likely to talk of diversity — but diversification and desegregation are not the same undertaking. To speak of diversity, in light of this country’s history of racial recidivism, is to focus on bringing ethnic variety to largely white institutions, rather than dismantling the structures that made them so white to begin with.

And so, sixty years after Brown, it is clear that the notion of segregation as a discrete phenomenon, an evil that could be flipped, like a switch, from on to off, by judicial edict, was deeply naïve. The intervening decades have shown, in large measure, the limits of what political efforts directed at desegregation alone could achieve, and the crumbling of both elements of “separate but equal” has left us at an ambivalent juncture. To the extent that desegregation becomes, once again, a pressing concern — and even that may be too grand a hope — it will have to involve the tax code, the minimum wage, and other efforts to redress income inequality. For the tragedy of this moment is not that black students still go to overwhelmingly black schools, long after segregation was banished by law, but that they do so for so many of the same reasons as in the days before Brown.

H/T to ESR for the link.

April 14, 2014

Queen’s student goes looking for racism, doesn’t find it, declares it’s happening anyway

Filed under: Cancon, Politics, Religion — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 08:44

Your source of all sorts of odd news, the Daily Mail has this little gem from up the lake in Kingston, Ontario:

A Canadian college student recently conducted a social experiment to see if people treated her differently if she wore a hijab — a traditional Muslim veil that covers a woman’s head and chest — and what she discovered was a bit unexpected.

Anisa Rawhani, a third-year student at Queens University in Ontario, wore the traditional Muslim garb for 18 days in January as she worked at the university’s library, visited stores and restaurants near the campus and as she did volunteer work with local children.

According to Rawhani — who conducted the experiment to see if people in her community were racist towards minority groups — she noticed that people actually treated her more kindly and with more respect than when she didn’t wear the hijab.

Rawhani, who is not Muslim, wrote about her experience wearing traditional Muslim clothing in the March edition of the Queen’s Journal, where she works as a copy editor — the article is titled ‘Overt to Covert.’

Fortunately, as the Queen’s Journal account makes clear, she was able to get a clear explanation of the phenomenon from a professor:

Leandre Fabrigar, an associate professor in the department of psychology at Queen’s, cited “impression management” as a possible explanation for my experience.

He explained that often individuals who harbour biases, but fear social disapproval, will publicly act respectfully towards minorities. “Impression management is when [someone] very strategically, and usually quite deliberatively, tries to manage the impressions that others have of [them],” he said.

Impression management is focused on manipulating others’ perception of the self, but there are more genuine reasons why someone would be kinder towards minorities. Fabrigar said that sometimes individuals realize that they harbour biases, or other unwanted influences on their behaviour. Then, when interacting with members of minority groups, they experience an internal conflict between their negative biases and the egalitarian values that they believe in.

So the fact that Rawhani didn’t encounter overt forms of discrimination actually proves that the people she was interacting with in her Islamic disguise are hugely bigoted, hate-filled wretches who just don’t want to show it. Cool, got it, thanks.

April 5, 2014

“They, and they alone, will decide who the Racists are”

Ace on racism and the unofficial deciders on who is a racist and who is not:

Karl Lueger was the mayor of Vienna at the turn of the century, whose populist politics were often riven with anti-semtism — so much so that he was cited as an inspiration by none other than Adolf Hitler in Mein Kampf.

However, there’s a debate about how anti-semitic he actually was, and how much of an anti-semite he pretended to be for the sake of political positioning.

Lueger is famous for an answer he once gave on this issue. He was asked how he squared that fact that many of his policies were anti-semitic, while he counted many Jews among his close friends.

I decide who is a Jew,” he said, apparently creating his own definition of Judaism.

This flexible opinion on “who is a Jew” permitted him to both debase himself (and Vienna) with populist politics of hatred while simultaneously carving out a space for himself to consort with the Hated Other, as he might choose.

Similarly, today, White “liberals” have decided to sell out liberalism to the leftist, totalitarian goons of the Progressive Speech Police. They’ll join the Progressives’ hate campaigns against free speech and free thought — but only when those campaigns are directed towards non-liberals.

