Needless To Say, Part II

by John Holbo on April 14, 2012

Contrary to early indications, NR folks have had quite a bit to say about the Derbyshire firing. I thought this probably wouldn’t happen because then they would have to say that the Derb was basically in the right on the intellectual merits, tone issues aside. Which would be awkward. But they have gone there (to their intellectual credit and/or moral discredit – you decide). For example, here’s the latest from John O’Sullivan:

The paradoxical result is that a piece that begins as a criticism of anti-white racism gradually morphs into something akin to an expression of white racism. It therefore strengthens the anti-white racism it is meant to satirize which, as it happens, is a growing problem in the U.S. — not in the suburbs or backwoods but in the corporate executive suites, the media elites, the courts, the bureaucracy, and of course the entire industry of sensitivity training which used to go under the more honest title of “Political Reeducation” in the gulag. Combined with class snobbery, as it usually is, anti-white racism produces bigotry and discrimination against innocent persons too, less viciously than past discriminations perhaps, but also more unanswerably because it operates under the virtuous disguise of anti-discrimination and social justice.

Obviously there is no paradox. I wish Yglesias would get off his moneybox soap box and revisit one of his evergreen themes of yore. But I guess I can do the honors. The appeal of banging on and on about anti-white racism (anti-anti-racism), even though it’s obviously silly to suppose it’s a gulag-grade social problem that is in some ways worse than old-fashioned racism ever was, is that it is akin to an expression of white racism. Historically, expressions of white racism have gradually morphed into expressions of anti-anti-racism, as it became less and less socially acceptable to express white racism openly. Republicans stand in steady need of rhetorical forms that are akin to expressions of white racism, but that afford plausible deniability against charges of racism. Thus: anti-anti-racism. But plausible deniability requires that you get in and out in a hurry.

And that’s why, as O’Sullivan says, the real problem with the Derb’s piece is not what it said but, paradoxically, the fact that it was said at such length. If something that hasn’t quite come into clear view quacks like a duck and walks like a duck, it’s likely to morph into a duck, the longer you look at it. That’s just playing the odds. (Not really a paradox at all.)
Let me adapt a bit from comments to my other post. Here are two ‘spirits’ in which Derb could have talked the Talk:

‘Kid, once upon a time, good people had a noble, liberal dream of a color-blind society. But reality played a cruel joke on us all, and here’s the way things work and I doubt anything is ever going to change that. But anyway, you don’t want to be mugged …’ If he’d said that, he’d have kept his job, to say the least.

Here’s something more in line with what he actually said: ‘once upon a time, bad people had a warped, liberal dream of a color-blind society. And reality played a deliciously cruel joke on them. Now the rest of us have to live somewhat artificial lives, in the aftermath of this vain social engineering collapse, but at least we – who are not ultimately the butt of the joke – can derive some vicarious Schadenfreude from the sorry spectacle – which is no small compensation …’ Probably then you give the kid some de Maistre to read.

The Derb gave an interview to Gawker, in the aftermath of his firing, in which he pretty much took the mild, ‘more in sorrow than anger’ line:

Fix the schools! End poverty! Stamp out racism! Affirmative action! Fifty years ago a thoughtful person could sign on to those prescriptions. I know: I was around: I did. Yes (we said) once unjust laws had been struck down, and some social massaging of that sort been done for a few years, the races would merge in happy harmony, and the word “race” and its derivatives would drop out of the language. We all believed that. I believed it.

Plainly this hasn’t happened, except of course in the upper classes, which go by their own rules. For a thoughtful person today to believe that these social-engineering nostrums will (for example) bring black crime rates to a level indistinguishable from white crime rates, involves a strenuous act of what Orwell called “doublethink”—massive self-deception.

But plainly this isn’t the spirit of the Taki Mag piece he wrote. So what gives? You can’t BOTH think liberalism is a noble, albeit tragically failed dream of color-blind racial equality that only conservatives are keeping alive, by heroically protesting against anti-anti-racism AND be delighted by the mischievously self-delighted racism of the Derb’s version of the Talk. So will the real Derb please stand up?

Well, I don’t know. But I’ll bet they are both as real as houses. The thing to see is how easy it is for conservatives to be in this particular state of cognitive dissonance.

{ 252 comments }

1

js. 04.14.12 at 6:33 am

once upon a time, good people had a noble, liberal dream of a color-blind society.

Maybe this is part of the problem. E.g., what exactly is a “color-blind” society supposed to be like? Here’s one a lot of people sort of imagine, I think: everyone gets treated like white people do now. Awesome! Think about that for a second longer, and it’s totally mad.

Here’s another way to think about it: replace “color” in “color-blind” with some other category of discrimination, where this category of discrimination is such that some society somewhere in history has overcome the discrimination in question by becoming “blind” to the category. Examples? (I’d wager there aren’t any.)

2

John Holbo 04.14.12 at 7:14 am

Sorry, js. you want any example of a characteristic x that once morally divided a society y, which some later society y’ decided was not a moral big deal after all? You are skeptical that history provides any such examples?

3

William Timberman 04.14.12 at 7:30 am

Much too convoluted, all of this. There’s only one human race, with all its members entitled to an equivalent respect and consideration. For various reasons, pretty much everyone to date has behaved as though this isn’t true. Those who recognize that it is true are discounted by Derbyshire, et al. as idealists, that is, as people who refuse to acknowledge how the world really works.

Which is to say that Derbyshire is both a sophist and a wanker, and so are his erstwhile companions in discrimination. They — all of them — think that vocabulary and syntax, in the hands of an expert, can turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse. I frankly don’t see why we should rise to the bait by commenting on their efforts, at least not in any detail. Put bluntly, they’ve already gathered more than enough rhetorical rope to hang themselves. Why not let them get on with it?

4

js. 04.14.12 at 7:38 am

you want any example of a characteristic x that once morally divided a society y, which some later society y’ decided was not a moral big deal after all? You are skeptical that history provides any such examples?

No. I have a problem with with the “color-blind” (or x-blind) metaphor (or paradigm or model or whatever it is). For one thing, it only makes sense from the perspective of the of the privileged group. I mean, you wouldn’t ask blacks or latinos to be color-blind, right? That doesn’t make sense in any context.

More importantly, though, it wrongly frames racism as an epistemological (or worse, psychological) problem. Compare hereditary rank, e.g., as something that lots of societies decided was not “a moral big deal”. It’s not like it went away because people stopped caring about it. People (eventually!) stopped caring about it because lots and lots of (non-privileged) people fought like hell to erase its (institutional [ontological?]) existence.

That’s my only point really. Let’s not approach racism (a) from the position of the privileged, or (b) as an epistemological or psychological problem. I think that the “color-blind” metaphor does both of these things. But maybe other people hear it differently.

5

Eli Rabett 04.14.12 at 8:01 am

js asks for somewhere in history has overcome the discrimination in question by becoming “blind” to the category. Try Irish, Italian, Slavic e.g. Poles etc. in US society starting about 1940 or 50.

OTOH the NR admission test makes sure that anyone who writes for that rag wants to wipe out Affirmative Action except of course for that which affirmatively assumes that anyone caught walking while black is a criminal. There is a tension there folks and they struggle with it everyday.

