Friday, August 18, 2017

Paul Robeson rejects identitarianism

"Here was the first understanding that the struggle of the Negro people, or of any people, cannot be by itself. That is, the human struggle. And so ... my politics embraced also the common struggle of all oppressed peoples, including especially the working masses. Specifically the laboring people of all the world. And that defines my philosophy. It’s a joining one of ‘we are a working people, a laboring people, the Negro people.’

"And there is a unity between our struggle and those of white workers in the South. I’ve had white workers shake my hand and say ‘Paul we’re fighting for the same thing.’ And so this defines my attitude toward socialism and toward many other things in the world. I do not believe that a few people should control the wealth of any land, that it should be a collective ownership in the interests of all." —Paul Robeson

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Shetterly's Free Speech FAQ

NOTE: This FAQ is about the principle of free speech. There's a little about the law, but if you want to research the legal limits of speech in the US, try the ACLU's Defending First Amendment Rights.

1. How old is the idea of free speech?

At least 2500 years old. In 399 BC, Socrates said, "If you offered to let me off this time on condition I am not any longer to speak my mind... I should say to you, "Men of Athens, I shall obey the Gods rather than you.""

2. Isn't censorship something that only a government can do?

No. From What Is Censorship? | American Civil Liberties Union:
Censorship, the suppression of words, images, or ideas that are "offensive," happens whenever some people succeed in imposing their personal political or moral values on others. Censorship can be carried out by the government as well as private pressure groups. Censorship by the government is unconstitutional.
3. Does free speech give you a right to lie, slander, or engage in false advertising?

No. Free speech gives you the right to say what you believe. It does not give you the right to say what you do not believe. Lying cannot be defended as free speech.

4. Does free speech give you a right to harass or threaten people?

No. Free speech does not give you the right to make anyone listen to you, and it does not give you a right to hurt anyone. Credible threats of danger are grounds to have people arrested, not for speaking, but for promising to do harm.

5. What about illegal forms of pornography?

Free speech gives you the right to try to change laws, but it does not give you the right to break them.

While art is a form of speech, and pornography is a form of art, when we talk about illegal pornography, we’re talking about recordings that are evidence of crimes. Keeping those forms of pornography illegal is not about speech—it's about targeting the market that promotes the crime. The principle is no different than targeting people who pay for prostitutes, drugs, or contract killings.

If you don’t like those laws, use your free speech to try to change them. If the subject of illegal pornography becomes legal, the pornography will become legal too.

6. What about firing people for saying things that do not directly affect their job?

People should be fired because of their job performance. If companies need to address something an employee has said off the job, they only need to say, “The opinions of our employees are their own.”

7. What about protesters speaking out to silence speakers and intimidating venues into canceling their events?

If you don't want to hear people speak, don't go to their speeches. Preventing people from speaking is the opposite of free speech.

8. What about protesting speakers in ways that don't silence them?

Yes! Protest outside events, but don't block passage to them. Go to events wearing armbands or T-shirts that show you reject a speaker's message. When speakers take questions, point out the problems with their beliefs.

9. Does free speech mean we have to let everyone speak wherever they want?

No. Groups have a right to invite the speakers they want to hear. They have no obligation to invite people they don’t want to hear.

10. Doesn't free speech let us cancel a speaker's invitation to speak?

No. When Clark University invited Norman Finkelstein to speak, then canceled the speech in response to protesters, Sarah Wunsch of the ACLU wrote:
...the cancellation of his speech violates the basic principles of freedom of speech and academic freedom which are so fundamental to an institute of higher learning. The existence of an opportunity to speak at another time or in another location does not remedy the wrong of censorship. 
11. What about copyright?

Free speech does not give you a right to claim someone else's expression as your own or to use their expression as you please. Copyright laws vary from country to country—in order to be true to free speech, copyright laws must allow for Fair Use.

12. Isn't free speech used by the powerful to abuse the powerless?

Free speech lets the powerless speak. Without it, the weak will be silenced by the rich and powerful.

13. What about silencing people who oppose free speech?

Free speech belongs to everyone, including people who oppose it.

More:

XKCD doesn't understand free speech—or the difference between legal and moral rights

Actually, what XKCD doesn't understand is that money is not speech (XKCD doesn't understand free speech, take 2):

Explaining free speech to XKCD, a cartoon

Frederick Douglass and Henry Louis Gates on free speech and hate speech

Socialist quotes for free speech

Two examples of the unexpected consequences of banning (pornography and swastika)

On responding to speech with violence, or why a coward in a mask is nothing like Captain America

Friday, August 11, 2017

Google memo outrage reveals the dream and flaw of left-identitarianism

One of the better pieces about Damore's memo, Sabine Hossenfelder's Backreaction: Outraged about the Google diversity memo? I want you to think about it. notes:
The bigger mistake in Damore’s memo is one I see frequently: Assuming that job skills and performance can be deduced from differences among demographic groups. This just isn’t so. I believe for example if it wasn’t for biases and unequal opportunities, then the higher ranks in science and politics would be dominated by women. Hence, aiming at a 50-50 representation gives men an unfair advantage. I challenge you to provide any evidence to the contrary.
This idea that every job will someday have 50-50 gender representation is part of the identitarian dream. Whether it'll come true, I haven't a clue. Because nature gives the sexes different physical strengths and weaknesses, we'll either have to modify human bodies or use advanced tech to realize that dream.

But if there are subtle mental differences between men and women, those differences will always manifest themselves in some of the things people do. There may always be more men than women doing work like The 10 most dangerous jobs for men.

In a fair world, the requirements for doing a job are about ability, not gender. Whether that results in some jobs being disproportionately male or female should be irrelevant, so long as every individual can compete fairly.

The problem is our only way to test whether people have equality of opportunity is to look for equality of outcome. People will always be right to wonder about the reasons for disproportionate results.

Hossenfelder suggests,
One way to deal with the situation is to wait until the world catches up. Educate people about bias, work to remove obstacles to education, change societal gender images. This works – but it works very slowly.
Belief in change through education is another part of the left-identitarian dream, but education doesn't work slowly: It doesn't work at all. As noted at Wealth inequality is even worse than income inequality
If we equalized education levels between black and white Americans, we'd barely dent the racial wealth gap.
What does work? Sharing the wealth. 

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Some political whimsy from Twitter today

I tweeted this quote by an unknown writer: "Socialist jokes are only funny if everyone gets them."

