A virulent strain of antifeminism is thriving online that treats women’s empowerment as a mortal threat to men and to the integrity of Western civilization. Its proponents cite ancient Greek and Latin texts to support their claims―arguing that they articulate a model of masculinity that sustained generations but is now under siege.
Donna Zuckerberg dives deep into the virtual communities of the far right, where men lament their loss of power and privilege and strategize about how to reclaim them. She finds, mixed in with weightlifting tips and misogynistic vitriol, the words of the Stoics deployed to support an ideal vision of masculine life. On other sites, pickup artists quote Ovid’s Ars Amatoria to justify ignoring women’s boundaries. By appropriating the Classics, these men lend a veneer of intellectual authority and ancient wisdom to their project of patriarchal white supremacy. In defense or retaliation, feminists have also taken up the Classics online, to counter the sanctioning of violence against women.
Translation: “I read a blog and I didn’t like it.”
So Donna Zuckerberg, a white woman with enough wealth and leisure to study the classics for a living and sister of one of the richest, most powerful men in the world (who also loves the classics so much that he has named his daughters “Maxima,” Latin for “greatest,”* and “August,” after Emperor Augustus,) is complaining that Losers on the Internet are sullying the Classics by quoting Ovid.
This is a problem because White Men on the Internet are Privileged (even when they are poor whites who struggle to get a job or even friends,) while rich white women like Donna are the Oppressed.
*(Maxima is also named after two relatives named “Max,” though if honoring relatives were the only motive, Zuck could have gone with “Maxine,” or named her after a female relative.)
Realistically, these men aren’t a threat to Mrs. Zuckerberg; the aren’t going to rise up and force her back into the kitchen, barefoot and pregnant. They are, however, icky, and Donna obviously doesn’t like them impinging on her turf: “By appropriating the Classics, these men lend a veneer of intellectual authority and ancient wisdom to their project of patriarchal white supremacy.”
Appropriating from whom? What culture owns Ovid and Homer? These books are considered the foundation of all of Western Civilization. Is Heartiste not a part of Western Civilization? I suppose you could argue that Roosh is Iranian/Armenian by blood, (despite being born in the US,) but arguing that Roosh can’t enjoy Ovid because he’s Iranian is, well, stupid.
I understand that Mrs. Zuckerberg doesn’t like pickup blogs, but you can’t appropriate the intellectual and literary foundations of your own culture. This is like accusing a Hindu of appropriating the Bhagavad Gita just because he’s a jerk.
The implication of “appropriating” is that Donna thinks the classics belong to some narrow class of people–most likely, academic dilettantes like herself. But as I’ve noted before, Donna Zuckerberg doesn’t own the Classics. Being rich doesn’t give her any more right to quote Plato than anyone else in the entire damn world.
But my complaints aside, I think this nicely illustrates a difficulty found in many academic disciplines:
It’s very difficult to make any new arguments about the Classics. Ovid has been around for a long time. So has Homer. Everything you can say about them has probably been said a thousand times already.
Schliemann managed to up the ante by actually finding Troy, but what’s left to discover? You will never be as great as Schliemann. You will always toil in the shadows of the greats of the past.
But there are rules in academia, most notably, “Publish or perish.” If you want to be a professor or otherwise taken seriously as an academic, you’ve got to publish papers.
What, exactly, are you going to publish on a subject that was thoroughly mined for all new ideas and concepts hundreds of years ago?
2. Write things that aren’t new and don’t provide any new insights, but show that you are a member of the “classics community.”
We think of academic disciplines as “producing knowledge,” but it may be more accurate to think of them as “knowledge communities.” to be part of those communities, all you have to do is produce works that show what a good community member you are. People who fit in get friends, mentors, promotions, and opportunities. People who don’t fit in either get pushed out or leave of their own accord. There’s not much new to say about the Classics, but there are plenty of people who enjoy reading the classics and discussing them with others–and that makes a community, and where there’s a community, people will try to protect what is culturally “theirs.” Folks like Roosh and Heartiste, then, are moving in on academic territory.
What counts as being a “good member” of your community depends on the current social norms in that community. If your community is full of people who say things like “The Classics are the foundation for the greatness of Western Civilization,” then aspirant community members will publish things echoing that.
And if your community is full of people who say things like “If your feminism isn’t intersectional, it’s bullshit,” then you’re going to write things like that.
Modern academia is not really comfortable with “Dead white males”* (much less “Alive white males,”) nor the idea of Western Civilization as anything particularly special or qualitatively different from other civilizations–which creates a bit of a conflict when your field is literally the semi-symbolic and literary basis of Western Civilization.
*Note: most people who study the classics know that the “Classical World” is really the circum-Mediterranean world, that Herodotus lived in now-Turkey, St. Augustine was born in now-Algeria, Alexander the Great’s empire stretched to India, etc. Whether these men were “white” (or men) is irrelevant to our understanding of the foundations of Western Civilization.
Now, I understand not liking everyone you meet on the internet. There are lots of wrong and terrible people in here. But this is why you get a blog where you can complain to the five people who can stand you about all of the other annoying people on the internet.
There are probably many academic disciplines which could, at this point, be transformed into blogs and tumblrs without much loss.
Welcome back. In preparation for our review of The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why it Matters, I have made a list of “times the experts were wrong.” Professor Nichols, if you ever happen to read this, I hope it give you some insight into where we, the common people, are coming from. If you don’t happen to read it, it still gives me a baseline before reading your book. (Please see part 1 for a discussion of relevant definitions.)
Part 2: Law, Academia, and Science
If you’ve had any contact with the court system, you’re probably familiar with the use of “expert testimony.” Often both sides of a case bring in their own experts who give their expert testimony on the case–by necessity, contradictory testimony. For example, one expert in a patent case may testify that his microscopy data shows one thing, while a second testifies that in fact a proper analysis of his microscopy data actually shows the opposite. The jury is then asked to decide which expert’s analysis is correct.
If it sounds suspicious that both sides in a court case can find an “expert” to testify that their side is correct, that’s because it is. Take, for example, the government’s expert testimony in the trial of Mr. Carlos Simon-Timmerman, [note: link takes you to AVN, a site of questionable work-friendliness] accused of possessing child pornography:
“When trial started,” said Ramos-Vega, “the government presented the Lupe DVD and a few other images from the other DVDs that the government understood were also of child pornography. The government presented the testimony of a Special Agent of Immigration and Customs Enforcement that deals with child pornography and child exploitation cases. She testified that Lupe was ‘definitely’ under 18. The government then presented the testimony of a pediatrician who testified that she was 100 percent sure that Lupe was underage.”
The experts, ladies and gents.
After the prosecution rested its case, it was Ramos-Vega’s turn to present witnesses.
“The first witness we called was Lupe,” he said. “She took the stand and despite being very nervous testified so well and explained to the ladies and gentlemen of the jury that she was 19 years old when she performed in the videos for littlelupe.com. She also allowed us to present into evidence copies of her documents showing her date of birth.”
So the Customs Special Agent and the pediatrician were both LYING UNDER OATH about the age of a porn star in order to put an innocent man in prison. There were multiple ways they could have confirmed Lupe’s age (such as checking with her official porn star information on file in the US, because apparently that’s an official thing that exists for exactly this purpose,) or contacting Lupe herself like Mr. Simon-Timmerman’s lawyer did.
The Washington Post published a story so horrifying this weekend that it would stop your breath: “The Justice Department and FBI have formally acknowledged that nearly every examiner in an elite FBI forensic unit gave flawed testimony in almost all trials in which they offered evidence against criminal defendants over more than a two-decade period before 2000.” …
“Of 28 examiners with the FBI Laboratory’s microscopic hair comparison unit, 26 overstated forensic matches in ways that favored prosecutors in more than 95 percent of the 268 trials reviewed so far.” …
Santae Tribble served 28 years for a murder based on FBI testimony about a single strand of hair. He was exonerated in 2012. It was later revealed that one of the hairs presented at trial came from a dog.
Professor Nichols, you want to know, I assume, why we plebes are so distrustful of experts like you. Put yourself, for a moment, in the feet of an ordinary person accused of a crime. You don’t have a forensics lab. Your budget for expert witnesses is pretty limited. Your lawyer is likely a public defender.
Do you trust that these experts are always right, even though they are often hired by people who have a lot more money than you do? Do you think there is no way these experts could be biased toward the people paying them, or that the side with more money to throw at experts and its own labs could produce more evidence favorable to itself than the other?
Now let’s expand our scope: how do you think ordinary people think about climate scientists, medical drug studies, or military intelligence? Unlike drug companies, we commoners don’t get to hire our own experts. Do you think Proctor and Gamble never produces research that is biased toward its own interests? Of course; that’s why researchers have to disclose any money they’ve received from drug companies.