6

roger 04.14.12 at 8:01 am

I’m impressed by the Gulag reference. Put this together with Grover Norquist’s passionate denunciation of the estate tax as comparable (although surely worse than) the Holocaust, and you have the soft genocide that Republicans have nobly suffered under these past one hundred years (a time unit that Dr.Glenn Beck has probed with his vast knowledge of the history of the communization of American life). Simple mathematics tells us that what is happening to rich white guys is the worst thing that has ever happened in history: Gulag + Auschwitz! No wonder Derb,like a survivor (and surely he must be a survivor. Because if you have genocide of this proportion happening all around us, it naturally calls for a survivor), denounces what is happening and the concentration guards of liberalism rush in to cart him off, while the kapos of NRO (or are they zek collaborators? hard to keep our concentration camps straight, here), report him to the prison commandant.

7

robotslave 04.14.12 at 10:09 am

@4

I’m not at all fond of the phrase “color-blind” myself, but I suspect those who are do in fact think members of all colors ought to practice the thing, that they further think this makes rather a lot of sense, and that they’d suspect you’re being disingenuous or just simple to suggest otherwise.

And I think you’re not allowing much room for variety in what different people in different cultural contexts understand “color-blind” to mean; there’s a considerable distance between “I myself will try as best I can to ignore racial stereotypes and treat everyone the same way” vs. “everyone should pretend racism doesn’t exist” or “the best thing to do about race is just not think about it.”

If you’ve only got a narrower or nastier interpretation in mind, and it sounds as if you might, then we’ll need that spelled out a bit before we set off to find historical examples where the approach you have in mind has worked, and then only if your interpretation isn’t mired in (very) contemporary politics of Some Particular Nation.

8

Data Tutashkhia 04.14.12 at 10:49 am

It seems to me, there is certainly significant tension between the idea of color-blindness (as in “not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character”) and liberal preoccupation with identity politics. And js’ comments nicely demonstrate the cognitive dissonance that exists there.

9

bjk 04.14.12 at 10:50 am

So Holbo’s response to anti-anti-racism is to be anti-anti-anti-racism? Truly there is no way for conservatives to avoid charges of racism, and Derb doesn’t even bother to try. Lowry and Goldberg can say that the Derb’s article was indefensible etc. but if you look at the comments, they run pretty much 90% in favor of the article. That wouldn’t have been the case five years ago. The “whites are under attack” theme is getting increasing prominence at conservative sites like the Daily Caller, and that’s where the audience is headed. So I don’t think it’s the case that conservatives are looking for more exquisitely delicate ways to avoid the charge of racism. Five years ago maybe, not today.

10

Andrew F. 04.14.12 at 12:28 pm

O’Sullivan begins with the premise that Derbyshire’s piece is pure satire, and then claims that the piece was so poorly written, argued, and edited that it appeared to be less than satirical.

I don’t see how this lends support to the idea that conservatives “really” support Derbyshire’s post interpreted non-satirically, but are simply uncomfortable with such a clear expression.

Moreover, O’Sullivan (in this column anyway) doesn’t seem at all supportive of Derbyshire’s firing. Quite the contrary. Which makes O’Sullivan a bad case to use if we’re going to look at what the NR “really” was uncomfortable about when they fired Derbyshire.

I still have the sense that this is an exercise in confirmation bias, and that you’re missing the extent to which the better fortune of certain types of conservatism reflects the growing political need for the Republican Party to escape from the very perception you have of it. The GOP aren’t fools politically, and they can understand demographic trends as well as anyone else – and frequently better than anyone else. Strategies that worked in previous campaigns will not continue to work in the longer term – and they know that they won’t win the next several wars down the line by fighting the last several wars.

That said, it’s also in Democratic political interests to keep the GOP in their box – to preserve the perception that the GOP needs to escape. So, for me anyway, it’s fascinating to see liberals and conservatives launch two competing narratives of why Derbyshire was fired, each narrative squarely in line with the political self-interests of the parties which (roughly) represent the primary sources of power for each ideological faction. Though to be clear, I’m absolutely not ascribing strategic intent to the posts here.

11

Barry 04.14.12 at 12:57 pm

“, and that you’re missing the extent to which the better fortune of certain types of conservatism reflects the growing political need for the Republican Party to escape from the very perception you have of it. The GOP aren’t fools politically, and they can understand demographic trends as well as anyone else – and frequently better than anyone else. Strategies that worked in previous campaigns will not continue to work in the longer term – and they know that they won’t win the next several wars down the line by fighting the last several wars.”

The last two years have seen the GOP base reinforce that perception, because it’s reality. The based decided not only to move to the right, but far into the whackjob insano right.

In November, 2008, would you have expected the GOP to do in the next four years what it did in reality? Would you have expected GOP state legislatures to pass the laws that they did?

12

J. Otto Pohl 04.14.12 at 12:57 pm

I suppose a color blind society would be one in which people no longer imparted any social significance to skin color. But, Data is right that this does pose a problem for modern leftist identity politics which stress the ‘right to be different’ over the ‘right to be equal.’ (See Kenan Malik1996 The Meaning of Race, pp. 261-265). It does appear that in most cases historically that racialization or race group formation does occur to differentiate and therefore justify the existence of economically and socially unequal groups along biological or cultural lines. Eli noted above with the assimilation of “provisional white” groups. It appears that this assimilation occurred after the elimination of significant economic and social differences between these groups and the dominant Anglo-Saxon core. Once these groups overcame this inequality there was no need to differentiate them along the lines of essentialized culture. Presumably the same thing could happen for non-White groups. But, I don’t see it happening anytime soon and new groups of people on the bottom of society will always arise whose position needs to be justified. Hence the rise in prejudice against Latinos and Arabs at the same time that negative attitudes towards Blacks and East Asians has decreased in the US. But, I am just a troll who lives in Africa and I suspect nobody outside the continent will ever take anything I write seriously.

13

Kevin Donoghue 04.14.12 at 1:04 pm

Andrew, to John: “you’re missing the extent to which the better fortune of certain types of conservatism reflects the growing political need for the Republican Party to escape from the very perception you have of it.”

John Holbo would have to be stupid to miss that and he isn’t. He sees their need to escape and he is fascinated by their attempts to do so. I’ve just learned the meaning of the command “Reverse ferret!” and it seems that’s just what NR is trying to do.

14

Steve LaBonne 04.14.12 at 1:07 pm

Maybe this is part of the problem. E.g., what exactly is a “color-blind” society supposed to be like? Here’s one a lot of people sort of imagine, I think: everyone gets treated like white people do now. Awesome! Think about that for a second longer, and it’s totally mad.

And it’s practically the definition of white privilege. Whiteness is not one socio-ethnic category among others, it’s simply “normal”, it’s the way people are “supposed” to be. And yes, that’s exactly what white “anti-anti-racists” mean by “colorblind”.

15

Watson Ladd 04.14.12 at 1:27 pm

js, try anti-Semitism in the US, or anti-Catholicism. As for the politically legitimacy of abolishing race as a category, we have the Fourteenth Amendment in America, which makes many of the programs promoting racial diversity unconstitutional.

Steve, read White Skin, Black Masks again. Being a citizen is a colorblind concept: it’s only because black people can’t accept it due to needing to masochistically relive the trauma of colonization that we even recognize a distinction here. To quote Fanon, “The future of the black man is white”.

16

JBL 04.14.12 at 2:18 pm

“But, I am just a troll who lives in Africa and I suspect nobody outside the continent will ever take anything I write seriously.”

J. Otto Pohl, is it really necessary to intentionally undermine every single post you make by reminding everyone that you are a self-pitying whiner and so distracting from any content you might include in your posts?