Which inspired these responses:

"I'd tell you the joke about capitalism but I doubt you'd buy it." —@jaymiejmoore

"I'd tell you the joke about socialism but I doubt you'd share it." —@WillShetterly

"i'd tell you the joke about communism, but it's never really been tried" —@chaosprime

"I'd tell you the joke about anarchy, but it never really comes together." —@jaymiejmoore

"don't worry if you don't get the joke about anarcho-transhumanism, it won't be long before it gets you" —@chaosprime

"if you don't get the joke about accelerationism, i'll tell you worse and worse jokes until we find one that you get" —@chaosprime

'Anybody can tell a joke about nihilism. There's nothing to it." —@CPetersen_CS

"there are exactly ninety-six jokes about syndicalism, all of them equal" —@chaosprime

"I'd tell you a joke about philosophy but you'd all just argue about the answer & whether it was funny long after the rest of us went home." —@jamesmsix

Friday, August 4, 2017

By Ta-Nehisi Coates' logic on Confederate, The Handmaid's Tale should be cancelled


In Don't Give HBO's 'Confederate' the Benefit of the Doubt, Coates argues that

1. "Hollywood has churned out well-executed, slickly produced epics which advanced the Lost Cause myth of the Civil War."

Hollywood has also produced slickly sexist work.

2. "...while the Confederacy, as a political entity, was certainly defeated, and chattel slavery outlawed, the racist hierarchy which Lee and Davis sought to erect, lives on."

Sexism also lives on.

3. "...comparisons between Confederate and The Man in the High Castle are fatuous. Nazi Germany was also defeated. But while its surviving leadership was put on trial before the world, not one author of the Confederacy was convicted of treason."

No one has ever been convicted for the suffering caused by sexism. To pick one example from countless many, the men responsible for so many women dying in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire were not indicted for manslaughter.

4. "The symbols point to something Confederate’s creators don’t seem to understand—the war is over for them, not for us."

The struggle against sexism is also not over for women.

5. "Confederate is a shockingly unoriginal idea."

In prose, yes, it's been done many times, but it's rarely been addressed by Hollywood, just as stories about sexist societies are shockingly unoriginal in prose, but have rarely been addressed by Hollywood.

6. "African Americans do not need science-fiction, or really any fiction, to tell them that that “history is still with us.”"

Nor do women.

7. As an after-thought, Coates notes that half of the team creating Confederate is black, but he suggests they are subordinate to the white writers who are more famous. The Handmaid's Tale TV show has a male producer, Bruce Miller, who is called its creator on the IMDB page because he created the TV show and wrote the pilot. Its executive story editors are a woman and a man, Nina Fiore and John Hererra. If Confederate is flawed because of the social identity of its creators, so is The Handmaid's Tale.

ETA: On Facebook, Mike Wolf commented,
Actually, a great number of Nazis were back in positions of power after WWII, mainly because most Germans preferred to stick their head in the sand and forget the whole war and genocide had ever happened.

Despite the massive re-education by the Allies on the horors of Nazism, it took the student revolts of the 60s to weed out the remaining Nazis.

And of course Neo-Nazis exist to this day and probably will in perpetuity.
Earlier: Six hard questions about HBO's Confederate

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Why the Libertarian Party should, by their logic, be a socialist party

Simon Kongshøj wrote in a comment at Facebook:
Granting for the sake of argument that personal liberty requires economic liberty and that we value personal liberty, then every person ought to have economic liberty. Economic liberty is impossible for a person whose economic means are so meagre that he/she cannot make meaningfully free choices (slaves and serfs are the extreme of that; but the same can be said for the modern working poor), so no person ought to have so meagre economic means.

That would form the basis for a libertarian argument for socialism.

Monday, July 31, 2017

The Goldfish Bowl Fallacy, aka The Lived Experience Fallacy



The Goldfish Bowl Fallacy: the idea that a local knows a situation better than an outsider, and a person who has lived an experience knows it better than people who have researched it.

This fallacy appears regularly in the writings of people who want to justify their local customs—defenders of slavery and apartheid claimed outsiders couldn't know what was best in their land.

The name comes from the old observation that relying on subjective experience leaves us like goldfish in a glass bowl, with no understanding of what limits us and no idea what may exist beyond it.

This does not mean our experiences are worthless. But without researching them, we have no way to know if our experiences are common or unique, and we have no way to test the conclusions we draw.

The fallacy might also be called the Flat Earth Fallacy. Flat-Earthers can honestly say they've never experienced the curvature of the Earth. By rejecting outside evidence, they do not have to be troubled by the idea they might be wrong.

ETA: This might also be called the Satan Fallacy: Just because you credit the worst things you've experienced to Satan does not mean Satan is the cause

ETA: Or this could be the Inverted Ad Hominem Fallacy. Ad Hominem assumes you are wrong because of your identity; the Lived Experience Fallacy assumes you are right because of your identity.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

If the Black Panthers were class reductionists, I'm one too


“Working class people of all colors must unite against the exploitative, oppressive ruling class. Let me emphasize again — we believe our fight is a class struggle, not a race struggle.” — Bobby Seale, co-founder Black Panther Party

“Those who want to obscure the struggle with ethnic differences are the ones who are aiding and maintaining the exploitation of the masses of the people: poor whites, poor blacks, browns, red Indians, poor Chinese and Japanese... We do not fight exploitative capitalism with black capitalism. We fight capitalism with basic socialism.” — Bobby Seale

“We got to face some facts. That the masses are poor, that the masses belong to what you call the lower class, and when I talk about the masses, I’m talking about the white masses, I’m talking about the black masses, and the brown masses, and the yellow masses, too. We’ve got to face the fact that some people say you fight fire best with fire, but we say you put fire out best with water. We say you don’t fight racism with racism. We’re gonna fight racism with solidarity. We say you don’t fight capitalism with no black capitalism; you fight capitalism with socialism.” —Fred Hampton

Friday, July 28, 2017

Six hard questions about HBO's Confederate

To write alternate history well, you have to be accurate about history up to the moment that you change, and you have to make your changes matter to your audience, which means your story should be as complex as the history we know. With that in mind, here are some facts and questions for the Confederate showrunners:

1. Who is "white" in this timeline?

Before the Civil War, different southern states had different definitions of whiteness. In most, if you were a quadroon (a person who had three white grandparents and one black one), you were legally white. In a few, you had to be an octoroon (a person who had seven white grandparents and one black one) to be legally white.

Yes, the system was so insane that you could be white in one state and black in another.

In our history, the one drop rule (which made you black if there were any black people among your ancestors) was a creation of Jim Crow, the period of legal segregation that followed Reconstruction. The first state to impose the one drop rule was Tennessee in 1910. In a timeline where the Confederacy loses, it's very unlikely that the one drop rule would be implemented.

More: One-drop rule - Wikipedia

2. Who is a slave in this timeline?

In the United States, a slave was a person who was born to a slave. This meant people could be legally white by being quadroons or octoroons, yet still be slaves because their mothers were slaves. Legal whiteness did not free slaves. Only their owner could do that.