From the poor man’s perspective, it looks like all research is funded by rich men, and none by poor men. It is sensible to worry, therefore, that the results of this research are inherently biased toward those who already have plenty of status and wealth.
The destruction of expertise: “Studies” Departments
Here is a paper published in a real, peer-reviewed academic journal:
The hope for multicultural, culturally competent, and diverse perspectives in science education falls short if theoretical considerations of whiteness are not entertained. [Entertained by whom?] Since whiteness is characterized [by whom?] as a hegemonic racial dominance that has become so natural it is almost invisible, this paper identifies how whiteness operates in science education such that [awkward; “to such an extent that”] it falls short of its goal for cultural diversity. [“Cultural diversity” is not one of science education’s goals] Because literature in science education [Which literature? Do you mean textbooks?] has yet to fully entertain whiteness ideology, this paper offers one of the first theoretical postulations [of what?]. Drawing from the fields of education, legal studies, and sociology, [but not science?] this paper employs critical whiteness studies as both a theoretical lens and an analytic tool to re-interpret how whiteness might impact science education. Doing so allows the field to reconsider benign, routine, or normative practices and protocol that may influence how future scientists of Color experience the field. In sum, we seek to have the field consider the theoretical frames of whiteness and how it [use “whiteness” here instead of “it” because there is no singular object for “it” to refer to in this sentence] might influence how we engage in science education such that [“to such an extent that”] our hope for diversity never fully materializes.
Apologies for the red pen; you might think that someone at the “School of Education” could write a grammatical sentence and the people publishing peer-reviewed journals would employ competent editors, but apparently not.
If these are “experts,” then expertise is dead with a stake through its heart.
But the paper goes on!
The resounding belief that science is universal and objective hides the reality that whiteness has shaped the scientific paradigm.
See, you only think gravity pulls objects toward the earth at a rate of 9.8 m/second^2 because you’re white. When black people drop objects off the Leaning Tower of Pisa, they fall 10m/s^2. Science textbooks and educators only teaching the white rate and refusing to teach the black rate is why no black nation has successfully launched a man into space.
Our current discourse believes that science and how we approach experimentation and constructing scientific explanations is unbiased, and on the surface, it may seem justified (Kelly 2014). However, this way of knowing science in the absence of other ways of knowing only furthers whiteness an White supremacy through power and control of science knowledge. As a result, our students of Color are victims of deculturization, and their own worldviews are invalidated, such as described by Ladson-Bilings (1998a).
For example, some Aboriginal people in Australia believe that cancer is caused by curses cast by other people or a spiritual punishment for some misdeed the sufferer committed. Teaching them that cancer is caused by mutated cells that have begun reproducing out of control and can’t be caused by a curse is thus destroying a part of their culture. Since all cultures are equally valuable, we must teach that the Aboriginal theory of cancer-curses and the white theory of failed cellular apoptosis are equally true.
Or Le and Matias are full of shit. Le doesn’t have his PhD, yet, so he isn’t an official expert, but Matias is a professor with a CV full of published, peer-reviewed articles on similar themes.
Every single degree awarded paper published on such garbage degrades the entire concept of “experts.” Sure, Nichols is a professor–and so is Matias. As far as our official system for determining expertise, Nichols, Matias, and Stephen Hawing are all “experts.”
Black boys raised in America, even in the wealthiest families and living in some of the most well-to-do neighborhoods, still earn less in adulthood than white boys with similar backgrounds, according to a sweeping new study that traced the lives of millions of children.
White boys who grow up rich are likely to remain that way. Black boys raised at the top, however, are more likely to become poor than to stay wealthy in their own adult households.
(Oh, look, someone discovered regression to the mean.)
You don’t need an “expert” to tell you that black men might get discriminated against.
How do you become an “expert” in anti-racism? Do you have to pass the implicit bias test? Get a degree in anti-racist studies?
Do you think, for whatever reason, that a guy who gets paid to do anti-racist research might come up with “racism” as an answer to almost any question posed?
“The guy who gets paid to say that racism is the answer said the answer is racism” does not actually prove that racism is the answer, but it is being presented like it does.
Blue check has failed to mention any obvious counters, like:
a. Mysteriously, this “racism” only affects black men and not black women (this is why we’ve had a black female president but not a black male one, right?)
b. Regression to the mean is a thing and we can measure it (shortly: The further you are from average for your group on any measure [height, intelligence, income, number of Daleks collected, etc.,] the more likely your kids are to be closer to average than you are. [This is why the kids of Nobel prize winners, while pretty smart on average, are much less likely to win Nobels than their parents.] Since on average blacks make a lot less money than whites, any wealthy black family is significantly further from the average black income than a white family with the same amount of money is from the average white income. Therefore at any high income level, we expect black kids to regress harder toward the black mean than white kids raised at the same level. La Griffe du Lion [a statistics expert] has an article that goes into much more depth and math on regression to the mean and its relevance.)
c. Crime rates. Black men commit more crime than black women or white men, and not only does prison time cut into employment, but most employers don’t want to employ people who’ve committed a crime. This makes it easier for black women to get jobs and build up wealth than black men. (The article itself does mention that “The sons of black families from the top 1 percent had about the same chance of being incarcerated on a given day as the sons of white families earning $36,000,” but yeah, it’s probably just totally irrational discrimination keeping black men out of jobs.)
“Experts” like this get used to trot a simple, narrative-supporting line that the paper wants to make rather than give any real or uncomfortable analysis of a complex issue. It’s dishonest reporting and contributes to the notion that “expert” doesn’t mean all that much.
Tetraethyllead (aka lead) was added to automobile fuels beginning in the 1920s to raise fuel economy–that is, more miles per gallon. For half a century, automobiles belched brain-damaging lead into the atmosphere, until the Clean Air Act in the 70s forced gas companies to cut back.
Plenty of people knew lead is poisonous–we’ve known that since at least the time of the Romans–so how did it end up in our gas? Well, those nice scientists over at the auto manufacturers reassured us that lead in gasoline was perfectly safe, and then got themselves on a government panel intended to evaluate the safety of leaded gas and came to the same conclusion. Wired has a thorough history:
But fearing that such [anti-leaded gas] measures would spread, … the manufacturing companies demanded that the federal government take over the investigation and develop its own regulations. U.S. President Calvin Coolidge, a Republican and small-government conservative, moved rapidly in favor of the business interests.
… In May 1925, the U.S. Surgeon General called a national tetraethyl lead conference, to be followed by the formation of an investigative task force to study the problem. That same year, Midgley [the inventor of leaded gas] published his first health analysis of TEL, which acknowledged a minor health risk at most, insisting that the use of lead compounds,”compared with other chemical industries it is neither grave nor inescapable.”
It was obvious in advance that he’d basically written the conclusion of the federal task force. That panel only included selected industry scientists like Midgely. It had no place for Alexander Gettler or Charles Norris [scientists critical of leaded gas] or, in fact, anyone from any city where sales of the gas had been banned, or any agency involved in the producing that first critical analysis of tetraethyl lead.
In January 1926, the public health service released its report which concluded that there was “no danger” posed by adding TEL to gasoline…”no reason to prohibit the sale of leaded gasoline” as long as workers were well protected during the manufacturing process.
The task force did look briefly at risks associated with every day exposure by drivers, automobile attendants, gas station operators, and found that it was minimal. The researchers had indeed found lead residues in dusty corners of garages. In addition, all the drivers tested showed trace amounts of lead in their blood. But a low level of lead could be tolerated, the scientists announced. After all, none of the test subjects showed the extreme behaviors and breakdowns associated with places like the looney gas building. And the worker problem could be handled with some protective gear.
I’m not sure how many people were killed globally by leaded gas, but Wired notes:
It was some fifty years later – in 1986 – that the United States formally banned lead as a gasoline additive. By that time, according to some estimates, so much lead had been deposited into soils, streets, building surfaces, that an estimated 68 million children would register toxic levels of lead absorption and some 5,000 American adults would die annually of lead-induced heart disease.
The UN estimates that the elimination of lead in gas and paint has added 2.4 trillion, annually, the global economy.
Leaded gas is a good example of a case where many experts did know it was poisonous (as did many non-experts,) but this wasn’t the story the public heard.
Yes, this one is silly, but I have relatives who keep bringing it up. “Scientists used to say there are 9 planets, but now they say there are only 8! Scientists change what they think all the time!”
Congratulations, astronomers, they think you lost Pluto. Every single time I try to discuss science with these people, they bring up Pluto. Scientific consensus is meaningless in a world where planets just disappear. “Whoops! We miscounted!”
(No one ever really questioned Pluto’s planetary status before it was changed, but a few die-hards refuse to accept the new designation.)
Scientists weren’t actually wrong about Pluto (“planet” is just a category scientists made up and that they decided to redefine to make it more useful,) but the matter confused people and it seemed like scientific consensus was arbitrary and could change unexpectedly.