17

LizardBreath 04.14.12 at 2:20 pm

we have the Fourteenth Amendment in America, which makes many of the programs promoting racial diversity unconstitutional.

Not if you’re an originalist, of course. The drafters of the 14th Amendment were incontrovertibly on board with race-conscious programs intended to help blacks after the Civil War, which rules out the possibility that it was meant to require colorblindness.

18

Matt McIrvin 04.14.12 at 2:22 pm

In November, 2008, would you have expected the GOP to do in the next four years what it did in reality? Would you have expected GOP state legislatures to pass the laws that they did?

Yeah, pretty much. The signs were all there.

19

christian_h 04.14.12 at 2:24 pm

Watson you are actually quoting Fanon to support your [insert your own adjective here don’t want to get banned] contention that black people are responsible for the continued existence of racism? Wow.

In a racist society – like ours – being “colour blind” means, in reality, denying the existence of racism. And come to think of it, Watson just presented a perfect example for this.

20

Watson Ladd 04.14.12 at 2:41 pm

Lizardbreath, there is a major difference between compensating the victims of a wrong and attempting to strive for racial balance. The Freedman’s Bureau was tasked with assisting persons denied an education or profession by a crime whose magnitude is of a truly Biblical scale. Furthermore, one could always write a law to compensate victims of slavery, or permit them to sue for their stolen wages, and indeed such was the Freedman’s Bureau. The Fourteenth Amendment permits racial distinctions to be made on neutral grounds, such as having been a slave.

By contrast Affirmative Action programs don’t compensate people for wrongs. College admissions come too late for those who dropped out of school or whom are unable to complete a degree because they were denied educational opportunity earlier. The Supreme Court permits, and sometimes requires, Affirmative Action, to compensate for past racial discrimination.

But this is not the rational we hear today for Affirmative Action: rather we hear a rational of diversity, permitting the black doctor’s children to enter college preferentially to the white doctor’s children. But how much does this compensate the black person for? What if they are descended from African immigrants? And why don’t we simply fix the poor schools and bad neighborhoods that are the supposed conditions for which an admissions letter compensates? What makes these conditions so much worse for blacks then for whites subjected to similar ones because of poverty?

The fact that there is this massive distinction between the Freedman’s Bureau and Affirmative Action today makes me suspicious of any claim that Amendment 14 permits both.

21

Manta1976 04.14.12 at 2:44 pm

I would like ask what how the situation in USA compares with the ones in Britain and France. For instance, would it be accurate to argue that either the “French way” or the “British way” of dealing with immigrants and assimilation is via a colorblind society?

22

christian_h 04.14.12 at 2:53 pm

Well France is a good example for what official colour blindness entails – it serves to obscure the massively racist structures of French society.

23

Consumatopia 04.14.12 at 3:06 pm

Moreover, O’Sullivan (in this column anyway) doesn’t seem at all supportive of Derbyshire’s firing. Quite the contrary. Which makes O’Sullivan a bad case to use if we’re going to look at what the NR “really” was uncomfortable about when they fired Derbyshire.

What that suggests is that there’s quite a bit of continuity between conservatives who publicly object to Derb’s piece and those who publicly express sympathy with it. Conservatives of the latter sort still have a comfortable place at NRO. They cannot repeat, verbatim, what Derb said, but they can defend it entirely in terms (“anti-white racism”) that other conservatives still find acceptable.

(Unless O’Sullivan himself is later fired or censured in some way for this).

24

Data Tutashkhia 04.14.12 at 3:10 pm

I realize that there is a lot of nativism in France on the personal level, but what are those “massively racist structures”?

25

Uncle Kvetch 04.14.12 at 3:16 pm

Being a citizen is a colorblind concept: it’s only because black people can’t accept it due to needing to masochistically relive the trauma of colonization that we even recognize a distinction here.

I’m trying to locate the inherent masochism underlying the act of going for a walk to buy Skittles and iced tea, and failing.

26

christian_h 04.14.12 at 3:20 pm

Well go to the inner suburbs of any large city in France and look around. Compare unemployment rates. Observe the way schooling (also “colour blind” and of course “laicist”) ignores the cultural experiences of immigrant populations. Study how the French elite reproduces itself and then go stand outside an Ecole Normal and observe the ethnicity of the students. Or just be around when there’s a police sweep for “sans papiers” – if you’re white you won’t be stopped; if you’re not you will be. Not to mention the ban on Islamic dress and so forth.

To be clear I’m not saying at all that France is any more racist than the US or other European countries, just that the officially imposed ignorance of how society is racially structured provides a good example for how “colour blindness” works not to reduce racism, but rather only to obscure it.

27

rwschnetler 04.14.12 at 3:23 pm

@4:

That’s my only point really. Let’s not approach racism (a) from the position of the privileged, or (b) as an epistemological or psychological problem. I think that the “color-blind” metaphor does both of these things. But maybe other people hear it differently

js, how would you define racism?

28

christian_h 04.14.12 at 3:23 pm

(To add: when I say compare unemployment rates, you’d have to guess eg by going to majority immigrant neighbourhoods and seeing the many unemployed people around during work hours – since official sources will not of course tell you how the rate varies by race or ethnicity, being colour blind and all.)

29

Manta1976 04.14.12 at 3:35 pm

christian_h, most of the thing you say can be interpreted in term of class, without need to resort to race: i.e., immigrants are poor, and poor people beget poor people.

30

bianca steele 04.14.12 at 3:45 pm

Uncle Kvetch:
Presumably you–as a white person–are supposed to poke the non-white person in question a sufficient number of times to determine whether or not they have the expected quantity of masochism. Which is kind of what seems to have happened. (Are there visible markers that would obviate the need for poking? Unclear.)

I’m starting to think Watson Ladd has arrived in Chicago from a land far, far away, in the only very recent past.

31

Bruce Wilder 04.14.12 at 3:45 pm

WL @15 we have the Fourteenth Amendment in America, which makes many of the programs promoting racial diversity unconstitutional.

LizardBreath @17 Not if you’re an originalist, of course.

Of course, if you are an originalist, the 14th amendment did not even prohibit racial segregation. The prohibition of arbitrary discrimination came somewhat later — a product of our institutional ability to learn from hard but undeniable experience.

Diversity programs are, of course, the direct opposite of segregation.

A racist, like Professor David Bernstein, may think that the merit of white Jewish males is so precious, that their crowding around fonts of power, privilege and wealth should never be considered suspicious, let alone questioned.

But, hey, if the 14th amendment could be interpreted to deny rights to former slaves, but to grant rights to rapacious business corporations, the law is nothing if not plastic.

32

Barry 04.14.12 at 3:48 pm

Me: “In November, 2008, would you have expected the GOP to do in the next four years what it did in reality? Would you have expected GOP state legislatures to pass the laws that they did?”

Matt McIrvin: “Yeah, pretty much. The signs were all there.”

Then you’re smarter than I was :)

My point in reply to Andrew F was that there is no false perception of the GOP.
The reason that they can’t escape their current perception is that it’s only wrong in that it’s not strong enough. These people looked at the Bush years and said ‘good start, but not evil enough’.

33

christian_h 04.14.12 at 4:13 pm

Manta1976 (28.): no really only the purely economic impacts can be “[exclusively] interpreted in terms of class” (I added the [exclusively] since I understand you see this as an alternative interpretation as opposed to a complementary one – apologies if I misunderstood). But this requires us to believe that the economic is somehow separate from the rest of it – suggesting to me the poverty of a “class only” approach.