Slavery perverted the relationships among families of all races. For example, from Free Negro owners of slaves in the United States in 1830, together with Absentee ownership of slaves in the United States in 1830:
Slaves of Negroes were in some cases the children of a free father who had purchased his wife. If he did not thereafter emancipate the mother, as so many such husbands failed to do, his own children were born his slaves and were thus reported by the enumerators. Some of these husbands were not anxious to liberate their wives immediately. They considered it advisable to put them on probation for a few years, and if they did not find them satisfactory they would sell their wives as other slave holders disposed of Negroes. For example, a Negro shoemaker in Charleston, South Carolina, purchased his wife for $700; but, on finding her hard to please, he sold her a few months thereafter for $750, gaining $50 by the transaction.
More: Slavery and the Making of America . Timeline | PBS

3. Who is rich in this timeline?

There were very rich black slave owners in the south, and one of the richest was a woman, the Widow C. Richards. When the south seceded, rich free blacks in Louisiana formed an army unit to fight for the Confederacy, but their service was turned down.

More: Did Black People Own Slaves? by Henry Louis Gates Jr.

Yes, There Were Black Confederates. Here’s Why by John Stauffer

The Free Men of Color Go to War - The New York Times

William Ellison - Wikipedia, the United States' richest black slave owner

Black Slave Owners by Robert M Grooms

4. Why does slavery still exist in this timeline?

In our history, slavery in the Americas ended when Brazil freed its slaves in 1890. While slavery still continues illegally, it's legal nowhere now--the last country to make it illegal was Mauritania. Both social and economic forces were at work to end slavery. It's easier to assume a modern segregated Confederacy than a slave state, so the writers should be prepared to rationalize their artistic choice.

5. What happens when the principle of secession has been established?

At the start of the Civil War, four slave states stayed in the Union: Maryland, Kentucky, Missouri, and Delaware. If the South successfully seceded, would those slave states join the Confederacy? Who else might secede from the Union or the Confederacy?

When I wrote Captain Confederacy, I created a fragmented North America:



6. What is your story about?

If your answer is only "racism", your story will be shallow. I don't offer my own work as an example of quality, but as an example of how an alternate universe story can be about something more than its ostensible subject: My primary concern when writing Captain Confederacy was not racism—it was patriotism. To address that, I wrote about people who wrapped themselves in their national flags.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

The Malcolm X "Respect Everyone" Flowchart

"Be peaceful, be courteous, obey the law, respect everyone; but if someone puts his hand on you, send him to the cemetery." - Malcolm X

Has someone put a hand on you?

No                                                           Yes

Be peaceful, courteous,                           Send them to the cemetery
law-abiding, and respectful                       but stay respectful—the
                                                                   Prophet Muhammad said,
                                                                         "Do not speak ill of the dead."

If you think following Malcolm's advice will make you less effective when protesting, ask whether it made Malcolm less effective when he protested.

Related: Respect everyone: the wisdom of St. Peter and Malcolm X

Monday, July 24, 2017

The "shake" of Shakesville is for Shakedown Artist—on the greed of Melissa McEwan

I usually ignore Melissa McEwan because life's too short for feminists who don't realize that because poverty is disproportionately female, Bernie Sanders' policies would do more to help women than Hillary Clinton's would have.

But she's attacking the dirtbag left, and I love the dirtbag left.

One member of Chapo Trap House, Felix Biederman, made a joke that went too far—it was about rape. I agree it went too far, he agrees it went too far, everyone agrees it went too far. He apologized and said he would donate the rest of the month's income to CRR. I assume that's the Center for Reproductive Rights. The tweet right after his is from a survivor who approved of what he did.
But Melissa wants the money for herself instead of for an organization that would help others:
How much does she make from defending neoliberalism? The only clue I've seen is at Shakesville:
These fuckers make $72,706 a month for their podcast. A MONTH. That is significantly more than I make in an entire year. 
How significantly, she doesn't suggest. The US median household income is $56,000, so if she's doing anywhere near that, she has no grounds to complain.

Some people say Biederman's apology wasn't good enough. The word police loves to police apologies. I see nothing in what he wrote to suggest it's insincere. The test will be whether he keeps from repeating what he did. Until then, this is no one else's business.

Well, except McEwan's, because she'll trumpet it for as long as she can hope to get a penny from it.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Women show more gender bias than men in Implicit Association Tests

There Are Problems With the Gender-Bias IAT, Too -- Science of Us:
The first thing to know about implicit-sexism IATs is that they follow a pattern not really seen in other areas of IAT research. Generally speaking, for IATs dealing with some oppressed class of people, nonmembers of that group score higher, and are therefore seen as more implicitly biased against the group. White people generally score higher on a so-called black-white IAT than black peoples for example, for example, while ethnic Germans generally score higher than ethnic Turks on IATs involving traditionally German and traditionally Turkish names (Turks are a marginalized minority group in Germany).

Sexism IATs are different. As Greg Mitchell and Phil Tetlock put it in a book chapter that is very critical of the IAT, “One particularly puzzling aspect of academic and public dialogue about implicit prejudice research has been the dearth of attention paid to the finding that men usually do not exhibit implicit sexism while women do show pro-female implicit attitudes.” This appears to be a pretty robust finding, and if you translate it into the same language IAT proponents speak elsewhere, it means men don’t have implicit sexism and are therefore unlikely to make decisions in an implicitly sexist manner (women, meanwhile, will likely favor women over men in implicitly-driven decision-making). Even weirder, when you switch to IATs geared at evaluating not whether the test-taker implicitly favors men over women (or vice versa), but whether they are quicker to associate men versus women more with career, family, and similarly gendered concepts, the IAT somewhat reliably evaluates women as having higher rates of implicit bias against women than men do.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Is there any evidence that Bernie Sanders ultimately helped or hurt Hillary Clinton's campaign?

There are two narratives that annoy me because I see no evidence for them. The first is the Clinton camp's insistence that Sanders hurt her chances of winning. The second is the authoritarian socialist insistence that Sanders helped the Democrats by running.

I followed the polls at RealClearPolitics. So far as I can tell, Sanders had no effect on Clinton—the only effect he had was to make people realize a democratic socialist could win.

My belief hangs on this fact: For most of the race the polls at RealClearPolitics said Clinton would beat Trump by one or two points, as she did—which meant she was within the margin of error to lose to the Electoral College, as she did. Those polls also said Sanders would beat Trump by eight to ten points. (Neoliberals dismiss that by citing their gut feeling that wouldn't happen, but their guts are irrelevant here. The fact remains that people knew Sanders's positions, they knew he called himself a socialist, and he quickly became and remains the country's most popular politician.)

Because the terms of competing for the presidency as a Democrat included endorsing the winner of the primaries, when Sanders was squeezed out by DNC shenanigans, he endorsed her.

And the polls showed no bump for Clinton because of his endorsement.

Why?

With Sanders out, his supporters settled for their second choice. Democratic lesser-evilists went for Clinton, Republican lesser-evilists went for Trump, third-partiers went for a third party, and stay-homers stayed home.