Unfortunately, normal people who don’t have close contact with science or scientists often struggle to understand exactly what science is and how it advances. They rely, sporadically, on intermediaries like The History Chanel or pop science journalists to explain it to them, and these guys like to run headlines like “5 things Albert Einstein got Totally Wrong” (haha that Albert, what a dummy, amirite?)
So when you question why people distrust experts like you, Professor Nichols, consider whether the other “experts” they’ve encountered have been trustworthy or even correct, or if they’ve been liars and shills.
I, Too, Am Harvard is a powerful photo campaign highlighting the faces and voices of black students at Harvard College. Fed up with the institutional racism they face everyday [sic], the students are speaking speaking out against it by sharing their heartfelt stories in a series of portraits.
“Our voices often go unheard on this campus, our experiences are devalued, our presence is questioned,” they say. “This project is our way of speaking back,of claiming this campus, of standing up to say: we are here.”
The students from Oxford University have also begun a similar campaign.
Examples of nefarious racism keeping down Harvard and Oxford students include people asking if they’re listening to rap music on their headphones and jokes abut Somali pirates. Several complaints also center on the fact that whites believe that blacks and Hispanics get an admissions boost due to Affirmative Action, which Blacks find terribly offensive. (Of course, as the NY Times notes, Harvard has been acting affirmatively since 1971:
The university has a long and pioneering history of support for affirmative action, going back at least to when Derek Bok, appointed president of Harvard in 1971, embraced policies that became a national model.
The university has extended that ethos to many low-income students, allowing them to attend free. Harvard has argued in a Supreme Court brief that while it sets no quotas for “blacks, or of musicians, football players, physicists or Californians,” if it wants to achieve true diversity, it must pay some attention to the numbers. The university has also said that abandoning race-conscious admissions would diminish the “excellence” of a Harvard education.
This is why Harvard is now getting sued by Asians, whose excellent SAT scores result in a significant admissions discrimination at top schools.)
Why do students at such elite schools indulge in such petulant whining? For that matter, why do these schools allow inanities like students yelling at faculty members about Halloween costumes (Yale, I’m looking at you)?
They say the Devil’s best trick was convincing people he doesn’t exist; perhaps the Cathedral’s best trick is convincing people that it’s oppressed. If Cathedralites are oppressed, then you can’t complain that they’re oppressing you.
Or perhaps people who get into top schools develop some form of survivor’s remorse? How do you reconcile a belief that “elitism” is bad, that intelligence isn’t genetic, that no one is “inherently” better than anyone else nor deserves to be “privileged” with the reality that you have been hand-selected to be part of a privileged, intellectual elite that enjoys opportunities we commoners can only dream of? Perhaps much of what passes for liberal signaling in college is just overcompensation for the privileges they have but can’t explicitly claim to deserve.
Over at Yale, the Philosophy Department is very concerned that too many white males are signing up for their courses:
But not all departments draw evenly across Yale’s many communities — some will be more demographically homogeneous than others, such as Yale’s Philosophy Department, which has historically been majority white and male.
Philosophy has struggled as a discipline to attract students from diverse backgrounds, and faculty and students within Yale’s Philosophy Department told the News that while the department is not as diverse as it could be in terms of racial and gender makeup or curricular offerings, ongoing efforts to remedy the problem are a cause for optimism.
Yalies seem lacking in basic numeracy: if some departments–say the African American Studies and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies–attract disproportionately high numbers of blacks and women, then there won’t be enough blacks and women left over to spread out to all of the other departments to get racial parity everywhere. Some departments, by default, will have to have more whites and men.
“[Lack of diversity] has inspired a lot of soul-searching in the discipline in recent years,” said Joanna Demaree-Cotton GRD ’21, co-coordinator of Yale’s chapter of Minorities and Philosophy which works to combat issues faced by minorities in academia. “Lots of departments, including ours at Yale, have started asking tough questions about the cause of this drop-off in the representation of women and racial minorities, and how we might go about ameliorating the problem.”
In case you’re wondering, Demaree-Cotton is a white lady. When the push comes to get some professors to give up their spots in favor of women-of-color philosophers, will Demaree-Cotton get pushed out for being white, or will she be saved because she’s female?
Yale has a second problem: very few people major in philosophy, period. For example, in 2016, only 20 undergrads received degrees in philosophy or philosophy of mathematics (data is not broken down for each department.) Of these, 13 were men and 7 were female. These are the kind of numbers that let you write hand-wringing articles about how “philosophy is only 35% female!” when we are actually talking about a 6-person gap. The recent “drop-off” in women and racial minorities, therefore, is likely just random chance.
“For example, although over the last four years women have represented less than 25 percent of applicants to our Ph.D. program, they represent about 40 percent of students currently in our program,” Darwall said.
Sounds like Yale is actually giving women preferential treatment, just not enough preferential treatment to make up for the lack of female applicants.
Deputy Dean for Diversity and Faculty Development Kathryn Lofton said that Yale is working hard to “rethink diversity” across the University…
Each academic department and program, not just philosophy, must engage with this topic, Lofton added.
“The protests in the fall of 2015 showed that our students believe we have work yet to do to achieve this ambition,” she said. “The University has responded to their call with a strong strategic vision. But this work takes time to accomplish.”
Kathryn Lofton is also a white woman. Besides lecturing people about the importance of Halloween Costume protests, she is also a professor of Religious Studies, American Studies, History and Divinity and chair of the Religious Studies department. Her faculty page describes her work:
Kathryn Lofton is a is a historian of religion who has written extensively about capitalism, celebrity, sexuality, and the concept of the secular. … Her first book, Oprah: The Gospel of an Icon (2011) used the example of Oprah Winfrey’s multimedia productions to evaluate the material strategies of contemporary spirituality. Her forthcoming book, Consuming Religion offers a profile of religion and its relationship to consumption and includes analysis of many subjects, including office cubicles, binge viewing, the family Kardashian, and the Goldman Sachs Group. Her next book-length study will consider the religions of American singer-songwriter Bob Dylan.
Apparently writing about Oprah and the Kardashians now qualifies you to be a Yale professor.
Back to the Philosophy Department:
For instance, [Jocelyn] Wang said that many undergraduate introductory philosophy classes are history-based and focused on “dead white men,” which is not necessarily as accessible to students from varied backgrounds.
“I think the way that the undergraduate philosophy curriculum is structured contributes partially to the demographic composition of the major,” Wang said.
In other words, Miss Wang thinks that Yale’s black and Hispanic students are too dumb to read Socrates and Kant.
This is really a bullshit argument, if you will pardon my language. Any student who has been accepted to Yale is smart (and well-educated) enough to “access” Socrates. These are Yalies, not bright but underprivileged kids from the ‘hood. If language is an issue for Yale’s foreign exchange students, all of the philosophy texts can be found in translation (in fact, most of them weren’t written in English to start with.) But if you struggle with English, you might not want to attend a university where English is the primary language to start with.
However, if we interpret “accessible” in Miss Wang’s statement as a euphemism for “interesting,” we may have a reasonable claim: perhaps interest in historical figures really is tribal, with whites more interested in white philosophers and blacks more interested in black philosophers. Your average “Philosophy 101” course is likely to cover the most important philosophers in the Western Tradition, because these courses were originally designed and written by Westerners who wanted to discuss their own philosophical tradition. Now in order to attract non-Westerners, they are being told they need to discard the discussion of their own philosophical tradition in favor of other philosophical traditions.
Now, I don’t see anything wrong with incorporating non-western philosophies if they have something interesting to say. My own Philosophy 101 course covered (IIRC) Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Mill, John Rawls, the Bhagavad Gita, Taoism, and Confucianism. I enjoyed this course, and never found myself thinking, “Gee, I just can’t access this Confucius. This course would be a lot more accessible without all of the brown guys in it.”
Look, some people like talking about what a “chair” is and what “is” is, and some people like talking about police brutality against black bodies, and if one group of people wants to get together in the Philosophy department and talk about chairs and the other group wants to go to the African American Studies department, that’s fine. We don’t all have to hang out in the same place and talk about the same stuff. Sometimes, you just need to sit down and acknowledge that the thing you’re interested in isn’t 100% interesting to everyone else on the planet. Some subjects are more interesting to women, some are more interesting to men. Some are more interesting to whites or blacks or Asians, married or single people, young or old, city or country dwellers, etc. We are allowed to be different. If different people have different interests, then the only way to get people with different interests into the philosophy department is by changing the department itself to cater to those different interests–interests that are already being better served by a different department. If you turn Philosophy into Gender + Race Studies, then you’ve just excluded all of the people who were attracted to it in the first place because they wanted to study philosophy.