I’d also say that this view ignores the historical processes through which the impoverished immigrant working class communities in France were created – in particular the crucial role played by colonialism.

34

Jim Harrison 04.14.12 at 4:16 pm

Things would be simpler if the Republican party could be understood as a rational organization single-mindedly dedicated to promoting economic inequality for the benefit of its supporters. That idealized version of the right could certainly be expected to look at the demographic trends and decide that embracing racism was no longer a useful way of protecting and aggrandizing power and property. Thing is, though, politics is not really about what people need: it’s about what people want. Racism is the bag of potato chips the fat guy can’t help but crave.

35

Data Tutashkhia 04.14.12 at 4:21 pm

Yes, what Manta1976, 28 said.

We’ve been thru this a few weeks ago, but again: some individuals suffer from chronic unemployment, bad schools, poverty. What difference does it make whether this group is disproportionally white, black, North African, or Eskimo? If, all other things equal, their ancestry was perfectly proportional to that of the general population, would it be more satisfactory? Why?

36

Bruce Baugh 04.14.12 at 4:24 pm

There are days the comment threads here remind me unpleasantly of ones at Obsidian Wings in recent years, with all the social justice that’s compatible with the continued self-esteem and comfort of reactionary well-off cis white men.

John, your comparisons reminded me of an Owen Barfield comment about one of C.S. Lewis’s poems: It gave me the impression not of “I say this”, but of “This is the sort of thing a man might say.” I find it helpful to read people like Derbyshire with no presumption that they care at all about anything I’d consider truth value, and go from there.

37

Watson Ladd 04.14.12 at 4:41 pm

bianca, Uncle Kvetch, christian_h: If you’ve read Fanon you will realize he talks exactly about this phenomenon. To be French is defined in terms of being a citizen of France, someone who is French. This doesn’t preclude you from being black: Victor Hugo is only the most prominent example. But this openness viewed with suspicion by blacks who think that they will be found out as black. If the only problem was that not all citizens had rights, then egalite would solve that. Fanon discusses race in a book, and doesn’t even mention white people. Why? Because when Fanon is writing in the 1960’s, it’s not that the civil rights movement is over, but it is inevitable. (Honestly, I cannot do his argument justice. But suffice it to say that he explains the rise of black nationalism before its time)

Bruce makes a very unfair comment: I’m quite happy using Amendent 14 against school funding formulas that disadvantage minority neighborhoods (cases which haven’t happened for some reason), and favor much higher levels of taxation and redistribution then currently exist. But I’m absolutely against any social organization that hands out benefits according to irrelevant factors that someone doesn’t control, be it being a legacy or being black. Somehow this makes my interest in equal right suspicious, while his advocacy for a racially divided society is actually emancipatory!

38

Barry 04.14.12 at 4:55 pm

It gave me the impression not of “I say this”, but of “This is the sort of thing a man might say.”

I love that.

39

Bruce Baugh 04.14.12 at 5:03 pm

Doesn’t that just nail a whole lot, Barry? :)

40

This man Goddard 04.14.12 at 5:18 pm

It needs to be noted that O’Sullivan himself hangs out with well-known racists. In particular, he is a director of the VDARE foundation. VDARE is Peter Brimelow’s white supremacist hate site where Derbyshire has previously published, and that regularly publishes articles by the likes of Jared Taylor and Kevin McDonald.

See the tax form for VDARE at

http://dynamodata.fdncenter.org/990_pdf_archive/223/223691487/223691487_201012_990.pdf
http://seriousgivers.org/report/?id=223691487

The level of O’Sullivan’s shadiness doesn’t seem as well-known as it should be, so please spread the word. Shouldn’t Rich Lowry bar O’Sullivan from posting on NR because of these associations?

By the way, Derbyshire has recently mentioned that he wants to write for VDARE as well as Alternative Right. More on the second outlet:

http://www.dailykos.com/story/2012/03/03/1070576/-Right-wing-eZine-sinks-to-new-low-calls-for-Black-Genocide-

41

Manta1976 04.14.12 at 5:21 pm

christian, was I was suggesting was an “occam razor” approach: insofar as prevalent poverty among non-whites explains their situation in France, there is not much need to look at other explanations.
As a counterexample, the ban on Islamic dress cannot be explained in economic terms.

42

This man Goddard 04.14.12 at 5:33 pm

By the way, the same tax form for VDARE

http://dynamodata.fdncenter.org/990_pdf_archive/223/223691487/223691487_201012_990.pdf

also provided a cash grant to Alternativeright.com.

Who knew NR was so few degrees of separation away from those who advocate, in explicit terms, the genocide of black people!

43

js. 04.14.12 at 5:36 pm

DT @8:

It seems to me, there is certainly significant tension between the idea of color-blindness (as in “not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character”) and liberal preoccupation with identity politics. And js’ comments nicely demonstrate the cognitive dissonance that exists there.

Clearly some misunderstanding here. I don’t in any way mean to defend (or bring up) identity politics. To say this very simply: I think the liberal idea of color-blindness is hopelessly misplaced, as is JH’s “more in sorrow” version of “The Talk” (though I still can’t tell if JH actually means to endorse this version). Of course, in a non-racist society, the MLK quote would hold true. But you can’t get from here to there by trying to get people (=white people) to be color-blind. Again, to try this would be in part to assume that racism is primarily a psychological problem, which it is not.

44

Watson Ladd 04.14.12 at 5:42 pm

js, why not? If people are being judged by the color of their skin, then once we stop that, they won’t be judged by the color of their skin. This seems tautological to me, and it seems there are basic assumptions that you have that I’m not aware of which are behind our disagreement.

45

JP Stormcrow 04.14.12 at 5:57 pm

the entire industry of sensitivity training which used to go under the more honest title of “Political Reeducation” in the gulag.

But Stockman had never forgotten the words from his first session, Kowalski—a hard-bitten accountant who had already been through twelve sensitivity training sessions by 2003— who told the newcomers, just in from Accounts Receivable, as they stood beside the snack table during a break in the training:

“Here, men, we live by the law of the taiga politically correct. But even here people manage to Live. The ones that don’t make it are those who eat other men’s donuts, those who count on the facilitators to be on their side, and those who squeal on their buddies.”

As for squeaiers, he was wrong there. Those people were sure to get through sensitivity training all right. Only, they were saving their own skin at the expense of other people’s blood.

46

James Francophile 04.14.12 at 6:11 pm

Watson @36: I think you mean Alexandre Dumas rather than Victor Hugo.

47

Steve Williams 04.14.12 at 6:20 pm

I bought a book by that Solzhenitsyn guy that everyone banged on about. I haven’t read it yet, and I don’t think I shall bother now. I thought he was some kind of hero, but if it’s just a protracted whinge about being sent on a mandatory sensitivity training course, then I think he should have toughed it out.

48

Consumatopia 04.14.12 at 6:22 pm

“If people are being judged by the color of their skin, then once we stop that, they won’t be judged by the color of their skin.”

This assumes that telling people to stop judging others by the color of their skin would be sufficient to make people stop judging others by the color of their skin.

One problem should be obvious to supposed advocates of redistribution such as yourself–if black people are in fact still being mistreated by the color of their skin, then a black person making the same income as a white person will in reality be poorer–they will have access to fewer economic and social resources. If you support redistribution, and you aren’t enough of an idiot to think that racial injustice has been purged from our society, then you must support affirmative action. Nominally color-blind policies in the context of a racist society, or even a society that had a racist past, can magnify the effects of racism.

