Sometimes, ancestry matters

I’ve written before, on several occasions, about solving the problem of racism by strict individualism – a studied refusal to allow what we know about genetic population differences and differing means in measures like IQ to distort our judgment of individuals. The bell curve is not the point; the mass is not the individual. Ancestry is not destiny. Sanity demands that we recognize the difference.

But ancestry may matter after all. I’m going to tell you a personal story now about one of the most powerful moments in my life. I’m not sure what it meant, or if it meant anything at all. But it was certainly interesting to live through.

To understand this story, you have to know at least two things about me. One is about my twenty-year attachment to Asian hand-to-hand martial arts. The other is where my ancestors were from.

I’ve been training in various Asian hand-to-hand styles since 1982, and seriously since 1990. Shotokan, tae kwon do, aikido, wing chun, and the variant jiu jitsu that’s part of MMA. Some bits and pieces of other stuff, too – Japanese sword and staff and naginata, Philippine stick-fighting, the odd move from penjak silat. I’ve been both a student and instructor (and a pretty capable instructor, at that – one of my frustrations is that my teaching ability often exceeds my physical skills). I love this stuff, and I’ve reached the point where I eat new styles like candy. Once I’ve got a decent handle on MMA, krav maga will probably be next.

It wouldn’t be stretching things at all to say that being a martial artist, in the sense loosely defined by the whole mutually-influencing Asian group of hand-to-hand traditions, is an important part of my identity — my own sense of who I am. I have many of the indicia you’d expect with that; I love wu xia movies, I’m attracted to and strongly influenced by Zen Buddhism, and I was all excited the first time I went to Japan because it’s the motherland of so many of these hand-to-hand styles.

But I’m not genetically Asian at all. Oh boy am I not. My ancestry is a mix of French, Irish, Scots, and I think mostly – on both sides – Rhinelander Germans. My father’s family hailed from Alsace-Lorraine, probably petty gentry; my mother’s ancestors were Swiss-German burghers from the region of Zurich. My genes are written in my face and build; I’ve been to Zurich, and the locals there thought I looked Swiss-German, and I did notice that I disappeared on those streets. I have blue eyes and pale freckly skin and was blond as a child; other than the odd bit of Amerind that family tradition ascribes, I’m about as white as a white boy can get.

This has never mattered to me much. Most of my impressionable years were spent outside the U.S., so I never acquired any of the American neuroses about race, neither the prejudices nor the guilt. I was a crib bilingual and changed continents (not to say countries) every few years as a child; cosmopolitanism is in my bones. I had to learn adaptability back then, so my level of do-not-care about tribal/ethnic markers like skin color or what language people speak is very high.

My ancestry or “race”, accordingly, is not a central part of my self-definition. Certainly not the way being a martial artist or a hacker is; the former is an accident of birth, the latter two are things I chose and reaffirmed through hard work over many years.

I guess there’s actually a third piece of necessary background: I’m not romantic about swords. I know this because I have lots of friends who are. I can use one competently, thank you, but I learned how in order to extend my general competence as a martial artist rather than from having an attachment to that weapon. Being a swordsman wasn’t a major childhood fantasy for me; in fact, when I saw the classic Errol Flynn movie version of Robin Hood, the part that made me go “I wanna do that!” wasn’t the famous duel with Guy of Gisbourne, it was the quarterstaff fight with Little John.

OK, that’s all the scene-setting. Now for the story…

In 2005 I went to my first sword camp. I got six days of tough, physically and mentally demanding training. How to move. How to strike with a sword. How to parry. How to block with a shield. And at night I had to watch tournaments and battles…passed swordsmen having huge fun that I couldn’t join because I hadn’t passed my Basic qualification yet. It was quite frustrating.

In the training as it was then done, your graduation day ended with a passage ordeal called the Hundred and began with your first fight. That is, your first duel with another student, as opposed to just drilling in moves and fighting techniques. On the word of my instructor, I took up sword and shield, faced my opponent across the duelling ground, and we saluted each other.

Remember the moment in the first Lord of the Rings movie where Aragorn salutes the Witch-King with his sword before fighting him? Like that; a considered gesture of respect to the foe, a mark of chivalry, an affirmation of the warrior’s own honor. And, as I saluted, I had a moment outside time.

Suddenly everything clicked. This was right in a way that, oddly, I’d never quite felt in twenty years of Asian hand-to-hand. I had bowed to an opponent before, of course…but as I brought the sword up to my face in salute I felt as though three thousand years of the shades of my ancestors had suddenly materialized behind me, nodding and smiling and with a great silent shout of “THIS IS WHAT YOU ARE!”. And I remembered that, after all, my ancestors hadn’t been peasants in the Yangtze Valley or the Kanto plain; they were tribesmen in the great forests of Iron Age Europe. And the sword and the shield and I were one.

Five years later, I still don’t know quite what that moment meant or where it come from. Because I’m still not romantic about swords. And what I was left with all those possibly-fictive ghosts had registered their approval wasn’t Aryan pride, it was bemusement. Huh…so my ancestry matters after all. Who knew?

108 thoughts on “Sometimes, ancestry matters

  1. Humans use tools. A sword is a tool. In picking up a sword, you become more human.

    Incidentally, one of my favorite aspects of kendo is the equalizing aspect of our chosen tool. Small middle-aged women routinely beat giant 20yo men, in a way they don’t in any other martial art I’ve seen.

  2. There is a lot of the warrior in the blood of those of Northern European descent.

    It still matters.

  3. It was Guy of Gisbourne, not the fat Sheriff of Nottingham.

    My daughter and I watched it recently.

    Totally off-topic: Have you seen Primer?

    ESR says: Correction accepted, and no I haven’t.

  4. Warning! If you don’t want a comedown, skip to the next comment!

    The whole feeling makes you feel wonderful, but it’s most probably biologically driven. It’s built into us to feel these identifications with our ancestors. It leads us to do things that preserve and continue our genetic lines. Face it…it was your selfish genes screaming at you, not all those dark age warriors.

    I’ve noticed that whenever people talk about their ancestry (or maybe their ‘previous lives’) they always mention the ancient warrior or the Egyptian princess. Never hear about a peasant or an ancient garbage collector….

  5. I’ve noticed that whenever people talk about their ancestry (or maybe their ‘previous lives’) they always mention the ancient warrior or the Egyptian princess. Never hear about a peasant or an ancient garbage collector….

    True. But my family ancestory has been traced, and on my father’s side, I’m a direct-line descendant of the Plantagenets. Yes, those Plantagenets. :) There’s a lot of Irish and English ancestory in there, too.

    My mother’s side is all German. That’s about all I know. Probably peasants.

    FWIW, I agree that ancestry matters. That’s why I find a special affinity for Norse and Irish/Celtic mythology.

  6. >Face it…it was your selfish genes screaming at you, not all those dark age warriors.

    I said in the original post I didn’t know what the experience meant. Your theory is at least as plausible as any other.

  7. >Never hear about a peasant or an ancient garbage collector….

    Well, my whatever-it-was experience seemed mostly focused on preliterate Iron-Age tribesmen, not feudal nobles. Those societies had little in the way of specialization; all adult males were warriors, even if their day job was peasantry or garbage collecting.

  8. If your family came from northern Europe, chances are many of your ancestors were familiar with sword and shield, especially on the Nordic/Germanic side. They didn’t have to be noblemen. Later on the Swiss pikes were all commoners.

    Only the French were stupid enough to try to keep weapons from the peasants. Can you say jaquerie?

  9. Great Wall of Text Alert! http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/WallOfText?from=Main.WallsOfText

    It may have more to do with the /why/ and /how/ of those actions than the /where/. (Note this is all conjecture from the actions and war styles.) Think of where bowing comes from. Do you think of soldiers on the battlefield, or courtiers in the court? Bowing is just as much a mark of respect as saluting, but /what/ it is respecting is different. Bowing says something along the lines of ‘I’m not worthy’. Sure, its moderated from the original prostrating, but its still at heart an averting of the eyes, turning your face away. Contrast saluting, where, in every form I’ve read of, both people look straight ahead, either at each other or fixed upon an empty point, depending on the era and professionalism the saluter is trying to impart. Note also that you can do things while saluting, like run past the salutee, whereas bowing fixes you in place.