Playing to the Progressive mobs just like Luegar played to the Vienna ones, White Liberals reserve themselves the power to both traffic in hateful intolerance, and except themselves and their friends from the claims they otherwise inflict on others.

They, and they alone, will decide who the Racists are.

In the case of the campaign to get Dan Snyder to rename the Washington Redskins (because it’s an offensive, racist epithet), Ace points out that some racist terms are more equal than others:

Obviously no one names a sports club after something they think is substandard, or shoddy, or weak, or useless. People always object to the Redskins name by using the same example — “Well, what would you say if someone named his baseball team the New York N*****s, huh?”

But that’s stupid. No one does that. No one would do that. Because “N****r” is inherently a demeaning term, and a hateful one, and no one — no one — names their sports clubs after things they hate.

They name them after things they respect, or wish to emulate, or wish to associate themselves with. Thus the large number of teams named after great cats, and bears, and stallions, and even the gee-whiz technology of the 50s (jets, rockets).

And as for clubs named after types of people, all those people have a positive association; in football, especially, a martial-themed sport if there ever was one, those positive associations all have to do with virility and deadliness in battle:

Vikings.

Raiders.

Buccaneers.

Warriors.

Fighting Irish.

Spartans.

You do not see “The San Francisco Coolie Laborers” in the lists of any sports teams, nor the “Boston Drunken Irish Wife-Batterers.” All team names are tributes to the group in the nickname.

Some team names implicitly specify a race/ethnicity — Vikings, Fighting Irish. There is no commotion over this — people understand that when someone names a team the “Vikings,” they mean it a positive way. They are speaking of the fury of the Northmen — and not, for example, their propensity to rape and reduce much of Europe to a constant Twilight in which civilization could never advance too far before being pillaged and raped into rubble.

Nor does anyone seriously think “the Fighting Irish” is really about the Irish’s well-known tendency to over-indulge in alcohol and then get their Irish up. (Oh, what a giveaway.) And that one really does actually step right on up to the line of being a slur against the Irish — but we understand the intent behind it is playful, and positive. (Mostly.)

In fact, White Liberals currently on their jihad against the name “Redskins” make an exception for other teams with Indian nicknames — Braves, Chiefs, Indians, all okay. Not racist, the White Liberals have decided, although it’s unclear how they’ve come to this conclusion.

All three names, after all, do reference a specific race — Native Americans — just as surely as “Redskins” does, and for the exact same reasons.

But White Liberals know the difference. White Liberals can tell you who the Racists are.

March 9, 2014

More on that “cultural appropriation” meme

Filed under: Media, Middle East, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 10:45

A couple of days back, I linked to a Salon article where an Arab woman was expressing her anguish and hurt that non-Arabs were appropriating belly dancing and how this was something she just couldn’t stand to see. Eugene Volokh responds in the Washington Post, asking “What would Salon think of an article called, ‘Why I can’t stand Asian musicians who play Beethoven’?”:

Appropriation — the horror! People treating artistic genres as if they were great ideas that are part of the common stock of humanity, available for all humanity to use, rather than the exclusive property of some particular race or ethnic group. What atrocity will the culturally insensitive appropriators think of next? East Asian cellists? Swedish chess players? The Japanese putting on Shakespeare? Jews playing Christians’ Christian music, such as Mozart’s masses? Arriviste Jewish physicists using work done for centuries by Christians? Russian Jews writing about Anglo-American law? Indians writing computer programs, using languages and concepts pioneered by Americans and Europeans? Japanese companies selling the most delicious custard cream puffs? Shame, shame, shame.

But, wait: Maybe — and I know this is a radical thought — artists, whether high or low, should be able to work in whatever artistic fields they want to work in. Maybe they should even be able to work in those fields regardless of their skin color or the place from which their ancestors came.

Maybe telling people that they can’t work in some field because they have the wrong color or ancestry would be … rats, I don’t know what to call it. If only there were an adjective that could be used to mean “telling people that they mustn’t do something, because of their race or ethnic origin.”