The larger problem is that someone who is truly “color-blind” is incapable of perceiving continued racism. You cannot evaluate claims of systematic police bias, you cannot ask how a white-on-black vigilante SYG case would play out. If you complain about these things, then *you* become the “anti-white” racist.

49

Ben 04.14.12 at 6:31 pm

“””
You can’t BOTH think liberalism is a noble, albeit tragically failed dream of color-blind racial equality that only conservatives are keeping alive, by heroically protesting against anti-anti-racism AND be delighted by the mischievously self-delighted racism of the Derb’s version of the Talk
“””

Why? Why can’t you do both? I don’t agree with Derb’s article, but I have certainly enjoyed watching liberals have fits about it.

If he no longer cares about his career, being terminally ill or whatnot, it must be very tempting to fire off a broadside with no greater motivation than annoying you lot.

50

Walt 04.14.12 at 6:33 pm

Annoy? My friend, you’ve been watching the world’s longest victory dance.

51

Kevin Donoghue 04.14.12 at 6:51 pm

I suspect Ben thinks Dems are still enraged by McCain’s inspired choice of running-mate.

52

Salient 04.14.12 at 7:01 pm

I have certainly enjoyed watching liberals have fits about it… it must be very tempting to fire off a broadside with no greater motivation than annoying you lot.

Hence 2002-2012, a decade of nonstop broadsides, with casualties in the six-to-seven-digits. Well, that’s ‘shock and awe’ for you…

53

rf 04.14.12 at 7:07 pm

Ben – I havent seen annoyance anywhere to be honest, more tired indifference. (And of course hilarity)
The whole PC backlash has gotten old, particularly for those dealing with unemployment, negative equity and personal debt. So by all means feel free to go and play bold boy in the garden with John D, just keep it down when your at it

54

JP Stormcrow 04.14.12 at 7:09 pm

Sure, the deaths to Liberals annoyed ratio was little high but they’re getting better, look how many have been annoyed by just the one death in Zimmerman-Martin.

55

Data Tutashkhia 04.14.12 at 7:17 pm

The larger problem is that someone who is truly “color-blind” is incapable of perceiving continued racism. You cannot evaluate claims of systematic police bias, you cannot ask how a white-on-black vigilante SYG case would play out.

Please. How a white on black vigilante SYG case would play out? With a lot of The Bonfire of the Vanities -style race baiting and demagoguery, no doubt.

56

Jim Demintia 04.14.12 at 7:43 pm

@manta1976

Studies like this http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/notrocketscience/2010/11/22/fake-cvs-reveal-discrimination-against-muslims-in-french-job-market/ demonstrate why class is an insufficient concept by itself to explain rates of unemployment and poverty in French immigrant communities. Nothing could be more convenient for a nation like France with a very recent history of massive colonization projects than to pretend that race doesn’t exist or has no substantial effect on French social structures. Essentially, it’s a disavowal of the last four centuries of French history.

57

Eli Rabett 04.14.12 at 8:04 pm

“we have the Fourteenth Amendment in America, which makes many of the programs promoting racial diversity unconstitutional.”

Masterful argument for reparations. Many thanks.

58

Sebastian 04.14.12 at 8:30 pm

“This assumes that telling people to stop judging others by the color of their skin would be sufficient to make people stop judging others by the color of their skin.”

Huh? How does it assume that? It assumes that once people stop judging people by the color of their skin, people won’t be judged by the color of their skin.

The problem in the US is that the issue gets brought up in really poorly designed ways. If it were really true that there were only black people and white people, maybe you could design a system where you could balance it all out. But in reality, we have a system where a rich Hispanic kid (with no historical background in slavery) gets a huge boost in chance of prestigious college admissions over a poor Vietnamese kid with much better grades and test scores. That isn’t even close to approximating social justice. That is a pure racial spoils system.

59

Data Tutashkhia 04.14.12 at 8:30 pm

The study in 52 indicates that discrimination there is based mostly on religion, not so much on race: Senegalese Christian woman is doing OK. This clearly contradicts the “racist structures” claims in 52 and earlier.

And since most of the French are hardly religious enough to reject a Muslim for being infidel, one could easily hypothesize that Islam is simply associated with something else: lower socioeconomic class, social nonconformity. They might get the same result for a guy named Pierre Ducros and a photo of a typical white French with bright orange mohawk and a ring in the nose.

60

Manta1976 04.14.12 at 8:39 pm

Data, you forget French laws against Muslim dressing: while it may be true that French people would not consider Muslim “infidels”, it seems that there is nevertheless a pattern of discrimination against Muslims, beyond what would be justified by economic discrimination against poor people and people from poor background.

61

Data Tutashkhia 04.14.12 at 8:47 pm

Yeah, like I said, a strong nativist streak there. The are proud of their culture, and so on. They want immigrants to assimilate.

62

Jim Demintia 04.14.12 at 9:04 pm

@DT

I don’t think you can separate out religion and race quite so easily when you’re talking about Muslims in Europe today. The discourse around them is inflected by all the old arguments about “the Arab mind.”. In any case, note that Aurelie, the generic French applicant, got more responses than both the Senegalese Muslim and the Senegalese christian.

63

Data Tutashkhia 04.14.12 at 9:05 pm

They also dislike the ‘parigots’, Parisians. Cultural reasons, obviously. I don’t think they believe that being born in Paris makes you genetically inferior.

64

Data Tutashkhia 04.14.12 at 9:18 pm

@58, I agree, it’s not easy to separate. But the piece you linked does separate, and, as far as I can tell, does it convincingly. Being from Senegal has a moderate impact, but being a Muslim from Senegal has a huge impact. That’s right there, in the piece. And then, it says that when they included a photo of a woman who looks nothing like an African it didn’t make any difference.

65

Consumatopia 04.14.12 at 9:36 pm

@Sebastian, “Huh? How does it assume that? It assumes that once people stop judging people by the color of their skin, people won’t be judged by the color of their skin.”

Watson was disputing js’s claim that “you can’t get from here to there [a non-racist society] by trying to get people (=white people) to be color-blind.” Watson’s retort “If people are being judged by the color of their skin, then once we stop that, they won’t be judged by the color of their skin.” is only meaningful if you assume that trying to get people to be color-blind would work as a way to avoid having people be judged by the color of their skin, and also that individual racial bias is the only thing that can make a society racist, rather than institutional racism. (E.g. you could be biased against “lower socioeconomic class, social nonconformity”, not melatonin specifically, but racial history has a lot to do with what class you find yourself in and whether or not you are considered to “conform”.)

It’s a cute tautology, but it requires false assumptions on both ends to work.

66

christian_h 04.14.12 at 10:05 pm

Data, one study doesn’t demonstrate anything close to what you claim. It investigates one way racist stratification is constructed (and yes it’s racism – the old “it can’t be racism because it’s about religion” canard only works if you artificially restrict the construction of race to one based on genetics), that is all. I simply do not get this seeming need to make race and class out to be separate issues – when they are clearly intertwined in the ways they structure people’s lives.

In addition, as I mentioned before your whole argument completely ignores that the main immigrant populations in mainland France (Maghrebian, West African and Afro-caribean) were created by French colonialism, and thus racism is built into the very way these communities arose in the first place. Which is why, for example, the Afro-caribean people in French oversees departments do much worse there economically than the immigrants there – who are white.

The official colour blindness of the French state serves precisely to obscure this – you might say obscuring it is its purpose.