    Now, how about a stab at why? I think that has more to do with the resources of the areas than the peoples. Or rather, the peoples came about because of differences in both iron availability and food production. Europe had much more and better iron deposits than Asia. As a result, with the exception of the nomadic horse from the steppes, there was a clear divide between those who worked the land and those who lived off those who worked it. The peasants had little more than clothes for armor, converted farm implements (or spears if they were lucky), just about no training, and mostly were severely malnourished. The nobles, on the other hand, had steel swords, horses, actual armor, spent all their lives training, and were rich enough to get a variety of food. To them, the only ones worth saluting were nobles too. The practice of both bowing probably started as a tribute to the “equality of the battlefield” or something similar. (Sorry for the cynicism, been reading the Safehold series.)

    Euorpeans turn! In contrast to their oriental counterparts, European peasantry enjoyed the fruits of more iron and better crops. (Seriously, read Guns Germs and Steel. Wheat is second only to one other crop which didn’t become widespread because it is hard to use.) From there, occidental peasants had steel-tipped weapons, some sort of light armor, varying levels of training, and actually got protein despite not getting meat. Of course, the nobles still got a lot better food than them, swords, horses, steel armor, and trained their entire lives. But they needed their own infantry and couldn’t dismiss the enemy’s, as much as some tried. As a result, (helped by mercenaries such as Swiss pikemen, Italian crossbowmen, English longbows, and Germanic landschneckt, who all started as peasants) European nobles respected their pedestrian compatriots (at least some of them). They might even have been /trained/ by a non-noble, which would have been impossible in the East.

    In summary, its the motion, not the people. Or I might just be making a bunch of stuff up without realizing it. But it would definitely be fun to both the appropriate historian about combat rituals in the East vs West.

  10. See, I don’t get the Zen Buddhism thing. It’s still Buddhism…. and I’m not a romantic about Buddhism.

  11. “Of course most people underestimate the warrior characteristics of the Anglo-Saxon and Norman peoples anyway. It takes a heap of piety to keep a Viking from wanting to go sack a city.”
    * Reply to reader email in Chaos Manor Mail 141, February 19-25, 2001

    Given that most of northern Europe is a beneficiary of the Viking World Beautification Program (Remember boys…it’s rape, loot, pillage and *then* burn) I would expect there were a bunch of Norse in that spectral crowd, giving you encouragement.

  12. >I would expect there were a bunch of Norse in that spectral crowd, giving you encouragement.

    Yeah. At least some of my ancestors seem to have been Norman French. and you know what that means – Rollo the Dane’s raiders from 888. And I think I’ve been mistaken for a native in every Scandinavian country I’ve visited; I know for sure it happened in Norway.

  13. >See, I don’t get the Zen Buddhism thing

    The major premise is broken, but some of the meditative techniques are useful. Especially to martial artists.

  14. >My ancestry or “race”, accordingly, is not a central part of my self-definition.

    This is an example of “white privilege”. It’s really easy for whites to exclude race from their self-definition; not so much for non-whites.

    >The major premise is broken

    Most of what I “know” about Zen comes from Gödel, Escher, Bach. Care to elaborate?

  15. >This is an example of “white privilege”.

    When I hear the phrase “white privilege”, I know that the rest of whatever conversation remains will be full of moaning, gullt-tripping, kafkatraps, self-flagellation, and no actual merit or idea content whatsoever.

    >Most of what I “know” about Zen comes from Gödel, Escher, Bach. Care to elaborate?

    Not in this thread. I’ll probably post about it sometime.

  16. >When I hear the phrase “white privilege”, I know that the rest of whatever conversation remains will be full of moaning, gullt-tripping, kafkatraps, self-flagellation, and no actual merit or idea content whatsoever.

    That’s a Model L kafkatrap right there:

    “Your insistence on applying rational skepticism in evaluating assertions of pervasive {irrational political correctness} itself demonstrates that you are {irrationally politically correct}.”

  17. > >Never hear about … an ancient garbage collector….

    One of the earliest ancestors I have identified is known by name because, several centuries ago, he was fined for dumping manure on the highway.

    But I’ve always harbored a suspicion that I inherited some important genes from him, because he wasn’t just fined for dumping manure on the highway, he was fined for dumping manure on the King’s highway.

    “Let tyrants shake…”

  18. >That’s a Model L kafkatrap right there:

    No, I concede that it is possible in principle for claims about “white privilege” to mean something – it’s not logically impossible. It’s just never happened anywhere I could see it, and I evaluate the probability that this will change in the future as very low. My mind could, however, be changed by contrary evidence. A kafkatrap, OTOH, has to be unfalsfiable by evidence; if it doesn’t induce epistemic closure it’s not doing its job.

    Anyway, the Model L template specifically wouldn’t fit here even if my claim had been unfalsifiable. Among other reasons asserting that “X is an example of white privilege” is not an example of rational skepticism; that is, there is no claim which it is skeptically refuting.

  19. >No, I concede that it is possible in principle for claims about “white privilege” to mean something – it’s not logically impossible. It’s just never happened anywhere I could see it,

    My claim about “white privilege” is this: Being able to ignore race when forming you identity is beneficial to you. There are other individuals, who happen not to be white, who do not have this benefit.

    I would suggest that this claim is both meaningful and true.

    >My mind could, however, be changed by contrary evidence. A kafkatrap, OTOH, has to be unfalsfiable by evidence; if it doesn’t induce epistemic closure it’s not doing its job.

    You’ve created a panchreston to explain any evidence I might submit to you (i.e. anything I say is the ravings of a left-wing meme-bot). This allows you to ignore any evidence, creating a firewall between evidence and claim. Your implicit claim then becomes rhetorically (if not logically) unfalsifiable.

    >Anyway, the Model L template specifically wouldn’t fit here even if my claim had been unfalsifiable. Among other reasons asserting that “X is an example of white privilege” is not an example of rational skepticism; that is, there is no claim which it is skeptically refuting.

    This suggests a need for a parallel set of templates to characterise kafkatraps from the other side of the debate. It would be a shame if the anti-PC crowd didn’t have the ability to recognise and remove kafkatrappers from its ranks.

  20. >(i.e. anything I say is the ravings of a left-wing meme-bot)

    Sometime you might try falsifying this by not actually sounding exactly like a left-wing memebot. More surprising things have occurred, sometimes even when I was watching.

  21. >Sometime you might try falsifying this by not actually sounding exactly like a left-wing memebot. More surprising things have occurred, sometimes even when I was watching.

    Perhaps we could agree on some sort of short-hand, e.g. {insert mindless abuse here ___}?. Then I could fill in the gap myself, and you could use the time saved typing all that out to come up with a rational response.

  22. pete, have you actually tried talking to someone who isn’t of the majority race to see if they feel the way you claim? Cuz if not, then you’re just speculating about how people of a certain race feel based on their race. And if you ask me, that’s racism (all $X of race $Y think the same thing — structurally racist every time).

    And Eric was just pointing out that the phrase “white privilege” is a marker for low-quality conversations. Feel free to contradict him, but so far, it’s dark and your head is covered in poo.

  23. You should look into ninjitsu – i think you would find it interesting. Its moves are such that with sword, or without one, the footwork never changes.

  24. >pete, have you actually tried talking to someone who isn’t of the majority race to see if they feel the way you claim?

    I’d like to see him try this on with, say, my Laotian gaming buddy Mike or my Vietnamese gaming buddy Vienh. East Asians in the U.S. are a trouble case for racial-grievance peddlers because they have what pete calls “white privilege” without actually being, you know, white.

  25. > Feel free to contradict him, but so far, it’s dark and your head is covered in poo.

    Says the man who had to resign because of something he said that was taken as racially charged.

  26. I fenced at school and, a few years later, studied shotokan karate to brown belt level. I would tend to agree with Daniel about the psoture of bowing versus saluting – not just the differing social implications, but the *posture* itself. Saluting you are *up*, back straight, head straight, probably taller and more poised than at any other moment. This has to feel good.

    My first love, though, was and is rock climbing. There the preparation rituals – uncoiling ropes, tying in, racking your gear – have practical implications. Getting some detail here wrong could kill you – just as a mistake in gearing up for a fight could. But it’s equally important as a ritual entry into the mindspace of the thing you’re about to do.