Speaking of which:
[Wang] added that in her experience, students can create a “culture of intimidation” by making references to philosophers without explaining them, thus setting up a barrier for people who are not familiar with that background.
I know some people can be cliquish, reveling in overly-obtuse language that they use to make themselves sound smart and to exclude others from their exclusive intellectual club. Academic publications are FILLED with such writing, and it’s awful.
But Miss Wang is criticizing what amount to private conversations between other students for being insufficiently transparent to outsiders, which rubs me the wrong way. Every field has some amount of specialized knowledge and vocabulary that experienced members will know better than newcomers. Two bikers talking about their motorcycles wouldn’t make much sense to me. Two engineers talking about an engineering project also wouldn’t make much sense to me. And I had to look up a lot of Jewish vocabulary words like “Gemara” before I could write that post on the Talmud. Balancing between the amount of information someone who is well-versed in a field needs vs the amount a newcomer needs, without actually knowing how much knowledge that newcomer already has nor whether you are coming across as condescending, simplistic, or “mansplaining,” can be very tricky.
This is something I worry about in real life when talking to people I don’t know very well, so I’m sensitive about it.
Still, [Rita Wang–a different student with the same last name] noted several classes that delved into questions of race and gender, such as a class on American philosophy that included the writings of Martin Luther King, Jr. and another course on G.W.F. Hegel that discussed his interpretation of the Haitian Revolution.
The premise of Susan Buck-Morss’s Hegel, Haiti and Universal History is the arresting claim that Hegel’s renowned ‘master-slave dialectic’ was directly inspired by the contemporaneous Haitian Revolution. Commencing with a slave uprising on the French colony of Saint Domingue in 1791, the victorious former slaves declared Haiti’s independence from Napoleon’s France in 1804, three years before Hegel published his Phenomenology of Spirit, which contained the earliest published (and still the best known) rendition of the master-slave dialectic. …
However, if Buck-Morss is right to claim that Hegel was alluding to the Haitian Revolution when writing his master-slave dialectic, then Hegel’s seemingly callow optimism was not mere fancy but drew directly on lived historical experience: the achievement of Haitian slaves not only in overthrowing a savage and comprehensive tyranny but also in establishing their own modern state. Buck-Morss only hints at this possibility, however. Her aim, she says, is different: she wants to ensure that the great German philosopher is forever linked to the greatest of Caribbean revolutions (16)….
Ah, yes, Haiti, such a great revolution! And such a great country! Say, how have things been in Haiti since the revolution?
Dessalines was proclaimed “Emperor for Life” by his troops. …Once in power, he ordered the massacre of most whites. … In the continuing competition for power, he was assassinated by rivals on 17 October 1806. …
The revolution led to a wave of emigration. In 1809, nearly 10,000 refugees from Saint-Domingue settled en masse in New Orleans. They doubled the city’s population. …
Haitian politics have been contentious: since independence, Haiti has suffered 32 coups.…
Cité Soleil in Port-au-Prince, one of the biggest slums in the Northern Hemisphere, has been called “the most dangerous place on Earth” by the United Nations.…
Haiti’s purchasing power parity GDP fell 8% in 2010 (from US$12.15 billion to US$11.18 billion) and the GDP per capita remained unchanged at PPP US$1,200. … Haiti is one of the world’s poorest countries and the poorest in the Americas region, with poverty, corruption, poor infrastructure, lack of health care and lack of education cited as the main sources. …
Meanwhile, Haiti’s population has steadily increased from 4 million (in 1961) to 10 million (in 2003).
Sounds great. Who wouldn’t embrace a revolution that brought such peace, prosperity, and well-being to its people?
Interestingly, Wikipedia notes that Susan Buck-Morss is a member of the Frankfurt School. Wikipedia also notes that the idea that the Frankfurt School is a bunch of Marxists–or “Cultural Marxists” is just a “conspiracy theory.” Clearly there is nothing Marxist about the Frankfurt School.
But back to Yale:
This year, new faculty members who have joined the department will teach courses that diversify the curriculum, Gendler said. Philosophy professor Robin Dembroff, who is genderqueer, is teaching a social ontology course next semester that focuses on questions surrounding social construction and the nature of social categories.
Many important social debates concern who should count as belonging to various social categories. Who should count as black? …as a woman? …as married? …it is widely assumed that these questions turn on metaphysical analyses of what makes someone black, a woman, and so on. That is, it is assumed that we should count someone as (e.g.) a woman just in case they satisfy sufficient conditions for having the property `woman’. My dissertation argues that this assumption is wrong: whether someone should count as a woman turns not on whether they satisfy the correct metaphysical analysis of what it is to be a woman, but on ethical considerations about how we ought to treat each other. …
While researching this post, I also came across what I think is Dembroff’s old Myspace account. While looking back at our teenage selves can be ridiculous and often embarassing, the teenage Dembroff seemed a much realer, more relateable human than the current one who is trying so hard to look Yale. Perhaps it isn’t the same Dembroff, of course. But we were all teenagers, once, trying to find our place in this world. I think I would have liked teenage Dembroff.
Dembroff’s dissertation, boiled down to its point, is that all of these debates over things like “trans identity” don’t really matter because we ought to just try to be kind to each other. While I think statements like, “What matters for determining ethical gender ascriptions are normative questions about how we ought to perceive and treat others, and not facts about who is a man or a woman. This claim has an important implication: It may be unethical to make true gender ascriptions, and ethical to make false ascriptions,” are quite wrong, because reality is an important thing and basing an ethics around lying has all sorts of bad implications, I find this at least a more honest and straightforward idea than all of the “gender is a social construct” nonsense.
Still, I question the wisdom of having someone who thinks that social ontology, social construction, and the nature of social categories don’t really matter teach a course on the subject. But maybe Dembroff brings a refreshing new perspective to the subject. Who knows.
Let’s finish our article:
“One thing that I have found really encouraging at Yale is that I have been made to feel as if the graduate student community as a whole — including white men — truly cares about working together to create positive change,” Demaree-Cotton said. “This really makes a big difference. The importance of all students and faculty — not just minorities — taking an active interest in these issues should not be underestimated.”
So much social signaling. So much trying to impress the legions of other privileged, to scrabble to the top, to hang on to some piece of the pie while deflecting blame onto someone else.
I wish people could leave all of this signaling behind.
I. In Educating Teachers: Harvard gets serious about training its graduates to teach in the classroom, Sophia Nguyen writes:
This is something that’s interesting about HTF,” Quan Le ’15 said. “We literally cry every day.” …
Note: Quan Le is male.
Sometimes the crying became infectious. On one morning in early June, the fellows sat in a basement classroom for their daily “teaching lab,” where they studied and rehearsed classroom management strategies that they could try out on the high-schoolers later that day. They broke up into two discussion groups, and, while debating last night’s reading on cultural sensitivity, one-half of the room broke down. Voices rose: I just want to push back a little on what you said. I think this is very problematic. I’d like to ask you to unpack this point. I don’t think that’s the culture of low-income people—I think that’s a deficit-based model. The fellows, freshly graduated from the College, were fluent in left-leaning liberal-arts classroom etiquette. Yet the conversation grew tenser, then tearful, even as everyone insisted they had no real conflict. Someone burst out, frustrated, “I agree with you!”
“It’s not like class,” one of them said, finally, face in hands. “It really matters to me. I feel really attacked. I care so much about this stuff, and when the whole group disagrees with me, I can’t take it.”
Noah Heller, HTF’s master teacher-in-residence for math, interceded gently. “We need to work on tuning together. I don’t hear people disagreeing with you, I really don’t. We’re having a robust discussion.”
“It’s so exhausting. I’m so sorry, I cry all the time.” The fellow took a breath. “I’m getting really defensive. I think we all really need to remember that we’re all here to help kids.” At some point, everyone in the circle of chairs had begun holding hands. “There’s not always agreeing or disagreeing,” someone offered helpfully. “Sometimes it’s just—this stuff is really hard, and we’re just trying to figure out what we feel.”
The students in this article are not recruits going through Basic Training in the military. They are not doctors enduring 48 hour hospital shifts. They are Harvard grads learning to be teachers. I have a great deal of respect for teachers and know they work hard, but there is absolutely no reason they should be weeping every day.
Seriously, if anything in this excerpt sounds like your real life, please get help immediately. THIS IS NOT EMOTIONALLY HEALTHY OR NORMAL.
II. One of the things I appreciate about memetics is that it allows us to think about the spread and propagation of ideas independent of the intentions of the people who hold them. Or as Wikipedia puts it:
The meme, analogous to a gene, was conceived as a “unit of culture” (an idea, belief, pattern of behaviour, etc.) which is “hosted” in the minds of one or more individuals, and which can reproduce itself, thereby jumping from mind to mind. Thus what would otherwise be regarded as one individual influencing another to adopt a belief is seen as an idea-replicator reproducing itself in a new host. As with genetics, particularly under a Dawkinsian interpretation, a meme’s success may be due to its contribution to the effectiveness of its host.