67

Gareth Wilson 04.14.12 at 10:12 pm

Suppose you could create literal colour-blindness. Just swallow a pill and you literally can’t see what race someone is. Call it Colbertine. Given the neurological conditions where you can’t recognise your own mother, it’s not that far-fetched. There are obviously situations where this would be good – get the police to take it before going on patrol, teachers before classes, HR people before job interviews. But if Colbertine was just dumped in the water supply, wouldn’t the overall effect be good? And if so, shouldn’t we be trying to get the same effect by conventional means?

68

Patrick 04.14.12 at 10:27 pm

The history of French colonialism differs significantly from the history of the US. No one confuses black folks with “immigrants who refuse to assimilate.” Meanwhile, most people in the US are far less uncomfortable with blacks from Africa than blacks from Cleveland, even though the latter are undisputably American.

To see conservative colorblindness in action, look at Meredith v Jefferson County Board of Education, where the Supreme Court ruled that noticing that some schools are all white and some schools are all black, and attempting to remedy that segregation directly violate white people’s equal protection rights. Another colorblind moment: the US Senate is composed of people elected because of their qualifications and their politics. Finally, “Clarence Thomas is the best person for the job.”

69

between4walls 04.14.12 at 11:38 pm

Watson Ladd has apparently overlooked the fact that Victor Hugo was not black, let alone a “prominent example” of how being black does not preclude someone from being French.
I can only assume he meant Alexandre Dumas.

70

Bruce Baugh 04.15.12 at 12:24 am

Gareth, suppose we had a reliable way of making people uninterested in sexual assault, that did nothing else to them. If we applied it universally, we’d never have to allocate any resources to catching and detaining rapists, and potential victims would have time and energy to devote to other things. And in fact right now, most people of every gender won’t ever commit a rape or any other sexual assault. But because some people do, and because more don’t themselves but don’t take it very seriously, we have to make all this effort. We don’t get to say “Well, none of us are sexual predators, so let’s just start running our society as if it were no longer a part of anyone’s experience.”

Dealing with the ongoing consequences of racism is exactly the same way except that a lot of people who won’t ever commit a sexual assault do inflict harm on others because of racism-driven decision-making.

71

emmanuelgoldstein 04.15.12 at 1:53 am

This clearly contradicts the “racist structures” claims in 52 and earlier.

Not even close, since the assumption on which it relies–that racist structures will have the same effect across non-dominant races–is false. In Zimbabwe, Chinese aren’t under systematic attack by the state; the state’s attacks on white Zimbabweans are still racist.

72

geo 04.15.12 at 2:17 am

The case for stringent, and strictly enforced, anti-discrimination laws is compelling. The case for race-based affirmative action, less so. Educationally and economically deprived blacks do not benefit much from measures that advantage educationally and economically well-off blacks, which is mostly what affirmative action does. They (the deprived) benefit much more from laws and policies that target economic and educational deprivation directly (eg, full employment, generous unemployment benefits, universal free preschool, universal health care, unionization, progressive taxation). One could, in theory, have race-and-class based affirmative action, ie, target such policies only at deprived black people. But that is a pretty obvious moral and political non-starter. The conclusion would seem to be: what educationally and economically advantaged black people need is strong anti-discrimination laws; what educationally and economically disadvantaged black people need is class-based affirmative action (and also, of course, strong anti-discrimination laws).

73

LFC 04.15.12 at 2:43 am

Watson @36
I’m quite happy using Amendent 14 against school funding formulas that disadvantage minority neighborhoods (cases which haven’t happened for some reason)

Iirc, the US Sup Ct ruled out such suits at the federal level in the bad decision San Antonio Sch. District v. Rodriguez. (There have been a few successful school-funding suits at the state level, I believe.)

74

RK 04.15.12 at 2:46 am

It’s worth noting that Derbyshire said something quite similar to his comments in the Gawker interview in a 2006 piece (let’s see if I can make the blockquotes work right!):

I am 61 years old. That’s old enough to have a clear memory of the Civil Rights movement. To be sure, I watched it from a distance, growing up in England. I followed it with keen interest, though, wishing it well. Racial segregation was an obvious injustice, and we had all heard lurid tales of life in the American South. Like most intelligent teenagers, I was sensitive to injustice, and wanted to see it corrected.I can tell you a thing that has been considerably forgotten now, flushed away down the memory hole. Here’s the thing. At that time, everyone who supported the Civil Rights Movement — everyone, absolutely everyone — assumed that the Movement would, if it succeeded, lead to a more harmonious society, a society in which the races mingled freely as equal citizens, a society in which race mattered to nobody but the manufacturers of cosmetics. They, we, all assumed that if the shackles of legal discrimination were removed, black Americans would swiftly distribute themselves across America’s class, income, and status structure in the same proportions as their white fellow-citizens. Why should they not? Human beings form a single biological species. Given a level playing field, any group should perform as well as any other, in any kind of endeavor, shouldn’t it?What a terrible disillusioning there has been! Things did not happen in the least as we expected. True, there has been much improvement. Our nation now has a flourishing black middle class. There is now no obstacle to a capable black American, from any part of the country, rising to any level, in any sphere or profession. The casual mocking and insulting of black Americans by nonblack Americans has been shamed out of our social life.Yet the numbers did not come out right, not at all. With black people at thirteen percent of our population, we should, if the dreams of the Civil Rights Movement had come true, find that thirteen percent of our engineers and airline pilots, thirteen percent of our storekeepers, contractors, and entrepreneurs, thirteen percent of our prisoners and unwed mothers, are black. This is not, of course, what we find; and the numerical discrepancies are not of the kind called “statistically insignificant.” Not at all. Not at all.

75

LFC 04.15.12 at 2:46 am

P.s. Based on state constitutions.

76

LFC 04.15.12 at 2:48 am

74 refers back to 72.

77

Witt 04.15.12 at 3:24 am

Bruce Baugh is doing yeoman’s work in this thread. Thank you, Bruce.

Sebastian @58, any data to support the “huge boost” claim? I’m familiar with a lot of advocacy being done by Southeast Asian organizations to encourage disaggregation of data so that “Asian” is not viewed as a monolithic category, but everything I’ve read about college admissions indicates that other demographic factors such as class, parental income, etc. are very much taken into account, not simply race/ethnicity.

And finally, while Salient already did a terrific job of addressing 49, I must add that I have certainly enjoyed watching liberals have fits about it perfectly encapsulates the extraordinary blindness necessary to think that hateful tirades are merely political debate chips, rather than something that may be deeply personally hurtful to others.

78

Bruce Baugh 04.15.12 at 5:03 am

My pleasure, Witt.

RK, that quote from Derbyshire is fascinating. I read along and thought “I’ll just bet he won’t even hint at the idea that the reason for continuing disparity is that there turns out to be a lot more to entrenched racial bias than the civil rights measures of the ’60s alone could redress.” I also thought something rather like “fuckwit”.

79

PaulB 04.15.12 at 7:10 am

Here’s another way to think about it: replace “color” in “color-blind” with some other category of discrimination, where this category of discrimination is such that some society somewhere in history has overcome the discrimination in question by becoming “blind” to the category. Examples? (I’d wager there aren’t any.)

Illegitimacy, in the UK.

80

js. 04.15.12 at 7:34 am

the [civil rights] Movement would, if it succeeded, lead to a more harmonious society, a society in which the races mingled freely as equal citizens, a society in which race mattered to nobody but the manufacturers of cosmetics.