  27. >I’d like to see him try this on with, say, my Laotian gaming buddy Mike or my Vietnamese gaming buddy Vienh. East Asians in the U.S. are a trouble case for racial-grievance peddlers because they have what pete calls “white privilege” without actually being, you know, white.

    Ask them how they feel about The Last Airbender.

  28. >they have what pete calls “white privilege”

    So there is a “what” for them to “have” then? Is the problem just with nomenclature? Perhaps you would be more comfortable calling it something else.

  29. >Is the problem just with nomenclature? Perhaps you would be more comfortable calling it something else.

    Mostly I call it PC bullshit. “White privilege” is “that quality which makes any argument from a white person about issues which I define as racial dismissible by me”, just as “racist” has the actual meaning of “anyone the person making the accusation wants to trash”. It’s the rhetorical tee-off for model C and P kafkatraps about racism.

    But even accepting your definition, the term is misleading because it assigns to the “race” bin issues which are mostly about class and culture and assimilation. The Asian friends I’m thinking of are assimilated to middle-class and upper-middle-class American culture; they have college degrees and speak accentless English and buy their food and their clothes at the same places I do, or at least not very far downmarket from same. Nobody looks at them twice. They have “white privilege” because they earned it exactly the way same way immigrants and children of immigrants historically have – by fitting in.

    Within recent historical memory, Jews and Eastern Europeans and Italians did not have “white privilege” as you define it (Italians didn’t achieve it until around World War II!). Go back far enough and my Irish ancestors didn’t have it.

  30. >It’s the rhetorical tee-off for model C and P kafkatraps about racism.

    This is the second time you’ve pre-emptively accused me of kafkatrapping you at some unspecified time in the future. Maybe we can call this the Model-F reverse-Kafkatrap. It certainly has the unfalsifiability that seems to be the central feature of your definition.

    >But even accepting your definition, the term is misleading because it assigns to the “race” bin issues which are mostly about class and culture and assimilation.

    The particular privilege I was highlighting was the ability to ignore race when forming your self-identity. I think I’m on pretty strong ground in suggesting that this particular privilege is race-based.

    >they … speak accentless English

    If they spoke ebonics would you describe their English as “accentless”?

  31. >I think I’m on pretty strong ground in suggesting that this particular privilege is race-based.

    If by “on strong ground” you mean “determined to ignore the lessons of history and actual human behavior”, then, yes.

    >If they spoke ebonics would you describe their English as “accentless”?

    No. Which is the point; people who speak ebonics don’t do so because of their race, but because of their culture.

  32. @silvermine:

    See, I don’t get the Zen Buddhism thing. It’s still Buddhism…. and I’m not a romantic about Buddhism.

    Buddhism isn’t a religion in the Western sense. There is no belief in a supreme all-powerful, all-knowing deity. There is no concept of sin — there are only actions and thinking that evolve you, vs. actions and thinking that do no not evolve you. It’s a pretty good philosophy and model for living — well, except for the vegetarian stuff. The concepts of karma and reincarnation are not compatible with the strict materialist mindset, but otherwise the eight-fold path is mostly about treating others properly and treating yourself properly. The Zen branch just concentrates more on meditation as a path to enlightenment, and thus, has many useful meditation techniques for calming the mind.

  33. You claimed “My ancestry or “race” … is not a central part of my self-definition”. Do you think it’s easier for middle-class minorities to feel this way than for working-class whites? I know plenty of people from both categories, and my experience is the opposite.

    >people who speak ebonics don’t do so because of their race, but because of their culture.

    Race and culture aren’t the same thing, but they’re not orthogonal either. Why do you think it is that the English spoken in your culture can be described as “accentless”, but the English spoken by other American cultures can’t? Why can immigrants earn the same privileges by assimilating into your culture, but not by assimilating into other American cultures?

  34. >Do you think it’s easier for middle-class minorities to feel this way than for working-class whites?

    In some cases of my personal acquaintance, it is. My Vietnamese friend Vienh, a university-trained statistician, has more “white privilege” than a white rural southern prole with an accent and a manual-labor job would in any city here in the northeast metroplex. And I mean that in the strict sense you defined the term; that is, he would be less allowed to be unconscious about his ethnotribal affiliations – have them not matter – than Vienh is.

    >Why do you think it is that the English spoken in your culture can be described as “accentless”, but the English spoken by other American cultures can’t

    Mainly because it’s the dialect TV newscasters and non-regionally-tagged characters in movies speak, and the birth dialect of most children of college-educated professionals. Don’t you know any sociolinguistics at all?

    >Why can immigrants earn the same privileges by assimilating into your culture, but not by assimilating into other American cultures?

    Because my culture runs things. Same reason as any other time or place in history, really.

  35. The particular privilege I was highlighting was the ability to ignore race when forming your self-identity. I think I’m on pretty strong ground in suggesting that this particular privilege is race-based.

    Nobody ignores race when forming their self-identity. Not even whites. Assuming you’re white, try hanging out on the streeet in this neighborhood at night and let me know if you have the ability to ignore your race.

  36. It can be hard to follow your argument sometimes when you’re unclear about the amount of uncertainty in your claims. “[L]essons of history and actual human behavior” is a different level of evidence from “[i]n some cases of my personal acquaintance”.

    >he would be less allowed to be unconscious about his ethnotribal affiliations

    You’re moving the goalposts: “ethnotribal affiliations” are not the same thing as “ancestry or ‘race’”.

    >Mainly because it’s the dialect TV newscasters and non-regionally-tagged characters in movies speak, and the birth dialect of most children of college-educated professionals. Don’t you know any sociolinguistics at all?

    You’re listing consequences, not causes.

  37. >Because my culture runs things. Same reason as any other time or place in history, really.

    So you are aware that you have privileges unavailable to others, but you object to the term “white privilege” because you believe it has more to do with culture than race?

    >Nobody ignores race when forming their self-identity. Not even whites.

    Whites though, since their race is treated as the default, include their race in their identity quite differently to minorities. This is partly the point I was trying to make … esr’s ancestry might be more central to his subconscious self-identity than he realises (hence the sword experience).

  38. >So you are aware that you have privileges unavailable to others, but you object to the term “white privilege” because you believe it has more to do with culture than race?

    You know, there are times I don’t think even you can be stupid enough to believe the PC bullshit you spout, and you’re just trolling. This is one of them. You cannot leap from “there’s a dominant culture” to “ESR (or any other individual member of it) has privileges unavailable to others”. My hypothetical southern rural white prole is a member of the culture that runs things too, but about the only “privilege” he enjoys is being sneered at by most of its elites as NASCAR trash.

    UPDATE: I should have said “blinkered”, not “stupid”.

  39. >pete arguing, lately about accent

    >esr arguing, lately about same

    How about a different definition of ‘accentless’: Speaking the same as those they live by. According to this definition, someone speaking with a New York accent and living in New York would be considered accentless, because the way they speak doesn’t mark them as different. Thus, it works as a measure of assimilation across cultures, working both for those with (for example) TV and those without.

    And pete, ethnotribal affiliations might be separate from ancestry or race, but for this discussion, they’re functionally the same. Or did you forget the examples posted earlier, about the Jews, Eastern Europeans, Italians, and the Irish? All of whom are now considered ‘white’. Each new wave is considered different until the melting pot takes its effect, then they pick on the next wave just the same.

  40. On racism.

    Funny thing is: I have friends of all colors and race, yet I am 50% French & 50% USian. So that makes me 50% racist right off the bat. But then I married a Japanese woman and have a mixed-race son that I adore. So I’m not racist. My wife is Ultra-Racist to other Asians (Koreans, Chinese, etc) but has no problems with Africans, Hispanics, Middle Easterners and Israelis. But then she married a white guy, and well, the other Japanese aren’t too keen on that. The older ones.

    All this to say that racism as described in the US and western Europe isn’t so universal.

  41. a) “you have privileges unavailable to others”.
    b) “ESR (or any other individual member of it) has privileges unavailable to others”.

    Compare and contrast.

    I think my arguments would make a lot more sense if you’d stop modifying them.

  42. >esr’s ancestry might be more central to his subconscious self-identity than he realises (hence the sword experience).

    That actually deserves a reply, because it’s among the most plausible explanations. The reason I’m fairly sure it’s incorrect is that I had a different set of beliefs about my ancestry as a child than I do now. The way this came about taught me not to lean on either identification too much.