Memetics is also notable for sidestepping the traditional concern with the truth of ideas and beliefs. Instead, it is interested in their success.
In other words, “memes” (ideas) act like viruses or, as I wrote previously, “mitochondria.” (Note: unlike real viruses, most ideas you believe are probably beneficial.)
We like to think of ourselves as logical, rational beings who believe things because we’ve concluded that they make sense, but taking the example of religion, the idea that millions of people in North Africa, the Middle East, Indonesia, etc., have all independently and logically decided that there is no God but Allah and Mohammad is his prophet, every generation, for over a thousand years–and people in Europe have decided similarly that God is a Trinity, became man, and was sacrificed for your sins; people in India have believed that your soul can be reincarnated; and people in Central America once decided that the most logical thing was to rip people’s still-beating hearts out of their chests in order to keep the sun in the sky (I mean, sure, maybe the world won’t end even if we don’t sacrifice 400 virgins, but do you really want to take the chance?)–defies logic.
If we can look at religions as memeplexes–networks of interrelated ideas–that exist over time independent of the particular people who believe in them, we can similarly interrogate political ideologies. Like your religious beliefs (or non-belief,) your professed political ideology likely has a good deal to do with factors entirely outside of “logical thought,” like genetics, social class, or the region of the country you live in (otherwise it is strangely coincidental that the Deep South has been “conservative” relative to the rest of the country for hundreds of years.)
As we discussed in the previous Cathedral Round Up, You are the Hope of the World, what we see as “modern” Progressivism existed back in 1917. 1917 is not some special year–Progressivism actually began long before then, but we’re not tracing the idea’s history; you can get your fix of that from Moldbug.
Moldbug (and many others,) also suggests that Progressivism is really a religion, just stripped of the explicit references to God. Whether or not this is literally true, from a memetics perspective, both religions and political ideologies function similarly. As Jonas Kaplan states:
Perhaps this is due to some underlying aspect of human cognition or social structure, or perhaps successful memes all share certain features that enhance their spread and temporal persistence. Either way, we can productively use the same vocabulary and concepts to discuss both.
III. Most people recognize that cults exist and that cults are bad, but few people who are actually in cults believe that they are in a cult. As Boze Herrington notes in The Atlantic, The Seven Signs You’re in a Cult:
For three weeks, Hannah and I had been trying to contact leaders at [International House of Prayer; no relation to the restaurant] about a prayer group that we, Bethany, and many of our friends had been part of—a small, independent community that drew on IHOP’s teachings. In February, I had been formally excommunicated, and Hannah had left in June. Looking in from the outside, both of us saw the group differently than we had when we were part of it: We saw it as a cult.
Several years ago, the founder of IHOP, Mike Bickle, created a list of seven ways to recognize the difference between a religious community and a cult. Written down, the signs seem clear:
1. Opposing critical thinking
2. Isolating members and penalizing them for leaving
3. Emphasizing special doctrines outside scripture
4. Seeking inappropriate loyalty to their leaders
5. Dishonoring the family unit
6. Crossing Biblical boundaries of behavior (versus sexual purity and personal ownership)
7. Separation from the Church
But when it’s your friends, your faith, your community, it’s not so obvious. For several years, roughly two dozen people, all younger than thirty, had been living together in Kansas City, Missouri, and following the leadership of Tyler Deaton, one of our classmates from Southwestern University in Texas. In the summer of 2012, Tyler had married Bethany; by the fall, she was dead. What started as a dorm-room prayer group had devolved into something much darker.
You can find many different definitions of “cult” out there; obviously “Crossing Biblical boundaries,” does not apply so much to political ideologies.
Personally, I’d say that among the critical defining characteristics of cults:
Cults teach people that their self-worth (the salvation of their souls, their essential goodness, etc.,) is dependent on adherence to the cult’s teachings
They use of social ostracism to punish even slight deviation from a very rigid set of beliefs.
They isolate their members from everyone outside the cult.
People who have been convinced to cut off contact with friends and family end up far more vulnerable to ostracism by the cult because they now have nowhere left to go nor anyone to help them if they leave.
Note, though, that there is no particular thing cultists need to believe, besides in the absoluteness of the cult. Memetically speaking, cults typically do not generate their own ideologies, but rather are metastisized versions of regular ones. Cults work, in part, because the people in them already believe in the importance of the basic ideas the cults are based on–there wouldn’t be much point in joining a cult you didn’t believe in.
Christian cults therefore draw in people who already believe in Christianity; New-Agey cults draw in people who believe in New-Agey sorts of things; Islamic cults draw in people who believe in Islam. This pre-existing belief primes people to believe the cult’s message, and also makes it hard to distinguish between the cult and regular, non-cultish believers of the same memeplex. The cult essentially hides behind the legitimacy of regular believers while simultaneously attacking them for being insufficiently rigorous in their beliefs.
Let’s take Marie Shear’s oft-repeated adage, “Feminism is the radical notion that women are people.”
Pretty much everyone agrees that women are people. I wager that even under the most female-oppressive regimes on Earth, the vast majority of people agree that women are “people,” not unicorns, glorified fungi, or inanimate objects. Talk to someone from Saudi Arabia, and they’ll tell you that their country is great for women, because they protect women from rape and sexual objectification.
(I have actually read an academic article arguing that female genital mutilation can be seen as pro-women in certain contexts.)
The quote’s appeal is two-fold: first, it implies that “feminism” is a mainstream belief because everyone who believes that women are people are feminists, and second, it implies that anyone who doesn’t identify as a feminist doesn’t believe that women are people. All sensible, right-thinking people, therefore, are clearly feminists–and feminists are sensible, right-thinking people.
In reality, though, we know that this is not a useful definition of feminism.
Scott Alexander of Slate Star Codex has helped popularize Nicholas Shackel’s phrase “Motte and Bailey doctrine” to refer to the practice of using an easily defended but not very useful (to the feminist) rhetorical position, eg, “Women are people” to protect a large swathe of much harder to defend but more useful positions, like “abortion should always be legal,” or “college campuses aren’t doing enough to prosecute rape.”
A motte-and-bailey is a kind of Medieval fortress in which an earthenwork tower (the motte) is used to defend a large field with a wall around it. The field is difficult to defend, but a good place for farming; the hill is easy to defend, but bad for farming.
Cults use this same technique to portray their beliefs as reasonable–things all good members of members of Group X believe, and aren’t you a good member of Group X?–while hiding their unreasonable beliefs and the harm they do to their members.
IV. You have probably already figured out that I think modern Social Justice Warrior ideology is effectively a cult.
Now, there are some folks around these parts who see any liberalism as dangerous or inevitably leading in a bad direction. I tend to see both “liberalism” and “conservatism” personality types, heavily influenced by genetics, independent of the particular politics of the day. A functional society benefits from the strengths of both types, so long as everyone is behaving themselves and not behaving like cult members out to crush any and all deviation from their particular version of the One True Truth.
I check Feministing, and even radfem blogs like “I Blame the Patriarchy.” And yes, I’ve read many studies and task force reports about gender bias, and about the “privilege” and “entitlement” of the nerdy males that’s keeping women away from science. …
I spent my formative years—basically, from the age of 12 until my mid-20s—feeling not “entitled,” not “privileged,” but terrified. I was terrified that one of my female classmates would somehow find out that I sexually desired her, and that the instant she did, I would be scorned, laughed at, called a creep and a weirdo, maybe even expelled from school or sent to prison. You can call that my personal psychological problem if you want, but it was strongly reinforced by everything I picked up from my environment: to take one example, the sexual-assault prevention workshops we had to attend regularly as undergrads, with their endless lists of all the forms of human interaction that “might be” sexual harassment or assault, and their refusal, ever, to specify anything that definitely wouldn’t be sexual harassment or assault. I left each of those workshops with enough fresh paranoia and self-hatred to last me through another year. …
I scoured the feminist literature for any statement to the effect that my fears were as silly as I hoped they were. … I found reams of text about how even the most ordinary male/female interactions are filled with “microaggressions,” and how even the most “enlightened” males—especially the most “enlightened” males, in fact—are filled with hidden entitlement and privilege and a propensity to sexual violence that could burst forth at any moment.
Because of my fears—my fears of being “outed” as a nerdy heterosexual male, and therefore as a potential creep or sex criminal—I had constant suicidal thoughts. …
At one point, I actually begged a psychiatrist to prescribe drugs that would chemically castrate me (I had researched which ones), because a life of mathematical asceticism was the only future that I could imagine for myself. The psychiatrist refused…
To repeat my comment from the beginning of this post, if anything in this excerpt sounds like your real life, please get help immediately. THIS IS NOT EMOTIONALLY HEALTHY OR NORMAL.