Maybe I’m not getting it, but doesn’t the last clause here kind of give it away? As in, he really doesn’t get it. (And I see how it can be read in a non-offensive way: different skin, different needs, etc. But really, why turn your attention to “race” as mattering to “manufacturers of cosmetics”? And why think this would matter, when nothing else did?)

81

js. 04.15.12 at 7:48 am

One more thing, since my rather unfortunate call for “examples” in the 1st comment has gotten several takers, and since I wasn’t very clear there, let me just state the point more clearly: I think it’s a mistake to think of discrimination as primarily a matter of perceptions and attitudes, and so it’s also a mistake to try and overcome discrimination by focusing on perceptions and attitudes. In general, I think it’s an institutional problem, and it’s overcome by changing the relevant institutions. Whether rightly or wrongly, the “color-blind” model suggests the attitudes and perceptions approach to me, and this is what I was objecting to. (FWIW, none of the examples suggested make me doubt my original contention.)

82

Data Tutashkhia 04.15.12 at 8:05 am

@christian_h, 66
and yes it’s racism – the old “it can’t be racism because it’s about religion” canard only works if you artificially restrict the construction of race to one based on genetics

First of all, I disagree with your description of the canard. It is a canard when the religion is used as a proxy for race or ethnicity.

But the experiment linked in 52 is specifically designed to make this distinction. And the result (to me, at least) is quite surprising: it sounds like they don’t really mind an African, but they really don’t want a Muslim, of any racial or ethnic background.

Now, this is certainly discrimination, but to call it racism? There’s clearly a disagreement here about what ‘racism’ means. I don’t think your definition is all that common, and thus when you accuse an individual (or institution) who discriminates in favor of cultural conformity of racism, they are likely to get angry. This doesn’t get you anywhere, it makes things worse.

I simply do not get this seeming need to make race and class out to be separate issues – when they are clearly intertwined in the ways they structure people’s lives.

They are intertwined, in my opinion, in a deceptive way, where ‘race’

83

Data Tutashkhia 04.15.12 at 8:09 am

…serves as a proxy for class. But then remedies are applied to this proxy characteristic, and things get fucked up even more.

84

Kevin Donoghue 04.15.12 at 8:21 am

js, to me at least your point is no clearer than it was before. You might try giving an example of what would make you doubt your original contention.

85

chris 04.15.12 at 11:15 am

I think it’s a mistake to think of discrimination as primarily a matter of perceptions and attitudes, and so it’s also a mistake to try and overcome discrimination by focusing on perceptions and attitudes. In general, I think it’s an institutional problem, and it’s overcome by changing the relevant institutions.

I think this is exactly backwards. Biased people build biased institutions, sure, but if you somehow force them to not build biased institutions (say with a series of Supreme Court rulings), they’re not only still going to be biased in ways that are under the institutions’ radar, they’re going to write resentful tirades about how they know the real truth about Those People better than some muddle-headed anti-racist crusader, and trying to treat people the same when they’re really different is inevitably going to come to grief. E.g., the thread topic. The institutions are the symptom, not the disease.

On the other hand, if the entire population really believed that there were no systematic differences between black people and white people that mattered, then a system for keeping black people out of positions of power and influence would strike them as just as obviously stupid, pointless and unjust as a system for keeping redheads or left-handed people out of positions of power and influence. They would be unlikely to institute such a system in the first place and, if there were one, there would be little if any constituency opposed to abolishing it.

86

J. Otto Pohl 04.15.12 at 11:17 am

Data at 82:

Race is frequently constructed along cultural rather than racial lines. See for instance the works of John Rex, George Fredrickson, Kenan Malik, Balibar Etienne, Paul Gilroy, and others. The only large group of scholars who seem to disagree with this position are those trying to defend the Stalin regime from the charge of racism. Most notably Francine Hirsch and Amir Weiner. Hirsch does deny that acts can be racist if they are not motivated by a biological and genetic categorization of populations. But, outside of those defending Stalin against the charge of racism most scholars acknowledge that immutable cultural categories inherited at birth are in fact racial classifications.

Other than Nazi Germany it is difficult in modern times to come up with any examples where race was based primarily upon biology rather than culture. Certainly in South Africa the Volkekundiges and official government justifications for apartheid were all on the basis of cultural rather than biological differences (See Fredrickson, Ross, and Dubnow for starters). Any definition of racism which excludes South African apartheid is a pretty worthless definition.

87

Manta1976 04.15.12 at 12:08 pm

“They would be unlikely to institute such a system in the first place and, if there were one, there would be little if any constituency opposed to abolishing it.”

chris@85, the present system keeps poor people away from any important position.
And being poor is very much a hereditary thing.
Thus, the present system keeps children of poor people away from positions of power.

88

Uncle Kvetch 04.15.12 at 1:26 pm

everything I’ve read about college admissions indicates that other demographic factors such as class, parental income, etc. are very much taken into account, not simply race/ethnicity.

They very much are.

89

Michael E Sullivan 04.15.12 at 1:41 pm

chris@85: there are institutions and there are institutions.

One kind of institution is the overt racism of Jim Crow or apartheid. These institutions are abolishable, but if the underlying prejudices are still deep in much of the population, abolishing them can only do so much.

But there are also a myriad of more diffuse “institutions” either not codified in law, or coded in careful terms so as not to be directly referring to race, and sometimes not even designed to have differing impacts, but which nonetheless *do* have differing impacts, and enough so to represent real barriers to the oppressed minority.

Consider sentencing guidelines for different drugs. For a long time, there was a huge difference in the minimum sentence for crack possession versus cocaine possession. Essentiallly the same drug, but one delivery more prevalent among poor and minority communities, one more prevalent among middle class and rich white people. Were these guidelines consciously designed to discriminate? Probably not. Unconsciously, given the images associated with “crack” and “cocaine” in the minds of people writing the laws? Possibly, even probably, but not necessarily, and even if so, the unconscious biases in question may have been against some other class than “black”. But the *reality* is that these codes put more black people in jail longer for similar transgressions.

Then we have the retributive model of justice, which leads to heavy recidivism — by putting people in jail, we are essentially labeling them as and training them to be criminals, rather than doing anything to restore them to members of society. So anything which tends to unfairly imprison a particular people, will tend to lead those very people to more actual criminal behavior, a nice vicious circle.

And so we have the informal institutions, leading to an actual result that gives fodder for more prejudice.

This web is the racism still active in our society today. The Derbyshires, Sail-x-rs[*] and other anti-anti-racists of the world are just the canaries in the coal mine, the tips of the icebergs. Everyone who buys into these systems without seeing and deploring the racist consequences is part of the racist system, and that includes plenty of liberals as well as conservatives. As they used to say, if you aren’t a part of the solution, you’re a part of the problem.

The truly awful nature of racism, though, is even worse and more prevalent than this. Even those of us who are ardently anti-racist, are still seeped in our own culture, and our culture (I can only speak with personal experience for white american and some european cultures, but it’s true of most others as well) is plainly and clearly a racist one. What this means is that everyone, you and me included, has unconscious racial prejudice and bias, because nobody is 100% aware of all the prejudiced of their culture that have seeped into their wetware.

Part of becoming a part of the solution is to understand this, and understand that anti-racism is about battling internal and external prejudices and biases *along* with the institutions that support and are supported by them. It’s a huge, self-reinforcing web, and the moment we try to disentangle one from the other, as if we can root out one side root and branch while ignoring the other, we are lost.