    I was going to tell the story in a comment, but it’s long enough to be a post of its own.

  43. >I think my arguments would make a lot more sense if you’d stop modifying them.

    English is ambiguous that way. I took “you” to be singular, because trying to read it as plural made even less sense of the argument.

  44. The worst thing about racial politics is that it almost inevitably devolves into a sort of meta-argument about dividing blame for alleged discrimination rather than contributing utility towards tearing down the actual barriers. Obviously, this is less a racial problem as much as a human one, as paralleled many times by the ideological success of collectivism. It reminds me of a quasi-prisoner’s dilemma where inserting the discussion’s participants into the argument is defecting. Tit-for-tat may be the ESS, but it takes only one insuperrational person to send the whole room into a sinkhole of thought-terminating clichés.

    Perhaps there is at least a faint hope in that we can combat obvious, active present discrimination and generally improve humanity’s quality of life to a point where we are all effectively secure and happy regardless of differences between absolute magnitude of resources. At that point, anybody babbling about racism can be effectively ignored, as there is no reason to even care.

  45. @Christopher McMahon

    My wife is Ultra-Racist to other Asians (Koreans, Chinese, etc) but has no problems with Africans, Hispanics, Middle Easterners and Israelis. But then she married a white guy, and well, the other Japanese aren’t too keen on that. The older ones

    Hmmmm…interesting you bring up the Japanese. Was your wife born in Japan or elsewhere?

    To many Japanese (especially older Japanese, but even some younger Japanese have this attitude), even a ethnic Japanese-person born and raised somewhere other than Japan is ‘gaijin,’ which means something along the lines of ‘foreigner,’ but with racist undertones. Being prejudice towards other East Asian ethnicities is a very Japanese thing, and not unusual at all; being prejudice against all things and people not Japanese is something that may disappear one day, but still has a long way to go.

  46. Early morning ramblings… Could the answer be reversed? I mean, could the traditional salutes have come about due to physical build and form, e.g. they developed solutes that felt physically correct, and due to your genetics the same poses trigger the same feelings?

  47. people who speak ebonics don’t do so because of their race, but because of their culture.

    When I get a chance to hear black British folks speak, I don’t hear anything different between their mode of speech and the white British. And it’s not just that all Brits sound alike; I can tell that there are regional accents, and RP (or “BBC English”).

    I really don’t think the UK has an analogue to Ebonics.

  48. English is ambiguous that way. I took “you” to be singular, because trying to read it as plural made even less sense of the argument.

    …which serves as an illustration that standard, accentless English isn’t always a good thing. Pete, for example, could have been spared this misunderstanding if he had written his comment in a Southern dialect :-)

  49. But there is a difference, not only between race and culture, but both of those and government. This discussion reminds me of something I wrote about the Northern Europeans who defeated the Roman Empire:

    My ancestry is almost all German, and the rest is almost all English, which (Angles/Saxons) back then was German. Yeah, my people fought off the mighty Roman Empire when it was at its peak, and after Teutoburg Forest forced them to withdraw back to the Rhine, for four centuries. Then when it fell back from that peak, we filled the vacuum created thereby. (That’s how the Angles and Saxons moved into “Angle-Land” in the first place.)

    But along the way, we gave up our runic script and adopted the Roman alphabet, Latin roots for many of our words, and the influence of the official religion of the Empire. Even the Vandals and Visigoths weren’t trying to destroy the Empire; they just wanted a place in it. The Franks spoke “vulgar Latin” that evolved into French. Their second king, Charlemagne, was well on his way to re-creating it (Leo III crowned him “Imperator Romanorum”, but his son Louis split the thing amongst his three sons, who proceeded to fight over the pieces), and the first real empire of the Germans per se was the “Holy Roman Empire”!

    In a very real sense, the descendants of these barbarians are now just as Roman as the descendants of Cicero.

  50. > Buddhism isn’t a religion in the Western sense. There is no belief in a supreme all-powerful,
    > all-knowing deity. There is no concept of sin — there are only actions and thinking that evolve
    > you, vs. actions and thinking that do no not evolve you. It’s a pretty good philosophy and
    > model for living — well, except for the vegetarian stuff.

    See, to me, that sounds like the romanticized version of Buddhism. ;)

    I’m more of a Taoist (philosophical, not the folk medicine/alchemy kind). The vinegar tastes that way because it’s vinegar and it’s supposed to… not because we’re doomed to suffer eternally until we seek perfection.

    Honestly, I think lefty Buddhist nonsense is behind a lot of their need to coercively nanny the country, in order to create a perfect society and reach nirvana. If I eat fat, they have to be reincarnated as something even yuckier next time… Or perhaps that need is why they’re all drawn to Buddhism. I don’t understand that urge, so I couldn’t tell you which is the cause, which is the effect, or if it’s simply a high correlation.

    But I can see why a nice meditative state would be nice. I’m more likely to meditate while sweeping or doing the laundry. But that’s not so convenient in battle. :)

  51. >Sure does. It’s called British Black English and it’s based on Jamaican Creole.

    And it’s really pretty. Musical. Much more pleasant to listen to than American Black dialect. I’ve lived in England, which is how I know this.

    The whole family of Caribbean Black accents, and the West African ones they’re related to, are in my opinion among the loveliest found in English. Ironically enough, it’s pretty clear that the relatively ugly American black accent is derived from the speech patterns of poor Scotch-Irish whites in the Revolutionary and pre-Civil-War eras. White dialect later diverged, probably because they didn’t want to sound like blacks. Black dialect didn’t.

  52. >Honestly, I think lefty Buddhist nonsense is behind a lot of their need to coercively nanny the country, in order to create a perfect society and reach nirvana

    Nah. Buddhism is a recent fad among lefties. As a source of nannyism, Marxism is so much more important that the Buddhism might as well be noise.

  53. How come I never heard any black brits on the Beeb speaking BBE? Is it that the Beeb expects everyone to speak RP, whereas speaking “CBS English” makes one “acting white”?

  54. There is a lot of subliminal and underlying conditioning that one goes through from the late pre-cognitive age through adulthood. You might be a globe-trotting cosmopolitan egalitarian but your “Mother Culture” is entrenched in you (not via genetics but via familial conditioning). That doesn’t go away and it is so subtle that it is almost invisible. But “That” conditions your world-view and your opinions and choices you make at a very very subtle level.

    You being a Zen practitioner might be able to understand it…

    Why is this important in response to your blog? Because that is why picking up the sword and shield felt so right to you…it is congruent with your conditioning and your background.

    Cheers!

  55. > In summary, its the motion, not the people.

    My wife observed this about gymnastics. You have all watched gymnastics I hope. Remember, at the end of the routine, the little jump ending in a salute to the crowd with the hand upraised. Do that. You will feel wonderful.

    Yours,
    Tom

  56. My ancestry is made of mandarins – imperial bureaucrats. When I first rubber-stamped the execution order for a bunch of innocent people, I thought to myself: “THIS IS WHAT YOU ARE!”

  57. The Japanese have an history of not being nice to themselves. They marginalized the Ainu before that was politically incorrect (and dutifully wring their hands now). The racially-indistinct Burakumin (outcasts) have long been discriminated against, such that genealogical records (koseki) are locked down to prevent prying eyes from “outing” Burakumin and naturalized Koreans and others trying to “pass.”

    Get rid of race and human beings will still find plenty of reasons not to like each other. But change is inexorable. The very traditional world of sumo is dominated by a Mongolian, and two Eastern Europeans are in its top ranks. One of the most popular (and attractive) politicians in Japan is the Taiwanese-Japanese Renho of the DPJ.

    With the fastest-aging society on the planet, Japan is caught between the rock of its declining population and the hard place of anti-alienist sentiments baked into the social consciousness during the Tokugawa Era (that ended only in 1868) and rekindled during the 1940s. It all makes for a fascinating ongoing social experiment.

  58. ESR,

    an interesting story but there is a simple explanation: you may not be a sword romantic but you grew up in cultures that generally are, and quite probably you have seen a few swordfight scenes on TV at an early, malleable, impressionable age, say, 4-5, which might not have changed the rational part of your mind but might have had a subtle effect on your subconscious. The lightsabre stuff in SW had such a huge cultural effect exactly because the cultures we live in are to some extent extremely sword-romantic, the sword symbolizes lots of things we lost when modernity have “disenchanted” the world, and we cannot really avoid to be affected by it one way or another.