Clinton's fate can't be credited to Sanders. It's all on Clinton and the country's rejection of the neoliberalism that's been widening the gap between rich and poor for over thirty years now.

A reminder that Obama could have passed single-payer in 2009 if he had wanted to

Crossing National Public Radio (NPR) Off My List for Health Care Coverage | naked capitalism:
“Cobble together the votes” is sloppy language that conflates two arguments: First, a sin of commission: The argument that Democrats needed 60 votes to pass the bill against a filibuster. This is a lie, since the filibuster rules can be changed with a majority vote, which Reid did in 2013 (but for something important like judicial nominees, not saving American lives). Second, a sin of omission: ObamaCare was passed under reconciliation with a majority vote, so Democrats could have passed a real solution like single payer, as opposed to the best possible Republican plan, ObamaCare, which, as good neoliberals seeking a markets-first solution, is what they did.
Click the link in that paragraph for a longer explanation.

ETA: Read "Obama and the Democrats" if you wish, because it's true the Democrats needed to be willing to give us single payer, and they didn't even try.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Emma Bull's take on how the writers should handle the change of gender on Doctor Who


I wrote,
They don't need to do more than have the doctor glance in a mirror and react visually, or say something casual like, "That's interesting."
Emma wrote,
I remember when he complained about never regenerating as a ginger. Which would itself be a pretty great comment on this regeneration: "STILL not a ginger."

Monday, July 17, 2017

Speech, not skin or gender, matters most when recasting characters

On Twitter, talking about the new star of Dr. Who, John Bullock said,
Oh hang on. I'll accept a lady doc, black doc, gay doc, trans doc... but make the doc not British and I'm out. Some lines you don't cross!
Someone asked why, and I replied,
Because what ultimately characterizes people is speech, not skin. Batman must talk like a rich New Yorker, and the doctor, like a Brit.
This is why it makes perfect sense for Idris Elba to play James Bond and Jodie Whittaker to star on Doctor Who. It's why, in the 1990s, when a movie was made of the British Avengers TV show, I wanted Chow Yun-Fat to play Steed and Michelle Yeoh to play Emma Peel--Hong Kong's culture was sufficiently affected by British rule that Chow and Yeoh would have worked, while people with American accents would've just seemed wrong.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

On Sandwichfail, Hipsters, and Foodie Privilege: Why Liberals Quibble with the Wrong Part of David Brooks' Essay

David Brooks, a conservative, talks about culture and class in How We Are Ruining America - The New York Times. The liberal internet is generally ignoring the parts about class—thereby showing class continues to be the US's last taboo—and focusing on this paragraph:
Recently I took a friend with only a high school degree to lunch. Insensitively, I led her into a gourmet sandwich shop. Suddenly I saw her face freeze up as she was confronted with sandwiches named “Padrino” and “Pomodoro” and ingredients like soppressata, capicollo and a striata baguette. I quickly asked her if she wanted to go somewhere else and she anxiously nodded yes and we ate Mexican.
Alyssa Rosenberg has one of the nicer liberal responses in How good manners would have saved David Brooks from his deli disaster. She, like many others, thinks Brooks should have educated the friend rather than going somewhere else. Her take is what's expected from an American who is able to talk about going on vacation in Vietnam. Foodie culture is all about being the recommender, the discoverer, the one who is able to do the equivalent of calling "First!" on a culinary experience, and fellow foodies are delighted at the opportunity to be second because they know they'll share the new cuisine with their own friends.

For the rich and for adventurous members of the working class, finding and sharing new foods is a delight. What Brooks gets right is that this attitude is promoted in universities, and especially in expensive private universities, the finishing schools of the rich. But it's not limited to universities, of course—as a young man, my Dad traveled the world in the Merchant Marine and loved eating what the locals ate. Science fiction fans, perhaps because they tend to be university grads, have delighted in new cuisines for as long as there've been fans. People who live in major cities tend to take new cuisines for granted and look forward to the chance to try something new.

But people from limited backgrounds can feel like their ignorance is a reason for embarrassment. I don't know if David Simon based this scene in The Wire on something he experienced, but it rings true:



Some writers agree about the upper class's cultural barriers in ‘It’s Not the Fault of the Sandwich Shop’: Readers Debate David Brooks’s Column - The New York Times.

What the people who say Brooks should've educated his friend miss is that would put Brooks in the position of being the educator rather than the friend. People who assume everyone is like them would insist on eating at the gourmet shop and would show off their knowledge, and it's entirely possible that their guest would end up enjoying it.

But those of us who don't think all people are alike know this isn't the only possibility. The guest might be forced to pretend to be happy. Considerate people try to read the situation: is it better to push to go to the place that seems to make someone uncomfortable, or is it better to find an option that both of you like?

Brooks and his friend went for Mexican. There's an odd assumption from some people that this was condescending. I have to wonder if they associate Mexican food with working class food—the only information about class that's clear in Brook's anecdote is that the first choice was a gourmet sandwich shop.

I'd prefer Mexican.

PS. I'm sidestepping Brooks' class analysis here—as a socialist, I agree it's facile. I'm simply agreeing that there are cultural obstacles which richer people want to deny or downplay because the alternative is to acknowledge that they think their culture is better than that of the working class.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

How to make us believe characters are in love

Emma and I are watching an old TV show that currently has two sets of characters involved in romances. One couple convinces me they're in love; the other does not. My first thought was the actors in the second couple didn't have chemistry. Then I realized I was letting the writers off the hook by failing to ask why those characters didn't have the vague thing we call chemistry.

The answer is the writers didn't provide it. The first couple get to have fun together. The second couple, the unconvincing couple, never do. It's not enough to show that characters care for each other. You have to show why they care. For most of us, that means doing things that make us laugh together.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Cultural appropriation theory criticized by people of color

Because identitarians believe the thoughts of people with "lived experience" matter most when discussing issues of social identity, here are some thinkers on race and culture who have unquestionable "lived experience":

Arun Gupta - I was sent this list below of "White-Owned Appropriative Restaurants in Portland.":
They want to fix all cultures as fossils in a museum, not allowing for adaptation, changing tastes, social roles, or fashion. It reminds me of how the National Front fetishizes a notion of the pure French nation.
In Defense of Cultural Appropriation - The New York Times by Kenan Malik:
Appropriation suggests theft, and a process analogous to the seizure of land or artifacts. In the case of culture, however, what is called appropriation is not theft but messy interaction. Writers and artists necessarily engage with the experiences of others. Nobody owns a culture, but everyone inhabits one, and in inhabiting a culture, one finds the tools for reaching out to other cultures.

... There are few figures more important to the development of rock ’n’ roll than Chuck Berry (who died in March). In the 1950s, white radio stations refused to play his songs, categorizing them as “race music.” Then came Elvis Presley. A white boy playing the same tunes was cool. Elvis was feted, Mr. Berry and other black pioneers largely ignored. Racism defined who became the cultural icon.