March 7, 2014

White belly dancers are “appropriating” inappropriately, says Salon writer

Filed under: Media, Middle East, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 09:08

That vast invisible knapsack of white privilege is even deeper and more capacious than we thought: Randa Jarrar writes that the sight of white belly dancers is something she cannot stand:

Google the term “belly dance” and the first images the search engine offers are of white women in flowing, diaphanous skirts, playing at brownness. How did this become acceptable?

The term “belly dance” itself is a Western one. In Arabic, this kind of dance is called Raqs Sharqi, or Eastern dance. Belly dance, as it is known and practiced in the West, has its roots in, and a long history of, white appropriation of Eastern dance. As early as the 1890s in the U.S., white “side-show sheikhs” managed dance troupes of white women, who performed belly dance at world’s fairs (fun trivia: Mark Twain made a short film of a belly dancer at the 1893 fair). Many white women who presently practice belly dance are continuing this century-old tradition of appropriation, whether they are willing to view their practice this way or not.

[…]

“It’s Arab face,” my friend Nadine once said, pointing at an invitation from a white acquaintance of hers. The invitation was printed on card stock and featured the woman and a dozen of her white friends dressed in Orientalist garb with eye makeup caked on for full kohl effect and glittery accessories. We wanted to call these women up and say, “How is this OK? Would you wear a dashiki and rock waspafarian dreads and take up African dance publicly? Wait,” we’d probably say, “don’t answer that.”

The most disturbing thing is when these women take up Arabic performance names — Suzy McCue becomes Samirah Layali. This name and others like it make no sense in Arabic. This, in my estimation, completes the brownface Orientalist façade. A name. A crowning. A final consecration of all the wrongs that lead up to the naming.

Women I have confronted about this have said, “But I have been dancing for 15 years! This is something I have built a huge community on.” These women are more interested in their investment in belly dancing than in questioning and examining how their appropriation of the art causes others harm. To them, I can only say, I’m sure there are people who have been unwittingly racist for 15 years. It’s not too late. Find another form of self-expression. Make sure you’re not appropriating someone else’s.

H/T to Steve Muhlberger, who wondered “what kind of purity test will would-be dancers have to pass?”

March 5, 2014

President Obama’s “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative

Filed under: Government, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 09:16

Jonah Goldberg thinks that Obama’s proposed “My Brother’s Keeper” should pass constitutional muster despite grumbling from the usual suspects:

The statistics are gloomy and familiar: One out of 15 black men is behind bars; one out of three can expect to be incarcerated at some point in his life.

The simplistic talk about how this is all the result of white racism misses the scope and nature of the problem. The vast majority of interracial violent crime is black on white. But most violent crime is actually intra-racial (i.e., black on black or white on white). Still, blacks are far more likely to die from homicide; half of murder victims are black, which may partly explain why black men in prison have a higher life expectancy than black men out of prison. And this leaves out all of the challenges — educational, economic, etc. — facing black men that don’t show up in crime statistics.

Roger Clegg, president of the Center for Equal Opportunity, also thinks the program is unconstitutional because there is no “compelling” government interest here: “It may be that a disproportionate number of blacks and Latinos are at-risk, but many are not, and many whites, Asians and others are. This is just another kind of ‘profiling.’”

Yes and no. Obviously there are at-risk youth of all races, but the problems facing young black men are so disproportionate, the difference of degree becomes a difference in kind. Yet, I also think Clegg is obviously right that this is another kind of profiling.

There’s an intriguing double standard that tangles up the Right and the Left. We’re told it is outrageous for government to assume that a young black male (in some contexts) is more likely to commit a crime; we’re also told that government should target young black men for help because they are more likely to commit crimes. Most liberals hate law-enforcement profiling but support — for want of a better term — social-justice profiling. For conservatives, it’s vice versa (though Clegg opposes both kinds of profiling, it’s worth noting). Yet the empirical arguments for positive and negative profiling are the same: The plight of young black men is different.

February 20, 2014

ESR examines the “Dark Enlightenment”

Filed under: Media, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 10:10

Remember that “Dark Enlightenment” we’re all supposed to be terrified about? ESR is looking at the phenomenon (it’s not really a movement, or at least, it isn’t a single movement):

The Dark Enlightenment is, as I have previously noted, a large and messy phenomenon. It appears to me in part to be a granfalloon invented by Nick Land and certain others to make their own piece of it (the neoreactionaries) look larger and more influential than it actually is. The most detailed critiques of the DE so far (notably Scott Alexander’s Reactionary Philosophy in an Enormous, Planet-Sized Nutshell and Anti-Reactionary FAQ nod in the direction of other cliques on the map I reproduced but focus pretty strongly on the neoreactionaries.