    I’ve just randomly downloaded around ten top-rated PS3 demos of which 3 were melee games, and two of them are called Soulcalibur and Genji: Days of the Blade. This little random sampling tells a lot of the extent of sword-romanticity of the cultures we live in and I think that is a much more believable explanation than learned experiences somehow getting into genetic memory.

  59. >> a) “you have privileges unavailable to others”.
    >> b) “ESR (or any other individual member of it) has privileges unavailable to others”.
    >>
    >> Compare and contrast.
    >>
    >> I think my arguments would make a lot more sense if you’d stop modifying them.

    > English is ambiguous that way. I took “you” to be singular, because trying to read it as plural made even less sense of the argument.

    Yes the word “you” was singular, referring to you, ESR.

    The words you added are in bold, and they’re the only thing you rebutted.

  60. >The words you added are in bold, and they’re the only thing you rebutted.

    The general rebuttal is this: no individual necessarily derives “privileges” from the fact that they happen to be part of the dominant culture of their time and place. It may be contingently true that they are privileged – but I defy you to make the stronger case to a poor white 4-H member who loses an admission slot at an elite college to an affirmative-action black student.

    You are therefore not entitled to make airy claims about my supposed white privilege; doing so is logically and morally fallacious. The attempt is simple bullying; not only will I have none of it, I entirely reject those terms of discussion.

  61. >The general rebuttal is this: no individual necessarily derives “privileges” from the fact that they happen to be part of the dominant culture of their time and place. It may be contingently true that they are privileged – but I defy you to make the stronger case to a poor white 4-H member who loses an admission slot at an elite college to an affirmative-action black student.

    You’re completely missing the point. I made a specific, contingent claim. You then stated that the general necessary claim (which I never made) was false.

    Your argument is that since not every white is privileged, you therefore do not benefit from any privileges. This is fallacious.

  62. >Your argument is that since not every white is privileged, you therefore do not benefit from any privileges. This is fallacious.

    Are you determined to be stupid? My point is you’re not even entitled to float the contingent claim without evidence. You can ask if it’s contingently true that I’m a serial rapist, too, and that would have exactly the same rhetorical status. Mere bullying and posturing, not deserving of a response.

  63. >My point is you’re not even entitled to float the contingent claim without evidence.

    If that’s your point, this is the first time you’ve made it.

    Evidence: “My ancestry or “race”, accordingly, is not a central part of my self-definition.”

  64. I should probably try to make that more clear.

    You said: “My ancestry or “race”, accordingly, is not a central part of my self-definition.”

    My claim is that:

    a) You can truthfully make this claim;
    b) There are other people who cannot truthfully make this claim;
    c) Being capable of making this claim truthfully is beneficial.

    Is there anything in that claim that you disagree with?

  65. >Evidence: “My ancestry or “race”, accordingly, is not a central part of my self-definition.”

    This is “evidence” only in your preconceived and deeply twisted view of the world, in which racial categories have to be primary unless someone is a “privileged” part of the white male Amerikkan phallocracy. You definition of “evidence” presumes your conclusions, which is why I say (and advise others to say) I’m not playing. I’ll have no part of your sick, racist, authoritarian mind-games.

  66. Perhaps I shouldn’t have taken your claim to have “never acquired any of the American neuroses about race” at face value? How can you have a useful discussion about ancestry when simple concepts like privilege are out of bounds?

  67. >How can you have a useful discussion about ancestry when simple concepts like privilege are out of bounds?

    You misspelled “It’s not possible to have a useful discussion about ancestry when the discourse has been poisoned by politicized PC-speak.”

  68. >You misspelled “It’s not possible to have a useful discussion about ancestry when the discourse has been poisoned by politicized PC-speak.”

    So again it comes down to the nomenclature rather than the underlying concepts?

    It seems you have no trouble with using the concept rationally (e.g. “Within recent historical memory, Jews and Eastern Europeans and Italians did not have “white privilege” as you define it (Italians didn’t achieve it until around World War II!). Go back far enough and my Irish ancestors didn’t have it.”), as long as you either don’t have to call it “white privilege” or get to scare quote it. Your objections seem to be to the map, not the territory.

    I am willing to speak in crypto-conservative libertarian-speak while I’m here, but I only know the politicised pc-speak vocabulary for these concepts.

  69. >I am willing to speak in crypto-conservative libertarian-speak while I’m here

    pete, take your “crypto-conservative” slur and ram it up your ass. I should have known better than to think I could engage with you at all. I’m done with this.

  70. Considering the torrent of abuse I’ve taken from you in good humour, I’m surprised that one little jibe about conservatism is enough to prove my bad faith!

  71. >Considering the torrent of abuse I’ve taken from you in good humour, I’m surprised that one little jibe about conservatism is enough to prove my bad faith!

    You’ve never argued in good faith, as far as I can tell. Your rhetoric reads like a sniggering exercise in manipulation and entrapment, designed to bait and propagandize rather than to advance understanding. And I’m sick of it. I won’t ban you for being a blob of passive-aggressive slime, that would be against my principles, but I will no longer pretend that I have any more respect for you than I would for a lump of dogshit on my shoe. And if you want to understand why I despise the Left, you need look no further than in the mirror.

  72. >You’ve never argued in good faith, as far as I can tell. Your rhetoric reads like a sniggering exercise in manipulation and entrapment, designed to bait and propagandize rather than to advance understanding. And I’m sick of it. I won’t ban you for being a blob of passive-aggressive slime, that would be against my principles, but I will no longer pretend that I have any more respect for you than I would for a lump of dogshit on my shoe. And if you want to understand why I despise the Left, you need look no further than in the mirror.

    I now propose a new term, ‘liberal privilege’, denoting the ability of liberals in large subsets of society to live their entire lives without anyone calling them on their fallacious rhetoric. I submit that pete is a carrier of liberal privilege; as far as I can tell, he is arguing in good faith, he simply has a completely different expectation for what constitutes valid argument, and this is not necessarily his fault. I propose that it might be worth more to politely call him on the bullshit, rather than being rude. This would probably take up a lot of your time and is entirely acceptable to refuse, but I think it would produce a slightly more optimal outcome, viz. another intelligent (as far as I can tell) person somewhat less inclined to recidivism.

  73. >You’ve never argued in good faith.

    I made a fairly simple claim, which you met by alternately abusing me or twisting my argument. Excuse me if I’m not moved by you claiming I have argued in bad faith.

    >Your rhetoric reads like a sniggering exercise in manipulation and entrapment, designed to bait and propagandize rather than to advance understanding.

    Given your usual style of debate, it takes a degree of manipulation and entrapment to get you to address even simple factual claims. I’m disappointed that your vaunted general semantics training is insufficient for you to separate your emotional response to the map from a rational discussion of the territory.

  74. > I now propose a new term, ‘liberal privilege’, denoting the ability of liberals in large subsets of society to live their entire lives without anyone calling them on their fallacious rhetoric.

    This is fair enough.

    > I submit that pete is a carrier of liberal privilege;

    Probably to some extent, but may I point out that commenting here must negate such privilege somewhat?

    > as far as I can tell, he is arguing in good faith, he simply has a completely different expectation for what constitutes valid argument, and this is not necessarily his fault. I propose that it might be worth more to politely call him on the bullshit, rather than being rude.

    One of my expectations is that a valid argument requires explaining why my arguments are “bullshit”, rather than simply claiming that they are ;-)

  75. >I’m disappointed that your vaunted general semantics training is insufficient for you to separate your emotional response to the map from a rational discussion of the territory.

    Asshole, I’m responding emotionally to you. You emulate the forms of rational debate almost perfectly while utterly perverting the substance (this quote being a perfect example of same). You rely on the civilized politeness of the people you jerk around not to call you on your bullshit, but I’m not playing any more. I should have known better to respond to your first “white privilege” crack at all – I know exactly where that poisonous PC-speak leads – but I let you manipulate me for one last time. Never again.

  76. >This would probably take up a lot of your time and is entirely acceptable to refuse, but I think it would produce a slightly more optimal outcome, viz. another intelligent (as far as I can tell) person somewhat less inclined to recidivism.