People who are not familiar with modern feminism (this includes many of my liberal friends, who are too busy with jobs, kids, friends, etc., to keep up with the Outrage du Jour,) might feel tempted to write off Aaronson’s experience as just one weird guy’s absurd, abnormal reaction–surely normal people don’t become suicidal or try to castrate themselves after reading about microaggressions. After all, feminism is just the idea that women are people, right? Surely feminists, being reasonable people, reacted to Aaronson with the explanations he’d been looking for (or at least links to them) and some compassion for his suicidal state.
Alexander quotes famous feminist Amanda Marcotte’s response:
[Aaronson’s post] is the whole “how can men be oppressed when I don’t get to have sex with all the hot women that I want without having to work for it?” whine, one that, amongst other things, starts on the assumption that women do not suffer things like social anxiety or rejection…It was just a yalp of entitlement combined with an aggressive unwillingness to accept that women are human beings just like men. [He is saying that] “having to explain my suffering to women when they should already be there, mopping my brow and offering me beers and blow jobs, is so tiresome…I was too busy JAQ-ing off, throwing tantrums, and making sure the chip on my shoulder was felt by everyone in the room to be bothered to do something like listen.” Women are failing him by not showing up naked in his bed, unbidden. Because bitches, yo.
The eternal struggle of the sexist: Objective reality suggests that women are people, but the heart wants to believe they are a robot army put here for sexual service and housework.
Alexander notes, “Anyway, Marcotte was bad enough, given that she runs one of the most-read feminist blogs on the Internet. But much of the rest of the feminist “discussion” on Tumblr, Twitter, and the like was if anything even worse,” then discusses an article by Laurie Penny in New Statesman, called “On Nerd Entitlement: White Male Nerds Need To Recognize That Other People Had Traumatic Upbringings Too And That’s Different From Structural Oppression”:
Feminism is not to blame for making life hell for “shy, nerdy men”. It is a real shame that Aaronson picked up Andrea Dworkin rather than any of the many feminist theorists and writers who manage to combine raw rage with refusal to resort to sexual shame as an instructive tool. Weaponised shame – male, female or other – has no place in any feminism I subscribe to.
I live in a world where feminists throwing weaponized shame at nerds is an obvious and inescapable part of daily life. Whether we’re “mouth-breathers”, “pimpled”, “scrawny”, “blubbery”, “sperglord”, “neckbeard”, “virgins”, “living in our parents’ basements”, “man-children” or whatever the insult du jour is, it’s always, always, ALWAYS a self-identified feminist saying it. Sometimes they say it obliquely, referring to a subgroup like “bronies” or “atheists” or “fedoras” while making sure everyone else in nerddom knows it’s about them too. …
But it’s not just that. Try to look up something on Iron Man, and you get an article on Iron Man-Child and how “the white maleness of geek culture” proves they are “the most useless and deficient individuals in society, precisely because they have such a delusional sense of their own importance and entitlements.”…
Let’s recap, because this has gotten a little long. Aaronson states that he is “97%” on board with feminism, and explains that his 3% reservation is due to feminism making him feel suicidal for the sin of finding women attractive. Feminists respond with incredible cruelty. One feminist claims that in her universe, feminists aren’t cruel. Alexander responds, with evidence, that feminists are constantly cruel, at least toward people like him and Aaronson.
Ms. Penny, I’m pretty sure gaslighting and lying are also signs of being in a cult.
Just how bad is the left? And are they actually any worse than the right? Perhaps both sides just have their bad apples…
And let’s not forget the recent violent riots at Berkley, which according to CNN caused $100,000 in damages, (mostly to innocent nearby businesses like refugee-supporting Starbucks,) nor the recent incident at Middlebury, in which a mob of students attempted to shut down a speech by Charles Murray and violently assaulted a professor, who ended up in the hospital:
The more exclusive the university, the richer and more liberal the students. The less exclusive, the poorer and more conservative. Ironically, it’s these elite students (who benefit most from “privilege”) who are violently opposing speakers in the name of “equality,” not conservatives at little podunk-Us.
(In other words, folks like Amanda Marcotte and the instigators of online Twitter mobs are probably sociopaths. The internet has created an environment where sociopathic behavior can thrive under the guise of “morally courageous action”)
So, to answer our question… No.
V. Here’s some more cultish material from the SJWs:
“Everybody to the right of us is literally Hitler.”
Dozens of media outlets all using the exact same language:
Meanwhile, one of the most prestigious newspapers in the country would like you to know that Super Mario Run is sexist and bad for children.
Yeah, there’s nothing at all creepy or harmful about preventing your children from consuming completely innocuous children’s media, cutting them off from the common cultural knowledge of their peer group.
Oh, and by the way, 1985 wasn’t some Dark Age of sexism–we are talking about the era of Great Britain’s first female Prime Minister, after all.
Meanwhile, from the “bodypositivists,” “we don’t understand how attraction works”:
Meanwhile, Ivy League University Penn is apparently a hotbed of racism:
And for students whose professors are insufficiently racist, SJWs have put together a handy guide to making family gatherings as unplesant as possible:
VI. Let’s have some conclusions.
Regardless of what you think of leftists in general–and I know many leftists who are basically good-hearted, well-intentioned people–the extreme left, born of academia and particularly active on the internet, works like a cult.
This is a difficult position to explain to someone who has not experienced it personally, or seen a loved one affected by it. During the long process by which this blog came to exist, I struggled to reconcile my own morality–my sense of myself as a “good person”–with the statistical data I was reading. How could a good person believe in statistical differences between groups in criminal offending rates, or measured IQ scores? Did merely believing such a thing make me a bad person?
I tended to keep such ideas to myself; far more innocuous statements in conversation with friends and acquaintances were often responded to with anger, threats, or explicit shunning. I lost most of my college-friends due to shunning, and I’ve had it far better than some.
Since abandoning my identity as a leftist, I’ve also abandoned the idea that my morality is based in believing the correct things. If tomorrow I discovered that there are no group-level differences in IQ or criminal behavior, this would change nothing about how I see myself. (In fact, I’d be perfectly pleased by such a discovery.) Rather, I see my morality in how I treat those around me–family, friends, random strangers I meet in everyday life.
When ideas spread because they are true or useful, they make life better. The Germ Theory of Disease has saved billions of lives. Belief in Santa Claus makes children happy, even if he isn’t real.
But sometimes ideas spread even though they fundamentally lack utility. The classic example of this is the chain letter, which people spread because it tells them to, even though it contains nothing of worth. The modern version of the chain letter are Facebook Memes that say things like, “99% of people don’t love Jesus enough to repost this meme” or “If you really love your relative with cancer, you’ll repost this meme,” or “90% of people can’t answer this simple math problem!” It’s easy to see how #activism slides into pure meme re-posting.
These sorts of memes are annoying but fairly harmless. It’s when memes mutate into ideologies that judge the essential goodness of their believers on their willingness to devote their lives to spreading the meme that they become dangerous. You end up with purity spirals that end in martyrdom–self-sacrifice for the spread of the meme. The spread of such ideas through society can be see, quite reasonably, as cancerous.
Easy Nofemela remembers the evening Amy Biehl died. … a mob of angry young men was looking for symbols of white rule to destroy.
Then the men spotted Biehl, blond and blue-eyed, as she drove through the township in her yellow Mazda.
“Rocks were being thrown at Amy’s car. She got out and ran, and she was stabbed right over there,” Nofemela says, pointing to a patch of grass next to a service station, now planted with a small cross.
Nofemela remembers, 15 years later, because he was part of the mob that killed Amy Biehl.
What he didn’t know then was that Biehl was hardly a symbol of apartheid. She was a Fulbright scholar studying the lives of women in South Africa, a 26-year-old Stanford graduate with a plane ticket for home the next day, from an airport 10 minutes away. …
Today, Nofemela, a compact 37-year-old with a shaved head and a quick wit, is the father of a young girl. And, in an improbable tale of forgiveness and redemption, he and Ntobeko Peni, another of the men convicted of the murder, now work for the charity Biehl’s parents founded here after she was killed. …
An engaging woman of 65 with a blond bob and a warm smile, she has grown exceptionally close to her daughter’s killers. “Easy and Ntobeko are fascinating and I really do love them,” she says. “They have given me so much.”
Linda Biehl and her late husband, Peter, launched the Amy Biehl Foundation in 1994 with donations that arrived, unsolicited, from strangers moved by the news of their daughter’s death. Today, it runs after-school programs for youngsters in Guguletu and other townships and squatter camps that took root during the apartheid era on the Cape flats, about 10 miles east of Cape Town.
Guys, if anyone ever murders me, I encourage you to murder them back.