But imagine that Elvis had been prevented from appropriating so-called black music. Would that have challenged racism, or eradicated Jim Crow laws?
On ‘Maybellene’ and General Tso’s Chicken by Jonathan Zimmerman:
Berry never claimed to be the sole originator of anything. "Chuck Berry’s style … is only back to the future of what came in the past," he wrote in his 1987 autobiography. "And you know, and I believe it must be true, ‘there is nothing new under the sun.’ So don’t blame me for being first, just let it last."
Let White People Appropriate Mexican Food—Mexicans Do It to Ourselves All the Time by Gustavo Arellano:
The Mexican restaurant world is a delicious defense of cultural appropriation—that's what the culinary manifestation of mestizaje is, ain't it? The Spaniards didn't know how to make corn tortillas in the North, so they decided to make them from flour. Mexicans didn't care much for Spanish dessert breads, so we ripped off most pan dulces from the French (not to mention waltzes and mariachi). We didn't care much for wine, so embraced the beers that German, Czech and Polish immigrants brought to Mexico. And what is al pastor if not Mexicans taking shawerma from Lebanese, adding pork, and making it something as quintessentially Mexicans as a corrupt PRI?
 Of kimono and cultural appropriation | The Japan Times by Shaun O'Dwyer:
Manami Okazaki, whose book “Kimono Now” analyses modern kimono fashions, told me that her main worry was “that this (protest) will affect museums/ event organizers wanting to do kimono shows in the future, which is the last thing the industry needs.”

...That message, recently iterated to me by an employee at the Nishijin Textiles Center in Kyoto, is this: Anyone can appropriate and creatively modify kimono styles whenever and however they like.

...Kaori Nakano, a professor of fashion history at Meiji University put it to me this way: “Cultural appropriation is the beginning of new creativity. Even if it includes some misunderstanding, it creates something new.”
Japanese-American in Boston: Monet's La Japonaise Kimono Wednesdays at the MFA: "Kimono try on is an established part of Japanese cultural sharing. One of my friends reminded me that in Kyoto it's a big tourist thing to do something called "maiko for a day" (maiko are apprentice geisha) and it's popular with both Japanese people and international tourists. Another friend reminded me that it's common for non-Japanese to also wear kimono, yukata, and happi coats as obon festivals and other matsuris in places like Hawaii and California."

Japanese-American in Boston: Myths and facts about Kimono Wednesdays and the protests:
The MFA controversy clearly falls into the category of #firstworldproblems. I've continued to write about it because the protesters have continued to minimize and dismiss dissenting Japanese and Japanese American viewpoints which is not something I can accept.
Underneath the 'Orientalist' kimono | The Japan Times:
“The real reason why traditional kimono culture is about to (become) extinct,” wrote avant-garde fashion designer Yohji Yamamoto, “is because of its tendency to aspire to ‘perfection’ as a style that does not allow any other foreign item to be added to it. My advice for anyone wearing kimono is to challenge this rigidity; let’s forget about attending kimono lessons.”

 

From Jenner to Dolezal: One Trans Good, the Other Not So Much | By Adolph Reed Jr.:
When all is said and done, the racial outrage is about protection of the boundaries of racial authenticity as the exclusive property of the guild of Racial Spokespersonship. ... Beneath all the puerile cultural studies prattle about "cultural appropriation" ... lies yet another iteration in what literature scholar Kenneth Warren has identified in his masterful 2012 study, What Was African American Literature?, as a more than century-old class program among elements of the black professional-managerial stratum to establish “managerial authority over the nation’s Negro problem.”
Bonus thoughts by people from groups that some say are not white:

If you think Greeks are not white or are "imperfectly white":  "Why the Theory of Cultural Appropriation is Pro-Capitalist"—a guest post by Jonas Kyratzes:
...people from those countries are rarely threatened by “outsiders” taking on elements of their culture; in fact, they celebrate it. In Greece, when some element of Greek culture becomes popular worldwide, it tends to make the news. As a good thing. As in hey, we’re poor and miserable and everything is shit, but at least we’re still relevant in the world. People like our stuff! If you all start loving the bouzouki, we’re not suddenly going to run out of music over here.
If you think Jews are not white: The Myth of ‘Cultural Appropriation’ - The Chronicle of Higher Education by Walter Benn Michaels:
...one of the particular responsibilities of the humanities and social-science faculty is to help make sure that the students who take our courses come out not just richer than everyone else but also more virtuous. (It’s like adding insult to injury, but the opposite.)
Identity crimes — both the phantasmatic ones, like cultural theft, and the real ones, like racism and sexism — are perfect for this purpose, since, unlike the downward redistribution of wealth, opposing them leaves the class structure intact. Thus, for example, one can completely support (as I do) the actions of Middlebury College students in demonstrating their opposition to what they called Charles Murray’s "white nationalism" while at the same time noting that it’s not white nationalism that’s making poor people poorer; it’s capitalism. And when it comes to fighting capitalism, the Middlebury student body (median family income $244,300; about a quarter of Middlebury students come from the top 1 percent; three-quarters come from the top 20 percent) is not exactly in the revolution’s vanguard.
Update: Added several new bits about kimonos. 

Saturday, July 1, 2017

On Zootopia and the problem with using species as a metaphor for race or ethnicity


I thought Zootopia was fun, but I hated its metaphor, something that's bugged me at least since Spiegelman's Maus. A human race is an artificial concept, a tribe allows outsiders to join and insiders to leave, but a species is an immutable aspect of identity. The fox and rabbit of Zootopia can be friends, unlike the cats and mice of Maus who are genetically driven to be enemies, but they cannot mate. Using species as metaphors for race or tribe validates the beliefs of black and white racists who babble about racial purity.

But I quibble. Zootopia and Maus both have something important to say, even though what they say is a bit muddled. That's human art for you.

Friday, June 30, 2017

William Sanders is dead. He was a better man and a better writer than his haters.



I never met William Sanders, but I admired his work, and after I began studying mobbing and call-out culture, I admired the man, too. I wrote about him in The Powwow Dancer vs. the People of Privilege - Mobbing William Sanders.

The story of his that is most likely to be remembered is online: "The Undiscovered" by William Sanders (pdf).

He retired from writing, then wrote a couple of stories. I'll always wonder what more he might've written if fandom's identitarians had not decided to drive him from the field.

ETA: I learned of this from Gardner Dozois's Facebook post.

When anti-racists say they are racist, they mean you are

The original anti-racists—not the first people to fight racism, but the people who developed the race reductionist approach called Critical Race Theory—taught that all white people are racist because they grow up in a racist society. If you think about that, you'll know in a second it's nonsense because every society produces rebels. But the original anti-racists were not rebels. They were Ivy Leaguers who wanted to reach the top of the class pyramid, so they rejected the anti-capitalism of King and Malcolm X.