This is the map ESR is referring to:

Scharlach's affinity diagram of the Dark Enlightenment movement, grouped according to their major themes

Scharlach’s affinity diagram of the Dark Enlightenment movement, grouped according to their major themes

Nevertheless, after we peel away clear outliers like the Techno-Commercial Futurists and the Christian Traditionalists, there remains a “core” Dark Enlightenment which shares a discernibly common set of complaints and concerns. In this post I’m going to enumerate these rather than dive deep into any of them. Development of and commentary on individual premises will be deferred to later blog posts.

(I will note the possibility that I may in summarizing the DE premises be inadvertently doing what Scott Alexander marvelously labels “steelmanning” – that is, reverse-strawmanning by representing them as more logical and coherent than they actually are. Readers should be cautious and check primary sources if in doubt.)

Complaint the first: We are all being lied to – massively, constantly, systematically – by an establishment that many DE writers call “the Cathedral”. Its power is maintained by inculcation in the masses of what a Marxist (but nobody in the DE, ever, except ironically) would call “false consciousness”. The Cathedral’s lies go far deeper than what most people think of as normal tactical political falsehoods or even conspiracy theories, down to the level of some of the core premises of post-Enlightenment civilization and widely cherished beliefs about the sustainability of racial equality, sexual equality, and democracy.

[…]

Complaint the second: “All men are created equal” is a pernicious lie. Human beings are created unequal, both as individuals and as breeding populations. Innate individual and group differences matter a lot. Denying this is one of the Cathedral’s largest and most damaging lies. The bad policies that proceed from it are corrosive of civilization and the cause of vast and needless misery.

[…]

Complaint the Third: Democracy is a failure. It has produced a race to the bottom in which politicians grow ever more venal, narrow interest groups ever more grasping, the function of government increasingly degenerates into subsidizing parasites at the expense of producers, and in general politics exhibits all the symptoms of what I have elsewhere called an accelerating Olsonian collapse (after Mancur Olson’s analysis in The Logic Of Collective Action).

January 29, 2014

Alan Moore on the “cultural catastrophe” of Superheroes

Filed under: Media — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 08:58

In the Guardian, Alison Flood rounds up some fascinating comments that Alan Moore made in what might be his final interview:

Comics god Alan Moore has issued a comprehensive sign-off from public life after shooting down accusations that his stories feature racist characters and an excessive amount of sexual violence towards women.

The Watchmen author also used a lengthy recent interview with Pádraig Ó Méalóid at Slovobooks entitled “Last Alan Moore interview?” — to expand upon his belief that today’s adults’ interest in superheroes is potentially “culturally catastrophic”, a view originally aired in the Guardian last year.

“To my mind, this embracing of what were unambiguously children’s characters at their mid-20th century inception seems to indicate a retreat from the admittedly overwhelming complexities of modern existence,” he wrote to Ó Méalóid. “It looks to me very much like a significant section of the public, having given up on attempting to understand the reality they are actually living in, have instead reasoned that they might at least be able to comprehend the sprawling, meaningless, but at-least-still-finite ‘universes’ presented by DC or Marvel Comics. I would also observe that it is, potentially, culturally catastrophic to have the ephemera of a previous century squatting possessively on the cultural stage and refusing to allow this surely unprecedented era to develop a culture of its own, relevant and sufficient to its times.”

The award-winning Moore used the interview to address criticism over his inclusion of the Galley-Wag character — based on Florence Upton’s 1895 Golliwogg creation — in his League of Extraordinary Gentlemen comics, saying that “it was our belief that the character could be handled in such a way as to return to him the sterling qualities of Upton’s creation, while stripping him of the racial connotations that had been grafted onto the Golliwog figure by those who had misappropriated and wilfully misinterpreted her work”.