    *Sigh* Tom,. I used to share your idealism. People like “pete” have broken me of it.

  77. @J. Jay:

    taken as racially charged.

    Never. OSI had and has enemies. Racism never had anything to do with what I said, other than as a tool to diminish OSI. The posting started and finished as anti-racist, as any careful reader could tell you.

  78. Eric says:

    >>> You’ve never argued in good faith, as far as I can tell. Your rhetoric reads like a sniggering exercise in manipulation and entrapment, designed to bait and propagandize rather than to advance understanding. And I’m sick of it. I won’t ban you for being a blob of passive-aggressive slime, that would be against my principles, but I will no longer pretend that I have any more respect for you than I would for a lump of dogshit on my shoe. And if you want to understand why I despise the Left, you need look no further than in the mirror.

    I have to agree with this 1000%. This kind of shit is why I can’t stand douchey liberals.

    And I still maintain that Eric is a conservative, he just will not admit it yet.

  79. >Never. OSI had and has enemies. Racism never had anything to do with what I said, other than as a tool to diminish OSI. The posting started and finished as anti-racist, as any careful reader could tell you.

    In fact, that whole episode was a textbook illustration of the way in which accusations of racism have become a sort of ritual grimacing as stylized as kabuki theater. Nobody, even among the accusers, seems to have believed Russ was genuinely racist. No: his crime was being sufficiently incautious in his speech that what he said could be ripped out of context and interpreted as racism, or as in some nebulous way giving comfort to racists.

    The goal of the accusers was not to abolish any actual racism, merely to assert their social power to punish any failure to genuflect before the icon of anti-racism as though their mere accusation of speech-crime had ended all argument over Russ’s guilt. A ritual sacrifice to the gods of political correctness ensued. No benefit accrued to anyone but the grievance-peddlers.

  80. Esr,

    I had a similar moment to the one with the sword the first time I climbed into a horse. I was 25 and never mounted a horse, or any kind of animal, before, so I was with an instructor (a pretty good one, with some hundreds of movies as an extra and “horse manager” on some big films like Troy), and as I climbed on the animal I felt perfectly confortable and had a feeling of having been there all my life.

    It was not just me, the instructor also said in his huge experience teaching pupils and actors never saw somebody riding so naturally on the first class.

    My ancestors are all spaniard for as long as we can trace our tree, probably of celtic+iberian origin on my father’s side (from Galicia) and iberian+roman+visigoth+arab in my mother side (central northern plains.)

  81. @esr:

    And it’s really pretty. Musical. Much more pleasant to listen to than American Black dialect. I’ve lived in England, which is how I know this.

    Agreed. I live near Tampa, where we have a fairly large Caribbean Islands population. But I became more acutely aware of it talking to a street performer on Key West a while back. The performer, whom I thought was perhaps Jamaican, had an accent that was a bit off for a Jamaican, so we asked him where he was from and he said “London.” ;) He was a very cool guy who did fire breathing.

  82. I’ll concede that “white privilege” is usually cover for politically entrepreneurial nest-feathering. Humans seek their interests, and will sign onto any ridiculous sophistry in order to do so.

    However, for me, accusations of privilege are occasionally valuable clues: that my experiences have blinded me, that my map might be missing some of the territory, that I might be fortunate enough to be wrong, so that I have the chance to change my mind.

    It seems that accusations of “conservatism” are not well-received here, and I can sympathize. I’m a recovering conservative myself. However, the old-foeyism that automatically dismisses the experiences of others is a form of conservatism. The mainstream upper-middle-class early-21st-century American “accentless” way of life may have all the best answers, but even if you care about making that case, you won’t do it by ignoring all other experiences.

    With respect to the current discussion, it seems that “mainstream” Americans are tired of race. If they didn’t share their country with many other people who aren’t tired of it, that would be the end of it. However, that isn’t the case.

  83. >However, for me, accusations of privilege are occasionally valuable clues: that my experiences have blinded me, that my map might be missing some of the territory, that I might be fortunate enough to be wrong, so that I have the chance to change my mind.

    I don’t disagree. It’s specifically the compulsive racializing of “privilege” that I object to. Besides all the corrosive effects of racial identity politics, racializing “privilege” actually prevents correct understanding of problems rooted in class and culture differences.

  84. There is a set P of “privileged” people, and another set W of “white” people. At one time in US history, P ⊂W was a true statement, but since then there have been a growing membership in {n: n∈P, n∉W}. But even when P ⊂W was true, it was a small subset.

    Therefore, any statement about “white privilege” that (perhaps tacitly) assumes W⊂P is fallacious on its face.

  85. What I find very hard to understand in talks about privilege is that if privilege in

    such a context is defined as not being treat badly by others if you did nothing to

    deserve it then

    1) privilege means something that plain simply should be the norm,
    2) therefore it is actually not privilege because p. is defined as “a _peculiar_
    benefit, advantage or favor” and not as something that’s supposed to be a matter of
    course,
    3) then there is absolutely no problem with some people being privileged, it is a
    normal situation, and the real and only problem is some people not being privileged in this sense,
    4) which means the ones who need to be guild-tripped is the ones who make others not privileged because they are causing something abnormal to happen, and not the ones who are privileged because they are just simply enjoying a normal situation,
    5) then what the hell is the point in talking about privilege instead of unprivilege,
    6) and if it is unprivilege that should be talked about then it is absolutely not the right word to use for it, because not having something that should be normal is not the lack of a special, peculiar privilege but the lack of having a perfectly normal thing and therefore should be rather called a disadvantage or handicap or unfair situation or something like that,
    7) and given that this situation had not arised from natural circumstances but is a product of human action, the passive voice of “being” (privileged/unprivileged) is completely improper, and instead one should talk about “doing/not doing” (doing as in: offending, repressing, exluding etc.), in the active voice
    8) given all these, I simply see absolutely no point in the “you are privileged” kind of talk, it says nothing about the actual problem (some people doing bad stuff to other people), it is more like… well I don’t even know what it is, perhaps a very misguided attempt at triggering compassion and empathy.

    Misguided because I’m much more likely to feel compassion with other people who are in a bad situation if my attention is directed at those aspects of my life that suck, because it creates a connection between them and me (“remember when X happened to you? imagine that happening with people every day”), while if my attention is directed at those aspects of my life that are normal and pointing out that others don’t have does not trigger compassion, it triggers at best, pity combined with guilt combined with the feeling that I must be crazy if I feel guilt for things I didn’t commit. And I don’t think triggering pity, guilt and self-doubt is more useful for any kind of a honest purpose than triggerat ing compassion and empathy.

    Example: if I for any reason would try to convince or manipulate ESR into ideveloping more compasion/empathy, I would probably begin with asking if he remembers how much it sucked to be a cerebral palsy kid amongst able-bodied jocks at the school etc. etc. and would surely not try any sort of a “bah, you are too lucky, you always had it too easy” kind of trick, it generally triggers anger in people like ESR and pity, guilt and self-doubt in people like me, neither are very useful emotions for developing actual empathy.

    A question. A few years ago I have noticed that it is very typical characteristic of left-progressive movements to use the passive voice instead of the active, to talk about people being marginalized instead of people marginalizing people, people being oppressed instead of people oppressing people and so on. Victim-centric language, instead of being offender-centric, which does not make much sense to me. Does anyone know what is the rationale behind it?

  86. Shenpen: What you notice about the word “privilege” being subverted is a commonly used trick among the socialists. Another excellent example is their usurpation of the word “liberal”, when people started figuring out what scum the progressives/socialists were here in the States.

    Your observation that their method of argument leads you to pity instead of empathy or compassion is because pity makes you feel guilty in a nonspecific way about not being in the pitiful class or not doing something for the pitiful class, which in turn motivates you to “DO SOMETHING”, and of course, who do you think will have a plan to “fix” the problem?

    >A question. A few years ago I have noticed that it is very typical characteristic of left-progressive movements to use the passive voice instead of the active, to talk about people being marginalized instead of people marginalizing people, people being oppressed instead of people oppressing people and so on. Victim-centric language, instead of being offender-centric, which does not make much sense to me. Does anyone know what is the rationale behind it?