(I divided the spreadsheet so it would fit comfortably on your screen.)
So I got curious about trends in the Southern election data, (see yesterday’s post on Northern election data and last week’s post about my migration/Civil War theory,) thinking to myself that perhaps an opposite trend happened in the South–maybe poor sods who couldn’t catch a break in slavery-dominated states decided to go test their luck on the frontier, leaving behind a remnant population of pro-slavery voters.
I took as the “South” all of the states south of the Mason-Dixon. This turned out to be incorrect for Delaware and Maryland, which both tended to vote against the Southern states; Delaware, IIRC, voted with Massachusetts more often than “Northern” New Jersey.
The practice of having the legislators rather than citizens vote for president persisted for longer in the South than in the North, especially in SC, which did not have popular voting until after the Civil War; all of SC’s votes here, therefore, come from the legislature.
A “yes” vote means the state voted with the Southern Block during the age before individual vote counts were recorded or the state did not allow individual voting. A “no” vote means the state voted against the Southern Block under the same circumstances.
Originally I had planned on using VA as my touchstone for determining the “Southern” candidates, but VA did not always vote with the rest of the South. So I decided which candidates were the “Southern” ones based primarily on how badly they polled in MA.
A few of the elections had some weird anomalies.
Four candidates ran in the 1824 election. Only one of them was popular in NE, so that was easy, but the other three each won electors in the South, which resulted in the election being decided by the House of Representatives. In this case, Jackson carried most of the Southern states, but not VA or KY, so I decided to count only votes for Jackson.
In 1832, SC decided to cast all of its votes for the “Nullification” (State’s Rights) party. Since “States Rights” is the more polite form of Civil War grievances, I decided to count this as SC voting in line with pro-slavery interests, even though it was not in line with the other Southern states.
In 28 and 32, the states of Georgia, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Alabama seem unsure how this “voting” thing works, and returned unanimous or near votes for their chosen candidates. Many Northern states also had anomalously high percents in those yeas, IIRC, so this may not be voter fraud so much as everyone just feeling like they ought to vote for the same guy.
In 1836, the Whigs ran four candidates in hopes of throwing the election to the House again, resulting in a fragmented Southern block. I counted all Whig candidates as part of the MA/Puritan side, and so give here the vote percents for Van Buren, the Democratic candidate.
In 1856, the Whig party had disintegrated, and two parties took its place. The Republicans, soon to be very famously anti-slavery, emerged in the North but do not appear to have run at all in the South; I don’t think they were even on the Southern ballots. In the South, an anti-immigrant/nativist party sprang up to balance the Democrats. It won few states, but performed well overall. I couldn’t decide whether to count the Democrats or the nativists as the more pro-South / pro-slavery party, so I wrote down both %s, Dems first and then nativists.
This oddity persists in 1860, when again the Republicans do not appear to have even been on the Southern ballots. The Democrats split in two, with one candidate running in the North against Lincoln, and another candidate running in the South on an explicitly pro-slavery platform, against the the “pro-union” party whose main platform was opposing the civil war. The Union party polled decently throughout the South–taking VA, KY, and Tenn.–but received very low %s in the North. The North, it appears, was not as concerned with trying to stop the Civil War as Virginia was.
The data does not support my suspicion that less-slavery-minded people moved out of the Southern states. In fact, the most ardently pro-slavery, pro-secession states were Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, and Texas, who also happen to be the last 5 Southern states admitted to the Union, with last but not least Texas outstripping them all at 75%. In that same election, Virginia, the first Southern state, voted for the pro-union party.
So it looks like the same pattern appears here as in the Northern data: more conservative people have moved Westward.
However, the %s voting for the Southern candidates held fairly steady once the era of unanimous voting ended. Georgia, for example, went from 48% 1836 in to 49% in 1860. Mississippi went from 59% to 59%. VA hovered around 55%-50% until the last election. So I don’t see any clear trend of coastal states becoming more liberal over time, aside from maybe VA.
The “other”, somewhat by definition, is not someone you are particularly well-acquainted with. This is not generally a matter of malice–there are about 7.5 billion people in this world, and you’re only capable of really getting to know a couple hundred, at best. Even if you spent years of your life living in different countries, you’d still only manage to sample a small selection of the world’s people. For better or worse, most people out there are strangers.
People profess to care a lot about strangers. In a recent example, lots of people who aren’t gay and do not live in Indiana or run bakeries became very worried about laws affecting gay people and bakeries in Indiana. Your particular opinion on the subject is, I’m sure, absolutely the correct one, but that’s beside my point–the point is, it’s highly unlikely that you, the reader of this post, are actually affected by the legislation or even know anyone who is, just because the chances that you live in Indiana and are a baker or are gay are low. Your opinions are basically in support of (or against) someone else–total strangers.
There are three reasons to be skeptical of just about any conversation that hinges heavily on professed interest in the well-being of strangers:
1. Low information: We aren’t there; we aren’t on the ground; we don’t know these people and what they’re really going through. We’re getting our information second or third or more-hand. There is always a good chance that we are completely wrong.
2. No negative impact from being wrong: If I advocate for a water-conservation strategy for California that turns out to be totally wrong, Californians will suffer, not me. If I advocate a bad foreign policy position, foreigners will suffer, not me. If I advocate for laws that harm people or businesses in Indiana, I remain unharmed.
3. People don’t really care about strangers: Most people care deeply about their close friends and family, their pets, and some groups they identify with, like “Harley riders,” “Linux users,” or Muslims. They don’t actually care that much about strangers. The average American, for example, spends more money feeding cats than feeding starving children in Africa.
All of which means that even the best-intentioned people are often completely wrong, and factors other than rationally constructed, reasonably cautious, genuine concern for others tends to motivate us without us even noticing.
The myth of the “Noble Savage” is a fine example. It is generally credited to Rousseau, though probably someone else thought of the idea before he did, but the idea didn’t really gain too much currency while Euros while still busy killing “savages.” Other or not, you’re unlikely to be inclined to romanticize people you’re killing, and some folks–headhunters, cannibals, the Aztecs, King Gezo of the Benin Empire–were actually pretty horrifying. The notion that life in the “state of nature” was “nasty, brutish, and short,” had a lot of merit.
Still, neither Hobbes nor Rousseau (nor Locke) was actually advocating policies meant to affect “savages”; they utilize notions of the primitive “other” to advocate policies for their own societies.
Between lurid tales of head-hunting cannibals and depictions of dire, third-world poverty, it is pretty easy to see how people used these ideas to boost notions of Euro-exceptionalism and justify slavery, colonialism, war, and other horrors.
After WWII, people were justly pretty horrified at Euros and stopped believing Euro culture was all that–noble, enlightened Europeans looked just as bad as everybody else on the planet, except that now some of us were armed with nukes instead of pointy sticks and rocks, which is a pretty worrying situation.
So the savages got re-written. Anthropology, archaeology, linguistics, even commercials urging people not to litter began pushing the new narrative that non-Euros were, to put it plainly, better than Euros. American Indians became spiritual curators of nature; stone-age people became peaceful matriarchists; ethnographies were written portraying hunter-gatherer tribes as bastions of non-violent cooperation.
Many of the new narratives were total, factual nonsense. Indians don’t have an exceptional environmental record (though they did historically lack the tech and density levels to do too much damage.) There was no universal stone-age matriarchy. And most hunter-gatherers actually have pretty high murder rates.
But that’s all beside the point; that was never the point. No one wrote ethnographies about the Bushmen with the intention of somehow affecting the Bushmen (who couldn’t read them, anyway.) The point of all these stories is to change the self; to influence one’s own society to rise to the level of these mythic, noble savages.
This is the purpose of most myths: to instruct people in proper morality and inspire them to behave well. Done well, myths probably aren’t particularly problematic.
There are some problems to watch out for, though:
1. The “other” isn’t actually mythic. They are real people, and claiming total nonsense about them can have real effects on them (good or bad).
2. A mythos of self-hate can do actual harm to yourself/the people you were trying to inspire to be better.
3. I have an irrational affection for honesty.
(I suppose, 4. Saying really incorrect things about other people can make you sound dumb, but this is a minor issue.)
A lot of our tribal signaling (ie, “politics”) is conducted via expressing opinions about the other. Homosexuality, as previously referenced, is a good example of this; gay folks are only about 3% of the population (and gay people who want to get married are an even smaller %,) so most people expressing opinions on the subject don’t actually know that many gay people. If they turn out to be wrong, well, it’s not them and it’s not their friends, so there’s not that much incentive to be correct. But if socially signalling group membership is of direct benefit to the individual (which it generally is,) then people will signal group membership by saying whatever is useful to say about others–and reality be damned.
So I happened to be browsing Stanford Magazine, and happened across two articles immediately in a row on religious issues. Each had a picture:
The contrast between the level of respect for the religion/religious believers in question really couldn’t be starker.