And he rebutted the suggestion that it was “not the place of two white men to try to ‘reclaim’ a character like the golliwogg”, telling Ó Méalóid that this idea “would appear to be predicated upon an assumption that no author or artist should presume to use characters who are of a different race to themselves”.

“Since I can think of no obvious reason why this principle should only relate to the issue of race — and specifically to black people and white people — then I assume it must be extended to characters of different ethnicities, genders, sexualities, religions, political persuasions and, possibly most uncomfortably of all for many people considering these issues, social classes … If this restriction were universally adopted, we would have had no authors from middle-class backgrounds who were able to write about the situation of the lower classes, which would have effectively ruled out almost all authors since William Shakespeare.”

H/T to Ghost of a flea for the link.

January 21, 2014

What The Three Musketeers owes to real history

Filed under: Europe, History, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 07:56

Boyd Tonkin discusses some of the real historical incidents that Alexandre Dumas drew upon for his fiction:

In September 1784, an unpleasant incident took place at M. Nicolet’s fashionable theatre in Paris. A young, aristocratic man-about-town, born in the French colony of Saint-Domingue (now Haiti), had escorted to the play an elegant lady whose family also came from the West Indies. Dashing, handsome, the son of Count Davy de la Pailleterie might have seemed the ideal squire for the evening. Save, in many eyes, for one thing. He was black — notably dark-skinned, the mixed-race youth had a slave mother — and his companion white.

At Nicolet’s, a white West Indian officer, Jean-Pierre Titon de Saint-Lamain, decided that it would be good fun to insult the count’s black son. First, he pretended to mistake the young man of colour for the lady’s lackey. Then, after an affray, Titon’s henchmen forced the victim to kneel in front of his assailant and ask for pardon. Soon the police arrived and took both men into custody. Statements were taken, but no further action followed. In 1786, the humiliated colonial boy forsook his life of leisure to embark on a military career. He enrolled in the Queen’s Dragoons under a surname not his father’s. Instead, he chose the identity of his slave-born mother: Marie-Cessette Dumas.

[…]

By the early 1850s, this Alexandre Dumas had become not only the famous novelist but, arguably, the most famous Frenchman in the world. At this point, garlanded with international fame and quickly spent riches, he wrote his memoirs. Dumas the novelist adored and hero-worshipped his father, who had died in 1806 but left indelible memories. The first 200 pages of My Memoirs deal with General Alex; in fact, Dumas abandons the narrative of his own life at the age of 31. But in his version of the contretemps at Nicolet’s, the strapping young Alex picks up Titon and chucks him into the orchestra pit. This is a feat of derring-do worthy of… well, worthy of a musketeer.

[…]

Dumas relished his life, and the privileges and pleasures that his mythic tales earned. He made and lost fortunes as quickly as he wrote bulky novels. He meddled in revolutionary politics first in France and then in rebellious Italy (where he founded a paper called The Independent). He ran through perhaps 40 mistresses and sired (at least) seven children with them. His published works comprise 300 volumes and 100,000 pages. After packing around five lives into one, he died after a stroke in 1870 — the same year as Charles Dickens, whose A Tale of Two Cities pays its own tribute to the style of the comrade with whom he dined in Paris. If living well is the best revenge, then Alexandre made the bigoted society which had tried to humble General Alex kneel to him.

H/T to Jessica Brisbane for the link.

Update, 4 February: A.A. Nofi reviews The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo, by Tom Reiss.

Reiss […] fits Dumas into his times and his social environment. So we get a look at the brutalities of slavery and racism under the Ancien Régime and later during the supposedly enlightened French Republic. We see the dying days of the Bourbon monarchy, the Revolution that finished it off, and the rise of Bonaparte’s empire, which brought things part way back to their start again. Reiss also gives us little portraits of many individuals; the general’s family, of course, but also soldiers and rulers such as Carnot, Kleber, the Neapolitan and French royals, Lafayette, and others, including Bonaparte, who would become Dumas’ nemesis. Finally, Reiss looks at how the count’s life shaped that of his son and influenced the latter’s novels, noting traces of the senior Dumas in some of the younger’s characters, notably Edmund Dantes of The Count of Monte Cristo.

