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April 08, 2003

You are either with us, or against us (?)

Charlie Murtaugh has a good post about intolerance in the blogsphere. Check it out:

....I'll get back to the essay itself later; what I want to bitch about right now is the increasingly commissarish attitude I see in the liberal blogosphere.

Now before you spit-take all over your flatscreen monitor, let me hasten to assure you that a similar attitude exists on the right as well, but this should be no surprise: conservative are supposed to revere certain revealed truths, and resent their being challenged. Liberals, at least the way I was taught by my parents, are supposed to be open to skepticism and challenge....


So here's a plea to those bloggers who remain honest and are still low-rent -- which includes pretty much everyone on my blogroll -- please don't change just because you get your own little Atriettes. Remember that you still have a miniscule audience, in the scheme of things, and if you piss some of them off with your unwillingness to condescend, that's their problem not yours.

To paraphrase Beck, "In the day of the reconquista you would have been Torquemada...."

I left the Left when it seemed there was a consensus among the Lefterati that Reason was a "right-wing" journal. Libertarianism can be defined as right-wing according to a given typology but they didn't dispute Reason having the title that it did! It was a symbolic matter but I think it goes to the heart of a shift on the Left. There are still Leftists that I can have a discussion with over honest disagreemants on public & social policy. They range all over the spectrum but seem to be united by a respect for the Enlightenment and the methodologies that subsume the Western world-view, skepticism, rationalism and empiricism, tempering the natural tendency to defer to tradition and appeal to authority. Because of this the reasonable Left tends to agree with my libertarian (liberal?) suspicion of the clerisy, moral absolutism and argument from authority. Tolerance bounded by a respect for basic individual rights, freedom, equality and rule of law were the hallmarks of my own childhood Leftism and are still adhered to by many of those that remain in that camp. But sometime in the past 10 years it seems that these basic values became open to critique-especially when tolerance swallows its own tale and individuals begin to expound on the various truths that "other cultures" can bring to the fore to "de-center" the "Euro-centric" paradigm [1]. You know what I mean, it is hard to coherently encapsulate the irrational PoMoisms that rule the roost in some quarters. Like an oil slick it expands evermore until I believe that the Left as-we-know-it will become a utility for the personal prejudices and ambitions of individuals-just as Communism has become in China.

Yes, there are elements of the Right that are out of control (I am Razib-centered in this judgement), and I certainly don't have much in common with them on many issues-but when there is a fire in the movie theater, you have to run for the exits and ignore who you're bumping into in the crowd. The emphasis on "identity," "personal narrative" and most insidiously of all, the use of a racial or ethnic "group" as all-encompassing organizers of discourse rather than facets of an individual persona are revolting to me [2].

An anecdote will illustrate what my problem with the nouveau Left is. A few years ago I was sitting in Starbucks with a friend who is half-Israeli Arab half-Scottish. He by a quirk of fate looks "Jewish." I am brown. We were sitting talking about Islam, specifically the four major Sunni schools, since both of us were atheists from a green background who reflected on how we were shaped by our parents and "our culture." There was a guy-wearing birkenstocks and a loose shirt with a hemp illustration staring at us for a long time-until finally he came up to us and asked, "Excuse me, why are you talking about Islam? It seems that that isn't your native culture." We both explained our backgrounds. He seemed confused. He turned out to be Jewish, and apologized to my Arabo-Caledonian friend as he had assumed that he was also a member of the same tribe, and then turned to me and stated with a smile, "But you know, Hinduism is your natural culture" (like a monkey that jumps through the trees I suppose). I replied, "Well, my paternal grandmother comes from a recently converted family-but the rest of my family has been Muslim for at least 500 years, and some of my ancestors are probably Turkish or Persian...." He shrugged and simply wouldn't give ground. I was brown, so I must be Hindu. To him, it made no sense, and he felt sorry that I had lost my "natural" culture [3]. This was the most extreme case of this fixation with identity-but this outlook is not too uncommon in milder forms-your personal background dictates your world-view, and deviations are simply ignored as "un-authentic" [4]. Of course, conservatives from the Bible-Belt have made judgements about me (not often, I hang out only with liberals), but well, they are conservatives from the Bible-Belt (I was in a bible study this summer though, no problem, they weren't whack racists or anything). I don't have expectations that they will have a broad world-view, but the guy who explained how I *must* be Hindu had a Trust Fund (we talked about it after I asked what his job was) and had travelled the world. He lived in Jordan for many years, and waxed poetically about how "beautiful" the native culture was. My readers can see where this guy was coming from just from these facts.