Science says their belief is wrong. There've been several tests to measure racism. None conclude that all white people are racist. Project Implicit's race test suggests a higher percentage of white people have measurable racism than any other test I know of, but Project Implicit is criticized by many people who think it suggests people are more racist than they actually are. Project Implicit's creators agree that could be so.

But anti-racists hate Project Implicit because it suggests a large minority of white people prefer black folks, and a smaller minority have no preference. In the discussion at Steven Brust’s Fourth Street Fantasy Remarks Generate Heat (a gift that keeps on giving), Cheryl S. said,
Ah, the Project Implicit test. Like Chad, I’ll never get those minutes back, but here:
Here is your result:
Your data suggest a moderate automatic preference for African Americans over European Americans.
Which I do have (and the test knows that because it asked me and I told it so), but since I’m white, I also harbor implicit, deeply rooted and societally based racism, so this don’t mean nothing. Also, in addition to all the flaws pointed out in the article @jayn linked, there is a significant flaw in the test (it times things, which may be meaningless if you’ve taught a test taker a system and then change it), plus all the photos were of men. In other words, this is the Myers-Briggs of racism testing, which is to say it’s meaningless drivel and proves precisely nothing except that people like taking stupid tests.
The research I've seen suggests the test is not amenable to gaming—I know my attempts to game it have failed—so there are two possibilities:

1. Cheryl S. is right about her racism, and Project Implicit failed her.
2. Cheryl S. is wrong about her racism, but a basic human rule applies: faith trumps facts.

I don't know Cheryl S., so I can't speculate. I'm fine with either possibility.

But if her faith requires her to feel she's harboring racism, don't assume she gets satisfaction from flagellating herself. A different mechanism is at work. Anti-racism's roots are in the religious theory of social justice, and their model of racism is that it's a sin passed from parent to child. When white anti-racists insist they are racists, they are not just saying they are sinners. They are saying they have been saved, but you are still damned.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

The Terrible Sea Lion: Persistent Politeness is Loved by Friends and Feared by Foes


A year ago, I shared this observation:
"Its 'sea lioning' when it's someone you don't agree with and 'calling out' when you do." —James 'Grim' Desborough
I noted,
There is one important difference: A sea lion must be polite, while a caller-out must be filled with (self-)righteous fury.
Sealioning came up in the discussion at Steven Brust’s Fourth Street Fantasy Remarks Generate Heat. These are the parts that I hope are worth sharing:

In response to one person, I said,
I’m amused by your mention of sealioning. Someone said this today on Facebook: “I think people who are weak debaters throw these terms [sealioning and strawmanning] out at people like caltrops, hoping they will grind their opponent down by boring them to death.”

Greg Hullender said,
From the cartoon, I would gather that “to sea lion” is to continue to press someone on an issue past they point where it’s clear they realize they’re wrong in an attempt to force them to admit it. A polite person, having made his/her point, will simply drop the subject once it’s clear the other person can’t really defend it. Sea Lions never drop anything.

That said, to accuse someone of sea lioning is to admit to being wrong, no? Or at least to having an indefensible position. It’s like pleading the fifth amendment.
Hampus Eckerman told Greg, "Feels like you didn’t read the comic." Greg replied,
I saw that definition, but it doesn’t match the comic. Reread the comic, but replace “sea lion” with “homosexual” or other minority. (Better, use a derogatory word for a minority.) Then you’ll see where I’m coming from.

I do see the point that the sea lion proves her point, in a way, by being so persistent. In that case, though, the cartoon seems to be making fun of anyone who stands up to discrimination. That’s not a great interpretation either.
I said,
As for “sealion” as a verb, based on the cartoon, it means “politely persist”, a trait admired in friends and hated in foes.
JJ insisted that a sea lion is a form of troll, and Lydy said,
Is Will really arguing that sealioning is good behavior? I may never stop laughing.
I said,
JJ, of course the sea lion is terrible to the people who oppose it. I said so.

But if a sea lion was a troll, the word would not have caught on. Trolls appear with their own issues and insult people like a fifth grade bully. The sea lion is relentlessly on topic, even when others want to drop it, and perfectly polite.

Lydy, you missed this part of what I wrote: “and hated in foes”. But that’s fine. I’m fascinated by the manifestations of cognitive dissonance. Gandhi covered them well when he wrote that first they ignore you….
Hampus provided links to the artist's statements about his intention: Wondermark » Archive » “Sea Lion” Has Been Verbed and Wondermark » Archive » 2014 Errata.

I replied,
As for “sealion”, any comic strip is open to interpretation. Even its creator may not be fully aware of its implications, simply because artists are human. See Authorial intent - Wikipedia
And then JJ insisted a sea lion is a troll, so I added,
JJ, there’s no definitive definition of any word anywhere, of course, but Wikipedia has a decent definition of internet troll: Internet troll

Note that unlike a troll, a sea lion does not start the discussion, does not go off-topic, and is polite rather than inflammatory. However, language is mutable, so the definition of troll may expand to include sea lion.

Understanding the identitarian difficulty with metaphor and idiom

Notes: This is a follow-up to Four kinds of safe spaces and a question about idiom. Some of the quotes are from longer posts at Steven Brust’s Fourth Street Fantasy Remarks Generate Heat that touch on other subjects. I've done my best to include everything about metaphor and idiom to keep from misrepresenting anyone, but if you spot anything that should've been included, mention it in the comments and I'll update this post.

Greg Hullender said,
I’m a linguist, and we have a slightly different definition of idiom than the popular one, but one that gets used in a lot of examples is “He kicked the bucket” to mean “He died.” This is certainly not literal, but I’d argue it isn’t metaphorical either.
I said,
Greg, how is it not metaphorical? Kicking the bucket is not meant literally—it’s a metaphor for dying. There are several theories for its origin, but whether it was originally a bucket or a beam or something else, that idiom seems perfectly metaphorical. I’d love to hear your argument that it isn’t.
Then I went googling to learn more, and added,
There seems to be an argument that idioms, like cliches, are so familiar that we don’t have to process them as we do a new metaphor. But that does not mean they aren’t metaphors. It just means they’re familiar.
Then I thought a bit and said,
Y’know, Lydy and WW may be onto something. For those of us who try to use language consciously, idioms are metaphorical. But for people who often use an idiom, it functions as a unit of sound that the hearer does not think about because the hearers believe they know the meaning—they literally don’t think about it. So when Steve used “safe space” as a metaphor, the part of the audience that has a single understanding of “safe space” literally could not grasp what he was saying.
Greg Hullender answered my question about kicking the bucket:
If I say “The sea was a mirror,” that’s a metaphor. You know the sea isn’t really a mirror, but you know what I mean. I read novels in French, Spanish, and Italian, and when I run across a new metaphor, even though I’ve never heard it in English, I can always figure it out. (Contrast “simile” where I’d say “The sea was like a mirror.”)