The book has some flaws. Reiss betrays a certain over-fondness for Revolutionary France, failing to see its dark side. He neglects the corruption of French officials, both at home and in occupied territories, the widespread plundering of supposedly “liberated” peoples, the slaughter of dissidents, and the widespread atrocities committed by French troops, which often sparked resistance from the very people the Revolution claimed to be liberating. There are, however, flaws common in treatments of the era, and Reiss is commendably more critical of Napoleon, who also tends to get a favorable press.

The Black Count, which was awarded the 2013 Pulitzer Prize in biography, is an excellent work, well-crafted, with a flowing narrative that makes for an easy read.

January 20, 2014

Sounding the alarm over the endarkenment

Filed under: Media, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 08:55

I must not have been paying attention, but according to Jamie Bartlett, we should be terrified of a “dark enlightenment” that is sweeping the internet:

Since 2012 a sophisticated but bizarre online neo-fascist movement has been growing fast. It’s called “The Dark Enlightenment”. Its modus operandi is well suited to today’s world. Supporters are dotted all over the world, connected via a handful of blogs and chat rooms. Its adherents are clever, angry white men patiently awaiting the collapse of civilisation, and a return to some kind of futuristic, ethno-centric feudalism.

It started, suitably enough, with two blogs. Mencius Moldbug, a prolific blogger and computer whizz from San Francisco, and Nick Land, an eccentric British philosopher (previously co-founder of Warwick University’s Cybernetic Culture Research Unit) who in 2012 wrote the eponymous “The Dark Enlightenment”, as a series of posts on his site. You can find them all here.

The philosophy, difficult to pin down exactly, is a loose collection of neo-reactionary ideas, meaning a rejection of most modern thinking: democracy, liberty, and equality. Particular contempt is reserved for democracy, which Land believes “systematically consolidate[s] and exacerbate[es] private vices, resentments, and deficiencies until they reach the level of collective criminality and comprehensive social corruption.”

So, according to this report, we should be terrified of a bunch of basement-dwelling maladjusted would-be techno-feudalists. The question that immediately springs to mind is “why?” We’re told that they’re “neo-reactionary”, “racist”, and “sexist”. We need to be afraid of them because they have the power to … well, nothing. He’s sounding the tocsin of alarm because he’s discovered that there are people who are wrong on the internet!

Update, 3 February: Scharlach created an affinity diagram of the Dark Enlightenment movement, grouped according to their major themes.

Click to see the original post.

Click to see the original post.

Update, 4 February: ESR‘s take on the affinity diagram linked above.

Just looking at the map, someone unfamiliar with the players would be justified in wondering if there’s really any coherence there at all. And that’s a fair question. Some of the people the map sweeps in don’t think of themselves as “Dark Enlightenment” at all. This is notably true of the light green cluster marked “Techno-Commercialists/Futurists” at the top, and the “Economists” connected to it in yellow.

If I belonged on this map, that’s where I’d be. I know Eliezer Yudkowsky; the idea that he and the Less Wrong crowd and Robin Hanson feel significant affinity with most of the rest of that map is pretty ludicrous.

Note, however, that one of only two links to the rest is “Nick Land”. This is a clue, because Nick Land is probably the single most successful booster of the “Dark Enlightenment” meme. It’s in his interest to make the movement look as big and various as he can manage, and I think this map is partly in the nature of a successful con job or dezinformatsiya.

In this, Land is abetted by people outside the movement who are well served by making it look like the Dark Enlightenment is as big and scary as possible. Some of those people lump in the techno-futurist/economist group out of dislike for that group’s broadly libertarian politics – which though very different from the reactionary ideas of the core Dark Enlightenment, is also in revolt against conventional wisdom. Others lump them in out of sheer ignorance.

So, my first contention is that Nick Land has pulled a fast one. That said, I think there is a core Dark Enlightenment – mostly identifiable with the purple “Political Philosophy” group, but with some crossover into HBD and Masculinity and (possibly) the other groups at the bottom of the map.

For the record, I don’t think I’ve got a dog in this fight … I only recognize the names of nine of the linked sites, and most of those are of the recognize-the-name sense, not the familiar-with-the-content sense.

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