I can't tell you how many times I have defused a tense situation with a radical feminist by pulling the race card out-it's like a "get out of jail" card-my oppression aces your oppression. A succinct but effective counter-punch, "I as a non-white male feel that you are imposing your Eurocentric values" [5]. At first, I did this as a joke, and found to my surprise it worked. Later on, I realized that this was the only way to shut some of these types up. What do you do when a person who you know scored 1300 on their SATs and graduates summa with distinction on their thesis looks at you eye to eye and asserts, "Science is just another phallo-centric European paradigm that is a myth...." Yes, my jaw-drops, but I can't reason with someone that denies the validity of reason can I??? I am from Earth and she is from Pluto. I know some of my liberal readers will object that these are caricatures, samplings of the wacko-Left that do not represent what it truly is and the justice that it strives for. That is true to some extent, but the navel-gazers to seem to be waxing in strength. You're oppressed, I'm oppressed, and we'll OK as long as we can shit on white males.

I have now started to call the pro-multicultural PoMo anti-Western Leftists "retro-progressives." While Enlightenment Accepting liberals can criticize the brutal and savage treatment of women that prevails in non-Western cultures, I have noticed a shocking passivity of retro-progressives in the face of non-white "indigenous" practices. That have gone so far ahead of the rest of us that they now are starting sometime after the end of the Paleolithic-it was after all a more natural time.... As an example hemp-loving Trust Fundie I spoke of refused to condem honor killings without qualifications and asserted that the male-female relationships in those cultures were good and balanced in a way that American ones were not [6]. Some feminists have even gone to the extent of asserting that non-Western males enforce patriarchy as a way of acting out their own resentment toward the white male power structure! Not only is this empirical fantasy, it illustrates another tendency-to patronize non-whites to the point of making them noble savages who have no accountability. We don't expect chimps to have a moral sense (in a fashion, they probably do), because they are brutes. Sometimes I feel that is how the retro-progressive Left look as non-white people in their "state of nature." Rousseau would be proud!

I will tell you something that many readers might find shocking, but people who know me will know is true, I would try something on people in my freshmen year classes when I first met them, I would assert, "White men should be killed and their women should be used as fuck-animals" (Update: To be fair to some of my good friends, people have asserted that the way I am as an individual is more important in explaining their inability to get angry at me-I don't totally buy it, but there is probably something to it-I don't know why I elicit giggles rather than shock, but in a way, it's a good way to be....) Most of the people would laugh or smile. It was so amusing you see. I really wanted to meet someone that was offended by this assertion, but no one said anything. I have many good friends-attractive women who stand up for themselves-who to this day are partly defined in my mind by the bright cheery smiles on their faces after I made this statement. I mean, what sort of world are we in when the fact that I have brown skin makes me have no accountability??? I can give many similar examples-outrageous things I would say, and could clearly say because of my color. I won't say any more on this.

One more thing, I have had a long running discussion with another blogger for a while now about traffic and what not. This is a hobby for me, and an addictive one-but just a hobby. Quality is MUCH more important than quantity as far as readers go. I would stop blogging if it weren't for the comment boxes-the exchange between David B. and Steve C. on "group evolution" for instance was worth as much as reading Unto Others. I don't really have specialized knowledge the world is interested in (you wanna know how to integrate JSP well with PostgreSQL mediated through a Servlet control layer using Java Beans as data containers???)-but the dialogue is of some importance I like to think. Oh, and please don't say the the stuff I know about religion or history is "specialized." It is the byproduct of a library card-not a great deal of specialized study-and I do it for my own curiousity.