    It make perfect since if your goal is to motivate people to make some change, or swallow something they don’t like. If you have a bag of nuts your saving in your pocket, and some starving street urchin comes begging for food, you’re more likely to do without and give him your lunch, because you _know_ you can always get another bag of nuts. If somebody comes up and says, “there’s a guy down the street that doesn’t feed his kid, can you spare him some food”, your much less likely to give up your lunch. People need to think they’re action (or sacrifice) will have a direct effect on the victim class, and that’s much harder to do if you’re concentrating on the bad guys than if your concentrating on the victims. Particularly when the bad guys are ghosts.

    Also, if they name the culprit (other than “all of us” or some such glowing generality), then they might be proven wrong, and that can NEVER happen or their handle on you will vanish in the blink of an eye.

    It’s a matter of sales pitch, really.

  87. WordPress ate my comment. Trying again:

    >One of my expectations is that a valid argument requires explaining why my arguments are “bullshit”, rather than simply claiming that they are ;-)

    The specific, contingent claim that you made (that ESR is a beneficiary of white privilege) is possibly true, but in fact completely irrelevant. ESR is also a beneficiary of ‘privilege’ as a result of having been born with a technically oriented and intelligent mind. To a lesser degree, so am I. That probably applies to many of the people here, given the population of this blog. Similarly, I am a beneficiary of ‘privilege’ as a result of being whole and healthy, without any particular disabilities. I and ESR both are beneficiaries of ‘privilege’ as a result of being natural-born citizens of the US. There are so many different types of ‘privilege’ that it is disingenuous to focus on racial privilege as a sole problem. Aside, I somewhat doubt that black people are forced to have ‘being black’ as an integral part of their identities. What your identity is is mainly up to you. However, even accepting that the claim is true, it kind of gets lost in the noise. I think that the reason that the accusation of ‘white privilege’ is often vociferously attacked by people of ESR’s mindset regarding race (what would the term be? anti-racialists?) is that ‘white privilege’ is one of the Standard Tool Kit of odious racialists, and one of the building blocks of several models of racial kafkatrap. Thus, it is usually focused on only by people who are in the mindset of accusing others of racism. I will extend you the benefit of the doubt as to whether you are trying to do that, but your focus on white privilege, as opposed to US-citizen-privilege, or smart-person-privilege, is one signature element of those who are.

  88. Shenpen says:

    >>> A question. A few years ago I have noticed that it is very typical characteristic of left-progressive movements to use the passive voice instead of the active, to talk about people being marginalized instead of people marginalizing people, people being oppressed instead of people oppressing people and so on. Victim-centric language, instead of being offender-centric, which does not make much sense to me. Does anyone know what is the rationale behind it?

    Yes I have noticed this too. I think it has something to do with everything being cast in therapeutic psycho-babble terms. I hate the use of the passive voice.

    Like someone who stabbed a guy, instead of saying “I stabbed the guy,” will instead say something like, “The knife went in….” as though the knife did it all by itself.

    God it sickens me to hear people talk like this. When you hear anyone use this kind of verbiage you know you are dealing with people who have serious character flaws.

  89. “Like someone who stabbed a guy, instead of saying “I stabbed the guy,” will instead say something like, “The knife went in….” as though the knife did it all by itself.”

    Nice to know I’m not the only one who reads Theodore Dalrymple: it was almost a literal quote from him. (http://blog.skepticaldoctor.com/ – although the printed books are way more interesting than the blog).

  90. Yes I have noticed this too. I think it has something to do with everything being cast in therapeutic psycho-babble terms. I hate the use of the passive voice.

    Like someone who stabbed a guy, instead of saying “I stabbed the guy,” will instead say something like, “The knife went in….” as though the knife did it all by itself.

    speaking of euphemizing both racial oppression and stabbings… I became an admirer of Malcolm X for saying things like this: “I can’t turn around without hearing about some ‘civil rights advance’! White people seem to think the black man ought to be shouting ‘hallelujah’! Four hundred years the white man has had his foot-long knife in the black man’s back – and now the white man starts to wiggle the knife out, maybe six inches! The black man’s supposed to be grateful? Why, if the white man jerked the knife out, it’s still going to leave a scar!”

    Simple, direct, honest language with none of the mealymouthing typical of the limousine left. I’m as guilty of this as any; at least Malcolm had the guts to give his anger and outrage full clear voice.

  91. > 1) privilege means something that plain simply should be the norm,

    I agree with this, at least for certain (most?) privileges.

    > 2) therefore it is actually not privilege because p. is defined as “a _peculiar_ benefit, advantage or favor” and not as something that’s supposed to be a matter of course,

    The point is that it is peculiar for people to have all the benefits that they ought to have as a matter of course.

    > 3) then there is absolutely no problem with some people being privileged, it is a normal situation, and the real and only problem is some people not being privileged in this sense,

    This is exactly right. However, for people who have all these privileges, the problem can be invisible. Their privileges are so normal that they simple do not notice that others don’t share them. Some progressives are working to de-stigmatise privilege: if people think that benefiting from white privilege should make them feel guilty then they will deny the existence of privilege, which obscures the lack-of-privilege problem we would like to solve. Unfortunately, where still in a state where acknowledgement of privilege is derided as “self-flagellation”.

    > 4) which means the ones who need to be guild-tripped is the ones who make others not privileged because they are causing something abnormal to happen, and not the ones who are privileged because they are just simply enjoying a normal situation,

    See above: making someone aware of their privilege does not require guilt-tripping; in fact triggering feelings of guilt would be counter productive.

    > 5) then what the hell is the point in talking about privilege instead of unprivilege,
    > 6) and if it is unprivilege that should be talked about then it is absolutely not the right word to use for it, because not having something that should be normal is not the lack of a special, peculiar privilege but the lack of having a perfectly normal thing and therefore should be rather called a disadvantage or handicap or unfair situation or something like that,

    Focussing on disadvantages/handicaps/unfairness gets us accused of “victimology”.

    > 7) and given that this situation had not arised from natural circumstances but is a product of human action, the passive voice of “being” (privileged/unprivileged) is completely improper, and instead one should talk about “doing/not doing” (doing as in: offending, repressing, exluding etc.), in the active voice

    A lot of the “doing” is unintentional and unmalicious. When esr calls the way his culture speaks English “accentless” he is reinforcing his culture’s dominant position, but I’m not going to call him racist for doing so. Tiny assumptions like that are pervasive in our wider culture, and I think the best way to reduce them is to increase awareness of them.

    > 8) given all these, I simply see absolutely no point in the “you are privileged” kind of talk, it says nothing about the actual problem (some people doing bad stuff to other people), it is more like… well I don’t even know what it is, perhaps a very misguided attempt at triggering compassion and empathy.

    I’m not sure it’s misguided, but yes, it’s all about increasing compassion and empathy.

  92. Shenpen says:

    >>> Nice to know I’m not the only one who reads Theodore Dalrymple: it was almost a literal quote from him. (http://blog.skepticaldoctor.com/ – although the printed books are way more interesting than the blog).

    Good catch Shenpen! You are absolutely right that is where I read that. :)

    Dalrymple is an excellent observer and social critic chronicling what is going on in western culture these days. I try to read all of his stuff.

  93. A question. A few years ago I have noticed that it is very typical characteristic of left-progressive movements to use the passive voice instead of the active, to talk about people being marginalized instead of people marginalizing people, people being oppressed instead of people oppressing people and so on. Victim-centric language, instead of being offender-centric, which does not make much sense to me. Does anyone know what is the rationale behind it?

    Because actual justice requires gathering evidence to prove who committed some transgression against the victim’s life, liberty, or property, the extent to which the victim was harmed thereby, and then apply the appropriate sanctions against the perpetrator to make the victim whole. Any additional punitive element must be based on laws published before the transgression to deter against it being committed in the first place. The Constitutional prohibition against ex post facto laws and bills of attainder exists because creating or increasing a punishment cannot deter an act that has already been committed, so such laws serve only to apply violence (or the threat thereof) for no rational purpose.

    So-called “social justice”, OTOH, skips all of those pesky details. It need not even prove that any particular member of ${ism}.victim has suffered any such transgression, nor the extent to which any have been harmed thereby, much less who the perpetrator is. The use of passive voice creates a diffuse cloud of guilt over all of the ${ism}.oppressor classes, threatening to rain down arbitrary redistributive remedies-of-the-moment at any time. And no sentence is ever final; no matter how much the “guilty” pay, it’s never enough. In this respect, it is both a bill of attainder (it legislatively declares a group of people guilty without any judicial proceeding) and ex post facto because it sets the rule for sentencing after the alleged crime has been committed.