The respectable lady is Jane Shaw, Stanford’s new Dean of Religious life, notable for being both the first woman to hold the position and the first gay person. A few quotes from her article:
“Q. At Grace Cathedral and at Oxford, you led programs far afield from what might be considered religious: Hosting forums with politicians, activists and authors; bringing in atheists and believers; and commissioning artists-in-residence to create plays and installations. What’s your guiding light?
A. I don’t think I am a very churchy person, if that makes sense. I have always been interested in how you engage people in discussing questions of ultimate meaning, really—values, ethics, spirituality, all that stuff.
Q. But do you also value the “churchy” side of faith?
A. Ritual and liturgy? I love it.
Q. What new directions will you bring to Stanford?
A. …It is certainly my desire to make sure that Memorial Church is a place for extremely lively intellectual engagement, a place where possibly difficult issues can be discussed, a place where ethical and spiritual issues can be discussed. I am hoping we’ll have different sorts of people preaching here as guest preachers, not just clergy.”
The second photo is most likely a van owned by an unmedicated schizophrenic. You’d be forgiven if you therefore assumed the second article had something to do with mental illness.
It’s actually an interview with Stanford alum Kathryn Gin Lum about her new book, “Damned Nation: Hell in America from the Revolution to Reconstruction.”
Right. So whoever put the picture on this article equates the faith of the Founding Fathers (and many Americans today) with literal mental illness.
To be clear, Lum herself does not appear to be condescending toward the people/beliefs she studied, but her interview reveals that respect for the views of 60% of Americans is not common in our nation’s most respected centers of academic thought:
“Separate from any personal considerations, hell seemed to offer the best intellectual grist. ‘People in the academy,’ says Lum, tend to dismiss the notion that any consideration of hell could drive ‘how rational people think.'”
“Does hell have contemporary relevance, despite its lousy reputation in higher education?
“Strongly, thinks Lum. Much of her analysis highlights the connection between ‘people who believe in hell’ and their impulse ‘to damn other people to it.’ It’s that sensibility about calling out the world’s evils, says Lum, that suffuses today’s hot-button issues, including abortion and same-sex marriage.”
(Note that whatever insights she may have about rational people who believe in hell, or any potential good sides to the belief, the article does not mention them. It only mentions the ways in which people who believe in hell are problematic for the rest of the country. Those darn hell-believers, mucking things up for everyone else.)
“Writing about hell’s pertinence, Lum notes in her epilogue, ‘is to invite raised eyebrows.’ Her interest in the subject, she adds, has stirred reactions like ‘But you look so well-adjusted!'”
All right, so let’s review:
According to Stanford, a gay woman who isn’t very “churchy” but likes discussing ethics is one of the country’s best religious leaders, and the 60% of Americans who believe in Hell are literally insane and make trouble for everyone else.
One set of religious views is respected. The other is not.
Now, let’s try to imagine a contemporary article from any sort of respectable college or university (not one of the ones that make you mutter and stare at your feet while admitting that one of your relations was interested in the school,) that conveys the inverse: respect for people who believe in hell; disrespect for gays, women, and people whose faith isn’t based on Biblical inerrancy.
Can you? Maybe Harvard? Yale? Oberlin? CalTech? Reed? Fine, how about BYU? No, probably not even them.
I can’t imagine it. A hundred years ago, maybe. Today, no. Such notions are completely incompatible with the beliefs of modern, upper-class people.
I know many perfectly decent folks who believe in hell, and think they should be respected, but “be decent to people who hold denigrated religious beliefs” is not actually my point. My point is that the American upper class, academia, and the people with a great deal of power and influence over the beliefs of others clearly agrees with Pastor Shaw’s religious beliefs (when it is not outright atheist). Upper-class liberals in America are their own ethnic group with their own religion, culture, morality, and endogamous breeding habits. Conservatives are the out-group, their religious views openly mocked by the upper class and banned from the halls of academic thought.
Thing is, we happen to live, more or less, in a democracy.
One of the intended effects of democracy is that even groups with no real power can still express themselves via voting. If you have the numbers and bother to go to the polls, you can get someone in who more or less kinda sorta might represent your views.
As a result, even though conservatives are low-class and not cultural or intellectual movers and shakers, they can still influence who gets to be president or in Congress, and thus pass laws on things like abortion and stem cell research.
As a result, a group that has very little power in real life may end up with a fair amount via elections.
Think of it as a for of political power redistribution.
Western moral philosophy is completely broken because “academics” do not understand the basics of how morality works.
Normal people understand morality. People who were dropped on their heads as infants generally understand morality. Philosopher Adam Smith, however, thinks,
‘What we realised we needed was a way of thinking about what it was we wanted to allow parents to do for their children, and what it was that we didn’t need to allow parents to do for their children, if allowing those activities would create unfairnesses for other people’s children’.
The test they devised was based on what they term ‘familial relationship goods’; those unique and identifiable things that arise within the family unit and contribute to the flourishing of family members.
For Swift, there’s one particular choice that fails the test.
‘Private schooling cannot be justified by appeal to these familial relationship goods,’ he says. ‘It’s just not the case that in order for a family to realise these intimate, loving, authoritative, affectionate, love-based relationships you need to be able to send your child to an elite private school.’
“I don’t think parents reading their children bedtime stories should constantly have in their minds the way that they are unfairly disadvantaging other people’s children, but I think they should have that thought occasionally,”
Jesus effin’ Christ, this guy is an idiot.
Of course, anyone who studies inequality and sets themselves up as an expert on the issue and says things like, “I had done some work on social mobility and the evidence is overwhelmingly that the reason why children born to different families have very different chances in life is because of what happens in those families,” is an idiot. We have studies on these nifty people called “identical twins” and what happens when they are adopted by two different families and raised in different environments.
What happens is not very much. Within the normal range of parenting (like, not beating your children and locking them in the closet,) measurable life outcomes like criminality, IQ, income, etc., have more to do with the kids’ genes than with their adoptive parents’ parenting.
(Where parenting probably does matter is how much your kids like you. If you’re a jerk to them, they probably won’t call you very often.)
So, no, inequality is not caused by people reading bedtime books to their kids. It’s not caused by sending them to private school, and parents sure as hell don’t need philosophers to come up with complicated theories to justify being nice to their kids, because normal people don’t suffer these delusions.
“According to Swift, from a purely instrumental position the answer is straightforward.
‘One way philosophers might think about solving the social justice problem would be by simply abolishing the family. If the family is this source of unfairness in society then it looks plausible to think that if we abolished the family there would be a more level playing field.’”
Riiiight. Remember, you pay actual money to send your kids to university so they can be taught by these people.
“‘When we talk about parents’ rights, we’re talking about the person who is parenting the child. How you got to be parenting the child is another issue. One implication of our theory is that it’s not one’s biological relation that does much work in justifying your rights with respect to how the child is parented.’
For Swift and Brighouse, our society is curiously stuck in a time warp of proprietorial rights: if you biologically produce a child you own it.”
This is because most humans would knife you before letting you take their children away from them, because the instinct to take care of our children is a basic biological drive honed by thousands of years of evolution. Morality is an evolved instinct for taking care of our children. If you don’t understand that, then you don’t understand morality, though you might get by simply by listening to the collective wisdom of thousands of generations of your ancestors who managed to successfully raise children.
“Then, does the child have a right to be parented by her biological parents? Swift has a ready answer.
‘It’s true that in the societies in which we live, biological origins do tend to form an important part of people’s identities, but that is largely a social and cultural construction. So you could imagine societies in which the parent-child relationship could go really well even without there being this biological link.’”
I am normally a peaceful person, but this guy actually inspires a deep, burning hatred, but that might just be my fear that this guy is going to try to kidnap my children speaking.
Rights are a social construct. Ethnicity is kind of a construct, and kind of a biological reality. Identifying with and getting along with one’s parents is based entirely in reality. It has to do with things like “are my parents jerks?” and “Do my parents understand me?”
So let me tell you a little secret of some relevance: I was adopted. My adoptive family was very loving and very kind. I am now, as an adult, in contact with my biological family, from whom I was, shall we say, unjustly removed. My biological family is also very loving and kind. No one here was jerkfaces; I am grateful to everyone.
I have a much, much stronger connection with the biological family I only met as an adult than I have with the adoptive family that actually raised me. I can’t help it. These people are like me in deep, fundamental ways. They have the same or similar hobbies as I do. They struggle with similar problems. They reason about the world in the same ways. We have instant shortcuts to understanding each other.
So, even though my adoptive family was super-loving and awesome and I love them and so on, the idea of trying to run a whole society like this, the idea of depriving everyone in society of that basic instinctual connection with the people around them that you non-adopted people don’t even realize you have, is kind of horrifying.