P.S. I haven't commented on Murtaugh's original stuff about Creationism and what not. I tend to have sympathy with Yglesias on this-I like to joke about being one of "Darwin's Wolves." But unlike many people that think Creationisists are plain wrong, I have read a fair amount about the differences between say the ID people at The Discovery Institute at the people at the ICR (Institute for Creation Research) as well as people that are harder to classify like Billy Graham or William Jennings Bryant. You need to take different taks to refute and respond to them, a lot of the commenters seem to be using the ICR perspective as their model (some people bring up the overall methodological problem with Creationism-that is the best and most general point, but a lot of the people seem to be of the vein, "Fucking fundies!"). The ID people are slicker, so you have to be carefull, because they are slippery as eels. If you read Ronald Numbers The Creationists you will know that fundamentalist geologists generally abandon their views when they get into grad school-does it really matter what an accountant thinks about evolution in the end? Please understand, I am actually one of those people who calls in during radio shows about the Creation vs. Evolution "controversy" and can debunk point by point the bizarro lies that Creationists throw at scientifically naive but liberal people who don't understand how The Second Law of Thermodynamics is being warped by the fundie-on-the-phone because they don't know what it is :) The importance has to do with science in the broad-view, I have stated I would accept Creationism in the schools with the proviso they admit that no one in modern biology uses any of their models and that there isn't a "controversy" in scientific circles-this is factual and you can't get around this by presenting quotations from Darwin on Trial-that way, any half-way-decently intelligent kid would know this isn't really science, well, cuz it isn't. As the problem is not the conclusions but the methodology that is being prattled about, Murtaugh is right when he hints that many atheists who "accept evolution" have not internalized the scientific methodology-Dawkins was wrong IMO when he stated in The Blind Watchmaker that atheism was untenable in the pre-Darwinian age. I think evolution and science in general tear at many aspects of religion and are a problem-but the human mind is clever, and there are religionists who have responded with some vigor and I think success, though I still disagree in the end (perhaps I'll rehash why I think so, but different post). Ok zizka, tee off :) BTW, if anyone thinks that "reason" will banish religion, and that facts are an impediment to faith, see the tale of Sabbatai Zvi.

[1] Much of this is posing, the proximate behavior is political discussion, but the actually intent is to make onself seem better, more righteous and more intellectual. Political tools are an end to personal self-esteem & enchanced group status. So of course, it doesn't matter if you don't know what the hell you are talking about-theory is more malleable than a full-fleshed paradigm tempered by the moderation won through 2,000 years of Western culture.

[2] I talk about race on this blog, but I talk about religion, language, history-many things that combine to form who an individual is. It fascinates me partly because I am a bit truncated in this regard, I have little personal feeling for "my race," "my religon" or "my language." But I assert that the basic unit of organization remains the individual, the class or grouping is formed from the bottom up, rather than from the top-down. I will elaborate further, but a bottom-up viewpoint means that generalizations that apply to the group obviously do not hold for the inviduals. It is not a idealistic conception of groups-it is an empirical one. I won't go so far as zizka and say I am a nominalist, but I wish the world looked at these things more like that. Unlike zizka, most of the world does not come to nominalism easily and tends to give metaphysical-emotional weight to these categories. I have to deal with the world as it is, so I tackle race, religion and linguistic groups.

[3] There is some truth to this in that I think malwali peoples have some identity issues, but he wasn't expressing any nuance or much knowledge about the details. If you know not what you speak of, speak not.

[4] Most minority individuals that reject identity politics have the experience of being called "sell-outs" or "white-washed" by their oh-so-progressive co-ethnics. I know this personally and other friends who are more professionally or personally rather than ethnically oriented have told me it has happened to them too.

[5] One thing I suggest to whites now days is to make up a non-white ancestry. People will not dispute you, they have been conditioned not too. A few years back in a history class at the University of Imbler a red-haired girl talked about how she felt "discriminated" against because she was a minority, the professor asked her to explain herself since she looked white, and she said, "I'm Native American." The class and the professor laughed and she went to the Dean of the History Dept. and complained, and the professor is now much more sensative to these sort of things-his job depends on it....

[6] To paraphrase someone, "Name the Savage." Liberals should not fail to identify savagery and barbarism where it occurs. We don't speak of chimps as savages because they are beasts without full sentience (at least so we think). If we don't speak of non-Western cultures as savage when they behave in such a fashion are they too beasts who bring color and richness to the fabric of nature rather than civilization? Differences between cultures goes deeper than spicing the food or the color of your sash-in many (most) cultures of the world, property rights of a paterfamilias extends to women (I use the Latin term to remind readers that this was so in the West in the past as well-we have made "progress" so to speak). If damaged, they must be discarded. To a Westerner it is barbaric-but the act itself is less barbaric than the cultural context in which it is embedded. To elucidate-when a man kills his sister for being raped, the normal reaction is to wonder what is wrong with the murderer. But in these cultures, this act is seen as a "defense of honor"-the act of rape was a shame on the whole clan, so a man that kills his sister is taking upon himself the full responsibility of the act of clearing their name-he is doing a good deed for the family. He is more than just a murderer, he is an avenger, through him acts the hand of justice in these cultures. The fact that the woman was innocent is irrelevant, the crime was against the family, not her, she is a bystander. Yes, the individual is sick, but the culture is sicker. A pagan before Christ might go to hell, but it is a far deeper sin for those those who know of the Good News to reject it....