    John’s crops died this season. Justice would require trying to find out whether some pest killed them, or the Co-op got something nasty into the fertilizer he bought, or did he make a mistake… Leftists merely proclaim that his neighbor is a witch that put a hex on his field, and proceed to give him her crops, and maybe burn her at the stake for good measure.

  94. @Darrencardinal: Eric is conservative in some things and liberal in others. As in Jon Postel’s saying “Be conservative in what you generate and liberal in what you accept.” Applies to people as well as network protocols.

  95. >Eric is conservative in some things and liberal in others.

    I’m not a conservative at all, because my basic philosophical stance is not about conservation! That is, I do not begin from either the intellectual or emotional presumption that there is organic wisdom, not lightly to be discarded, that is embodied in existing institutions and power relationships.

  96. @Russell – “Eric is conservative in some things and liberal in others. ” – this statement is not quite accurate, not because you mischaracterise ESR but because you use a very poorly defined terms circa 2010 (as ESR himself noted very correctly in previous reply, the original meaning of “conservative” has little to do with a milliard of connotations attached to the word today). If you map ESR on a Nolan Chart ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nolan_chart ) you’d be significantly more precise – and I bet not quite in the usual “conservative” coordinates (typically bottom right quadrant)

  97. > That is, I do not begin from either the intellectual or emotional presumption that there is organic wisdom, not lightly to be discarded, that is embodied in existing institutions and power relationships.

    Well, but at least you don’t believe the progressive distortion of evolution that human beings are “naturally getting better”. You seem to believe that human beings don’t change, except under evolutionary pressure, and that those changes only are “better” as defined by evolutionary theory – that is – they improve the chance of survival within a specific evolutionary niche.

    This is what I believe about human nature, (some Evangelicals believe in theistic evolution, thank you) and it is close to what conservatives in general believe about human nature, which is this: Human nature doesn’t change.

    Yours,
    Tom

  98. Ugh, the Nolan Chart and the Political Compass and suchlike are about the worst ways to describe political ideologies/philosophies amongst intelligent people. It might predict what rhetorical signals might a not very intellectual person react to, nothing more. Useful for maximizing votes, useless for understanding actual ideas.

    Let me explain it through an example. I am much more in favour for traditional family life than any kind of sexual libertinism, for two reasons, one is that a demographical collapse has all sorts of negative consequences, number two is that this is generally the best long-time strategy, and sexual libertinism can be both a signal of and a cause of high time-preferences which unavoidably affect other people too.

    Having said that, the truthful answer of mine I could imagine to such a question like the political compasses tend to ask, such as “Would you legalize GM, Y/N?” is “Honestly, I haven’t a clue.”

    The reasons are the following.

    1) Responsibility. I’m unwilling to buy into that democracy means completely unqualified people are supposed to make decisions about important things they have really no clue about. I find it reprehensible that such matters are often handled with no more consideration that which sports team to support or which type of musical subculture to get into – a thing of personl identity and opinion. Most folks who make casual utterances about what should or should not be allowed are so full of hubris, they don’t even guess how much they don’t know. All my intellectual adventures given me is to be more conscious of my own ignorance than most. Therefore, democracy isn’t supposed to be more than a reset button to push when the political elites get too carried away. If there are people sufficiently qualified to decide such matters for millions of people, which I doubt, I am surely not one of them, and I am suspicious of most folks who claim they are. I think most of us are qualified to decide such matters on a much more smaller scale, say, a village or a city district. Localism, anyone?

    2) Laws, unless they are extremely respressive or extremely permissive, don’t matter much. Chaning cultural standards change laws and not the other way around. This is what 99% of people on both sides of the culture war thing conveniently forget – they both have this magical wordview that legalizing GM will somehow make people more tolerant or preventing it will somehow help traditional families. This is, of course, bullshit, because causality runs in the other direction. F.e. I haven’t seen one young person who would think filesharing is wrong because it is illegal – those few ones who think so don’t think so because they are illegal but because they are non-performing artists and look at such things from a different perspetive.

    Thus, the smart culture warrior should not waste any energy in arguing about what should or should not be illegal, but hack culture itself. One good argument why should one do or should not do something, if gets enough publicity, can matter more than a whole bunch of laws. Er, it doesn’t even have to be an argument, a feeling will do, if that feeling is powerfully channelled by popular movies or songs or books. And of course making yourself into a good example of what you want others to become works, too, with enough publicity.

    3) The lack of such considerations reveal a profound misunderstanding of the meaning of politics itself by the authors of such political compasses. They mistake legislation for politics, which is mistaking a part for the whole. Politics is actually – a historical fact – nothing but a) visions about what a good society/community would be (not necessarily on the national level, a village, a neighborhood or a commune might do), or to use more formal terms (Voegelin), what truths should that society represent in the existential sense b) the methods by which to bring them about.

    Legislation is but one of the many tools and it usually efficient only if it is inhumanly repressive or if it is insanely permissive. On the common, normal, middle level it is of little use, it is nothing but a signal, an effect, and not a cause of what most folks think normal.

    Focusing on legislation in the sense of should/should not drugs/GM/whatever else be legal or not means a profoundly magical way thinking about politics – believing on a subconscious level that declaring something illegal will make it go away, or declaring something legal will make all those people who didn’t accept it before now accept it. It is nothing but the politics of incantations. To make myself clear: I would find it perfectly reasonable to ask questions like this in a political compass-test designed for intellectuals: “Which poet represents the human condition better, Ginsberg or Eliot?” – because it would say a lot about what you think about human life as such, therefore, what lives should the social arrangements foster and so on.

    So, don’t base your categories on the political compasses, because they aren’t political, they are just legislative.

  99. The word “conservative” was and is used to describe people of so profoundly different character, personality, ideas and attitudes that it is difficult to use without creating lots of confusion. How the heck could one just sweep T.S. Eliot, Andrew Sullivan and Sean Hannity under the same rug?

    The best solution is to use qualifiers. Skeptical-cons (Sullivan, Oakeshott), neoprotestant-cons (Hannity), localist-cons (Dreher, Nisbeth), libetarian-cons (Charles Murray – he has an Aristotelean eudaimonia-ethics, virtue-ethics streak in him which goes way deeper than “normal” Libertarianism), catholic-cons, pluralist-cons (Kekes), nationalist-cons, and so on.

    For example my views can be described as skeptical-con:

    “Between the dangerous extremes of rationalistic politics and the fideistic repudiation of reason is skepticism that takes a moderate form. Conservatives who hold this view need not deny that there is a moral order in reality. They are committed only to denying that reliable knowledge of it can be had.” ( http://www.deepleafproductions.com/utopialibrary/text/kekes-conservatism.html )

    This of course radically different than the views of all those cons or pseudo-cons who are full of sh… hubris and think they can always tell right from wrong based on their personal convictions.

    TL,DR: always use the word “conservative” with a qualifier that denotes the subtype.

  100. “White privilege” is an invented racial slur intended to cut you down to where the attacker thinks they are. It says so much more about the slurer then it does about the intended sluree. It is the more PC way of calling you a “cracker”. Stick your racism up your ***.

  101. I don’t think that the moment you had was a matter of ancestry. It’s probably a gesture that is consistent with how most people in the western world (mostly people like you) interact with each other each day. The saluting gesture is quite similar to our ways of greeting each other, so it felt natural to you.

    Bowing, on the other hand, is an integral part of e.g. the Japanese culture. You thank each other, show your respect and you even greet each other by bowing. A Japanese martial art will therefore probably incorporate gestures, movements and also philosophies that make sense to Japanese people, but not necissarily to western folks.

    Bottom line: I don’t think that ancestry has much to do with the way you behave, I think it’s more relevant how your parents and the people around you behave.

  102. > Because I’m still not romantic about swords.

    Sometimes a tool is just a tool.

    I sometimes get more involved with tools than results. That’s when I find it useful to remember a line from “Quigley Down Under”. After amazing some onlookers with his pistol prowess, Quigley said “I said I didn’t like pistols, not that I didn’t know how to use one.”

    I feel much the same about muzzle loaders…

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