But with “Kick the bucket” or “Everything was in apple-pie order,” there is no way in the world to figure it out without a visit to the dictionary.
And he quoted what I said about Lydy and WW being onto something and said,
Linguists refer to this as lexicalizing a phrase. That means it effectively becomes a new “word” in the dictionary–a word that happens to contain spaces–whose meaning cannot be deduced simply from the pieces. “Real estate” is a good example. One could argue “safe space” is too.

An idiom is a bit more than a lexicalized expression because, unlike the latter, an idiom is not “productive.” Note that I cannot say “The bucket was kicked by him.” Only certain grammatical forms of the idiom are valid, whereas a lexicalized expression should have the same flexibility as any other word.
Lydy, who continues to insist that "safe space" is a term of art that is neither literal nor metaphorical, announced that she knew what a term of art was. I said,
Lydy, you say you know what a term of art is, but a term of art has a specific meaning to the group that uses it, which is to say, it is meant to be understood literally by them. Which is why the people who understood “safe space” as a term of art were so upset when Steve used it metaphorically.

Greg, thank you. Your definition of idiom seems to be “obscure metaphor”–you need to know the references to make sense of the metaphor, but if you’re very familiar with a language, you can use an idiom to communicate without knowing its past.

As for “the bucket was kicked by him”, give the internet a little more time. 🙂
So what happened at Fourth Street:

Steve, thinking like a writer, used a metaphor. But he did not know that some of his audience were part of a group that understands "safe space" as a term of art and therefore were as confused as Scientologists would be by someone who used one of their terms of art as a metaphor.

Bonus: Safe-space - Criticism - Wikipedia

In College and Hiding From Scary Ideas - The New York Times: "But the notion that ticklish conversations must be scrubbed clean of controversy has a way of leaking out and spreading. Once you designate some spaces as safe, you imply that the rest are unsafe. It follows that they should be made safer."

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Four kinds of safe spaces and a question about idiom

At Steven Brust’s Fourth Street Fantasy Remarks Generate Heat | File 770, Lydy Nickerson claimed,
I would like to point out that “safe space” is neither a literal nor a metaphorical phrase. It is a term of art, coming out of various complex discussions about how to deal with racism, sexism, and kierarchy.
World Weary added,
i’m surprised to find a writer unfamiliar with the concept of idiom, a term which describes a word or words with a specific but non-literal and non-metaphorical meaning. The bane of translaters everywhere.
This is a slightly revised version of my reply,
World Weary, the reason idiom is difficult to translate is because idioms can be literal, but they’re more commonly metaphorical. When they’re literal, they assume knowledge that outsiders don’t have. And that’s true when they’re metaphorical. Can you offer an example of an idiom that is neither metaphorical or literal?

To take this back to the topic:

A safe space can be a literal space that is safe from physical danger because danger cannot enter, like a fortress or an isolated chamber such as the safe room that rich people build in their homes.

A safe space can be one of at least three kinds of spaces where the safety is metaphorical, based on the consent of the people who meet there:

A space that is free from physical danger by agreement, like sacred grounds or a place where a flag of truce is flying.

A space where no ideas are taboo.

A space where certain ideas are taboo.
Thinking more about the possibility that an idiom could be literal but obscure, I went looking and couldn't find any examples, but I found a good definition of idiom at English Idioms | Lists of Idioms with Definitions and Examples:
An idiom (also called idiomatic expression) is an expression, word, or phrase that has a figurative meaning conventionally understood by native speakers. This meaning is different from the literal meaning of the idiom's individual elements. In other words, idioms don't mean exactly what the words say. They have, however, hidden meaning.
So, can anyone offer an example of an idiom that is neither literal or metaphorical? 

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Black Panther wisdom: two quotes by Huey P. Newton and Fred Hampton

“I dissuade Party members from putting down people who do not understand. Even people who are unenlightened and seemingly bourgeois should be answered in a polite way. Things should be explained to them as fully as possible. I was turned off by a person who did not want to talk to me because I was not important enough. Maurice just wanted to preach to the converted, who already agreed with him. I try to be cordial, because that way you win people over. You cannot win them over by drawing the line of demarcation, saying you are on this side and I am on the other; that shows a lack of consciousness. After the Black Panther Party was formed, I nearly fell into this error. I could not understand why people were blind to what I saw so clearly. Then I realized that their understanding had to be developed.” ―Huey P. Newton

“We got to face some facts. That the masses are poor, that the masses belong to what you call the lower class, and when I talk about the masses, I’m talking about the white masses, I’m talking about the black masses, and the brown masses, and the yellow masses, too. We’ve got to face the fact that some people say you fight fire best with fire, but we say you put fire out best with water. We say you don’t fight racism with racism. We’re gonna fight racism with solidarity. We say you don’t fight capitalism with no black capitalism; you fight capitalism with socialism.” —Fred Hampton

ETA: The Women's Liberation and Gay Liberation Movements, Speech given by Huey Newton, founder of the Black Panthers, August 15, 1970.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Censors censor discussion of censorship—a 4th Street followup

I made a post on the 4th Street Fantasy Facebook page asking which specific part of the 4th Street Code of Conduct Steve Brust is supposed to have broken. Alex Haist, who silenced Steve, also administers the 4th Street page; she deleted my post.

I then asked this on her post about closing comments:
I am guessing you deleted my post. Perhaps this is the proper place to ask the question: What specific part of the Code of Conduct did Brust break? http://www.4thstreetfantasy.com/2017/policies/code-of-conduct.ghtml
She replied,
No, this is not the right place. As I said, you're welcome to have this conversation with us in email.
and then she turned off commenting on that post.

So I made a new post, trying to point out that if you expect people to abide by your speech code, you have to be able to explain which part of the code applies to what you censor. Otherwise, you just appear to be a dictator.

Okay, I worded the post much more gently than that, but she must have seen the implications, because she deleted it.

Yes, I know private censorship is perfectly legal. It is still wrong.

Relevant: XKCD doesn't understand free speech—or the difference between legal and moral rights

Friday, June 23, 2017

Why it's easier to speak among free speech supporters than in a "safe space"

In defense of safe spaces, Scott Lynch said, “It is difficult to be bold in front of strangers when you don’t feel fundamentally welcome.”

That's certainly true. But it's not the only consideration.

It is impossible to be bold in front of strangers when you don’t know what may inspire them to silence you. It is much easier to be bold in front of free speech supporters. Even the ones who most oppose you will support your right to speak.

The Malcolm X Code of Conduct


“Be peaceful, be courteous, obey the law, respect everyone; but if someone puts his hand on you, send him to the cemetery.” – Malcolm X

“Obey the law” does not mean submit to authority. Martin Luther King believed in nonviolence and Malcolm believed in self-defense, but they had more in common than not, including a preference for legal protest. It's tactically wise. A speaker is more effective in public than in prison.

Because Malcolm believed in self-defense, his “if” is essential: Has no one laid hands on you? Stay peaceful, courteous, and respectful.