Posted by razib at 05:45 PM

dude, what were you doing in a bible study this summer??

Posted by: Jason Soon at April 8, 2003 08:13 PM

it was kind of like alan sokal's spoof of post-modernism-i strung togethre blatheritudes about christ and mindless exeges of the scripture and tried to figure out if they could figure out i was an atheist.

i have serious irritated with McChurch :)

Posted by: razib at April 8, 2003 08:18 PM

I relate to your irritation over the shoehorning the freak tried in the Starbucks. I think one's genotype can also be used as tyranny by category, which is why I'm oriented anti-race.
So razib-what's up the FAQ-first Godless asks for questions-no response-then you. You're too prolix to claim you don't have the time.
You're not obligated, no doubt, but one question I really wanted the GNXP answer to was if you know nothing about a person except his or her race, what predictions can you make about that individual- beyond the mere statistical (and hence tautalogical)?
P.S. if you advocated using white women as fuck animals around me -I'd a beat you like a nigger stepchild.

Posted by: martin at April 8, 2003 08:59 PM

nice to see the feminism trumps cultural sensativity for you martin....

FAQ-yeah, well, entries come go, FAQ would be permenant, so i want to do it right. you know....

Posted by: razib at April 8, 2003 09:04 PM

One comment I can make is that a lot of multi-culturalism is consumer-oriented, going around the world and skimming off the sexiest and most fun stuff. I saw a lot of this when I was in Asia -- basically people whe would go from festival to festival all year round and have tremendous amounts of fun, not realizing that for the locals their festivals were often just short breaks in a year dominated by boredom, hard labor, and poverty. Likewise when someone buys some kind of weaving or knicknack and thinks they've become one with the Maya or something like that.

This sort of multiculturalism is something I can agree with you about pretty much without reservation. I have a friend whose parents are both (originally) reservation Indians, and he's at least as offended as you are by that kind of crap.

But as I keep saying, outside the university PoMo, hippies and multiculturalism are really negligible political factors.

Posted by: zizka at April 8, 2003 10:36 PM

"But as I keep saying, outside the university PoMo, hippies and multiculturalism are really negligible political factors"

My mind is now boggled.

Posted by: M. at April 9, 2003 04:51 PM

To begin with, the Greens are a negligible political factor, no matter how many of them you happen to run into. 2.5% of the vote. They shanked Gore pretty good, but even so Gore got an absolute majority of the votes and would have won with an honest count. (No one here probably agrees with that, but let's let that one sit, OK).

PoMo: I could have added the art world, I suppose, and maybe the world of fashion. Big deal.

BTW, I count dropouts and liberal arts grads who work in copy centers and coffee shops as part of the university.

Annoying hemp-clad people you see hanging around are probably not among the movers and shakers of the political world.

I suppose that if you count civil rights, bilingual ed, and affirmative action as multiculturalism, then it is a real factor. Most of that stuff has been there since before multiculturalism came along, though. It's really old-fashioned interest-group politics.

I guess there are some big corporations who play the affirmative action game. Add them.

What are the big political issues on the table now? Military spending and strategy, tax and fiscal policy, discretionary public spending, vouchers, abortion, free trade, the environment, gay rights I suppose. Where are the PoMo people winning? (Not a rhetorical question: abortion, gay rights, and the environment, up to a point, but these are not purely PoMo issues and the counterattack is fierce).

The Republicans are dominant now. Who are the PoMo Republicans? The Democrats are weak, and they do everything they can to renounce Nader, Chomsky, the Greens, the PoMo's, etc. Who are the PoMo Dems?

(The late Paul Wellstone was a total square, incidentally, the kind that PoMo's laugh at).

So M, pick up your jaw from where it fell, reattach it, and tell me where the power of the PoMos is. Your world still looks small to me.

Posted by: zizka at April 10, 2003 02:40 PM

The present day republicans are not rightwing or conservative, so I don't see why leftists aren't happy with them.

Posted by: Sporon at April 10, 2003 06:11 PM

Sporon -- we're off in nominalist territory again. They're way too conservative for me and not conservative enough for you.

Posted by: zizka at April 10, 2003 07:52 PM

Republicans abandonned real conservatism long ago for two things: 1) the outback (i.e. log cabins and big tents), and 2) someone they refer to as their "friend in the middle east".

Posted by: Sporon at April 10, 2003 11:24 PM