Nothing in his code kept him from demanding justice, as you may see by watching any of his speeches or interviews.

Possibly relevant: I discuss cowboy codes of the early 20th century in A little about America's idea of cowboys and traditional male values. They have a lot in common with Malcolm's code.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Denying "standing": how identitarians marginalize the marginalized who disagree with them (focusing on 4th St. Fantasy)

At Followup On Fourth Street, Hopping689 told Steven Brust,
Your opening address was in no way aggressive and I heartily approved of it. Speaking as a disabled woman. 
If a writer has nothing to say about society, I don’t read their work and I certainly don’t go to hear them speak. Why would I, if they have nothing to say? Surely nearly every story is about society and the individual’s place in it. Especially SFF, aka “the literature of ideas.” 
By “safe space” do those who object actually mean “commercially safe space”? If groups are socially and economically disadvantaged to the point they don’t feel safe speaking up in public discussions, hadn’t the panel better address the political forces behind that? If you don’t talk about real things, real people don’t care. They don’t have the time. The purpose of the discussion becomes insular, otherwise; maybe even indulgent. It’s the very thing that puts busy, cash-strapped, tired people off reading in the first place. Anti-intellectualism relies on art which says nothing. 
It seems a fairly typical use of identity politics to quash genuine political discussion, whether it’s done consciously or not. And anyway, (to make the old joke) speaking as a woman, it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.
But her comments have been excluded from the identitarian narrative because it does not fit. Like Adolph Reed, whose short piece on anti-racism should be read by anyone who is concerned with racism, she cannot be dismissed with the usual ad hominem, so she's simply ignored.

I started thinking about "standing" when I read Cheryl S.'s comment at Steven Brust’s Fourth Street Fantasy Remarks Generate Heat | File 770:
...I commented yesterday that Brust lacked standing. He doesn’t get to redefine the meaning in order to make a rather dubious point while also dog whistling the culture. wars.
Why does Steve lack standing? Because he's a white male who does not accept the neoliberal understanding of privilege developed in the Ivy League.

As a disabled woman, Hopping689 should have all the "standing" anyone needs to have their position taken seriously. But for identitarians, ideology trumps identity, a fact that should be especially obviously when cis het white male identitarians tell a story that erases Hopping689 and all the women who did not feel threatened by Steve.

Earlier:

Ideology makes you confuse the literal and the metaphorical--a bit about the 4th Street Kerfuffle

Yes, some people literally did not understand that Steve Brust was speaking metaphorically

"Why the Theory of Cultural Appropriation is Pro-Capitalist"—a guest post by Jonas Kyratzes

Jonas made a comment on My opening remarks at Fourth Street Fantasy Convention that deserves more attention, so I've made it a guest post. -WS

Why the Theory of Cultural Appropriation is Pro-Capitalist

by Jonas Kyratzes

Of course the concept of appropriation is pro-capitalist: it treats culture, inherently diffuse, messy, mixed up and impure, as an ownable good available in limited amounts. It’s an even more extreme version of the logic applied to software piracy. It’s turning everything into a product.

Even the excuse that the point supposedly is to protect people from that culture (and not to police cultural borders) comes purely in capitalist terms – the function is to protect those artists who make a living by selling a purist fantasy. And usually, to be clear, these are Americans who have some ancestral connection to that culture, not people from another country. Because people from those countries are rarely threatened by “outsiders” taking on elements of their culture; in fact, they celebrate it. In Greece, when some element of Greek culture becomes popular worldwide, it tends to make the news. As a good thing. As in hey, we’re poor and miserable and everything is shit, but at least we’re still relevant in the world. People like our stuff! If you all start loving the bouzouki, we’re not suddenly going to run out of music over here.

And the irony is, of course, that this demand for cultural purity actually *diminishes* opportunities for artists from these countries. If certain elements of their culture become part of the global mainstream, that’s actually a chance to have an impact! It makes you more easily understood, makes what you have to offer more accessible. It builds bridges. But the anti-appropriation argument actually just has the effect of limiting “cultural authority” to the tiny minority of English or American middle-class artists who take on the role of “authentic” representative/consultant and perpetuate these rigid Maoist-style ideologies to safeguard their position.

The people outside the US most likely to be against appropriation, i.e. against the mixing of cultures, are fascists. The people most likely to make a big deal about “their” culture are extreme conservatives. That’s what you’re supporting on a global scale when you fight against appopriation – the very worst parts of society, the equivalent of your very own white supremacists. The rest of us are deeply opposed to nationalism, to cultural chauvinism. We’re not insecure about “our” culture. We’re fighting against borders, against segregation, for unity and understanding between cultures. Cultures which, incidentally, simply cannot be ranked in some convenient hierarchy – our histories are way too messy for that.

Why American leftists insist on supporting the extreme right, the worst enemies of the very oppressed you claim to want to help, will never make sense. We could really use your solidarity, but that would require an internationalist, transcultural perspective.

Yes, some people literally did not understand that Steve Brust was speaking metaphorically

A footnote to Ideology makes you confuse the literal and the metaphorical--a bit about the 4th Street Kerfuffle:

I completely understand why people find it hard to believe anyone did not understand that Steve was speaking metaphorically. That croggled me, too. But the difficulty of understanding metaphor began with the first comments at 4th Street Fantasy Society:

David Cummer Are you saying Steve intended to make people feel threatened?

LikeShow more reactions
ReplyJune 17 at 2:29pm
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Alex Haist David Cummer He said so explicitly, so yes.

LikeShow more reactions
ReplyJune 17 at 2:30pm

I answered,

Will Shetterly Alex has trouble understanding metaphors, so she did not hear what he was saying. This would not have been a problem had she asked him if what she inferred was what he intended to imply.

Reply
5
June 18 at 12:30amEdited

Even after considerable discussion about metaphors, there were exchanges like this:

Karen Osborne Because he literally said that we should feel threatened. Good heavens.

Reply
2
June 20 at 3:54pmEdited
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Will Shetterly Karen Osborne Did he say it literally or metaphorically?
Edit
Will Shetterly I asked Matt Smit this, and he hasn't answered yet: Is it no longer possible to use "threaten" as a metaphor? I'm old, and language changes, so if that's so, it'd be good to know. In my day, anything could be meant literally or metaphorically.
Edit
Matt Smit You asked Reuben, not me, Will.

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1
June 20 at 3:58pm
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Karen Osborne Will - You already know what he said.

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2
June 20 at 3:59pm
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Will Shetterly Karen Osborne Yes, I do, and I know it was a metaphor.

ETA: At Steven Brust’s Fourth Street Fantasy Remarks Generate Heat | File 770, Hampus Eckerman doubles down on the idea that Steve's metaphor was a literal threat. I replied, "All metaphors are said literally. That does not mean metaphoric speech is literal speech, even though English would let us say that."