This *fact* is *why* the conservative plausibly deniable racist line is what it is, and why it works on so many people. “We aren’t *for* racism of course, we just want to argue about whether it’s the institutions (which are already not racist, why look, we abolished jim crow) or the prejudices (which are actually kinda justified by statistical bayesian inference if you cross your eyes just so and ignore mountains of alternative interpretations).”

[*] I don’t want to encourage the bastard to show up in case he’s not already banned.

90

Data Tutashkhia 04.15.12 at 1:57 pm

Otto, 86, I don’t see how this could be a matter of scholarly opinion, rather than common usage and dictionary definitions. I don’t know about the scholars, but I don’t think you’ll find too many ordinary people who believe that Senegalese Christians and Senegalese Muslims are two different races (or ethnicites).

I get it, you like Stalin’s population transfers to be classified as racism, and I don’t necessarily disagree, but the distinction here is mostly of the rhetorical nature, isn’t it.

‘Racism’ is a certifiably ‘very bad, and no excuses’ thing; it doesn’t require any clarifications or arguments to be condemned, so it’s convenient. The problem is, as you keep adding, for the sake of expediency, less and less clear-cut phenomena (like private individuals profiling strangers based, partially, on race), people will start thinking: ‘oh, so this is racism? In that case, it seems reasonable to be a racist’.

91

Data Tutashkhia 04.15.12 at 2:02 pm

@89 one more prevalent among middle class and rich white people

Does it mean middle class and rich black people still prefer crack?

92

Scott Lemieux 04.15.12 at 3:25 pm

Not if you’re an originalist, of course. The drafters of the 14th Amendment were incontrovertibly on board with race-conscious programs intended to help blacks after the Civil War, which rules out the possibility that it was meant to require colorblindness.

Even better is that Scalia and Thomas believe that the Constitution is “colorblind” as it applies to the federal Constitution. Oddly, they have yet to make their argument that the 5th Amendment was understood in 1791 as forbidding all racial classifications in the United States Reports.

But this is not the rational we hear today for Affirmative Action: rather we hear a rational of diversity, permitting the black doctor’s children to enter college preferentially to the white doctor’s children.

Affirmative action is defended in terms of diversity because this is the rationale favored by the swing justice on the Supreme Court in the leading case. But of course affirmative action is also used to right past wrongs. It’s really foolish to think that after hundreds of years of a formal and informal caste system everybody starts off equal if you make the laws formally equal.

93

Scott Lemieux 04.15.12 at 3:26 pm

Er, as it applies to the federal government, I mean.

94

J. Otto Pohl 04.15.12 at 3:49 pm

Data:

Religious groups can be racialized quite easily. The whole history of anti-semitism in Europe is a case in point. The Nazi regime clearly defined German Christians and German Jews as different races due to religious ancestry. John Rex in 1986 specifically identified the conflict in Northern Ireland between people of Catholic ancestry and Protestant ancestry as a “race relations situation.” The racialization of Muslims could also be observed in Yugoslavia during the 1990s when the ethnic divisions between Muslim Yugoslavs and Serbian Orthodox Yugoslavs became racialized. The primary ethnic and racial signifier being again ancestral religion. So racializing Muslims as a group so that Senegalese Muslims are grouped along with Algerian Muslims as a stigmatized group separate from Senegalese Christians is quite possible. If race is a constructed category it stands that it can be constructed along a variety of lines. What is important is that the category is treated as primordial, essentialized, and immutable. Using ancestral religion as a marker rather than skin color does not make anti-semitism religious discrimination rather than racism. Likewise the similar essentialization and treatment of Muslim communities in places like Bosnia or even France has far more in common with White on Black discrimination in many places than it does with theologically based religious bigotry.

95

bianca steele 04.15.12 at 4:26 pm

Otto:
I’m not sure how familiar you are with the discourse defending anti-anti-racism in the US, in the center, these days. It does tend to insist that racism is not what is going on, that poor people, poorly educated people, recent immigrants[1], and people whose ancestors were historically discriminated against have other qualities–cultural or personal stemming from their past lives[2]–are unfortunately not as able to succeed as people who have nothing of that kind working against them. There is nothing in this that says (as some in these threads have suggested), “this is just a country for white rich people who belong to the dominant subculture, etc.”; it’s an entirely liberal theory. There is plenty of room to criticize the theory as not as helpful, practically speaking, as it might be. And as far as the theory goes, it seems quite similar to the situation in France. But it’s entirely compatible with racist beliefs, like John Derbyshire’s unwillingness to consider statistical or other evidence that doesn’t fit his preconceptions and doesn’t fit the racists’ preconceived ways of talking about what they call “statistics.” On the other hand, there is no obvious way to make the theory fit a theory about religious intolerance unless you strip it down to ultracolonialist ideas about religion versus no religion at all, IOW the civilized world versus the pagans (which does not seem to match the situation in France AFAIK).

[1] of some kinds–obviously we’re not talking about computer programmers hired from the South Asian subcontinent when we say such things

[2] past lives meaning childhood, possible mistakes made, immediate gratification sought rather than prudence, and on on–we’re not talking about reincarnation here! [grin]

(Hopefully the above is not garbled. I have a terrible cold.)

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Bruce Wilder 04.15.12 at 4:28 pm

Scott Lemieux @ 92:
“Scalia and Thomas believe . . . “

different things, but they both tend to hold the Constitution to be largely inoperative, when it comes to protecting the individual from the exercise of arbitrary and oppressive authority. Other than Gore v Bush, has Scalia ever found any application for the 14th amendment’s guarantee of “equal protection”? And, in that case, he pointedly insisted that no one think they can safely cite it as a precedent. I remember Thomas deciding a prisoner, who was tied to a chair and beaten by guards, could not make a constitutional issue out of it (cruel and unusual), because the whole incident was just too trivial to reach the majesty of the Constitution.

“Affirmative action is defended in terms of diversity . . . But of course affirmative action is also used to right past wrongs.”

The words of the term — “affirmative” “action” — are a direct rebuke to the strategy of laissez faire. The “color-blind” claim is a rationale, adopted when convenient, for a policy of doing nothing, just as the doctrine of “separate but equal” was. It might be backed by specious claims about the impossibility of social engineering. But, people have a penchant for constructing racial categories, and using them to oppress or to cause violence. And, the society can use the government to push back against that “natural” tendency, or permit it to happen. Contra the libertarians, there’s no option for a “neutral” policy of “no policy”. To permit pernicious discrimination is to promote pernicious discrimination.

Affirmative action is a policy aimed at the future. An insistence that the Constitution is disabled — is “color-blind” or simply doesn’t apply — is also a policy aimed at the future.

J. Otto Pohl @ 94 — Very well articulated.

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Salient 04.15.12 at 4:54 pm

Suppose you could create literal colour-blindness. Just swallow a pill and you literally can’t see what race someone is.

Is mistaking one’s skin color for one’s race, like, a thing now?

Call it Colbertine… if Colbertine was just dumped in the water supply, wouldn’t the overall effect be good?

In general, shouldn’t we feel a little uncomfortable suggesting that we annihilate a component of hundreds of thousands of people’s identities?

(To say nothing of how this proposal dodges the moral culpability of a racist for their racism. Thinking about racism like a medical condition, that can hypothetically be treated by a currently nonexistent pill, is just apologism for racists. The existence of race components to one’s identity is not the problem. Institutional disenfranchisement, which has a strong enough historical/financial-inheritance component to continue indefinitely even in the absence of ongoing explicit race-based discrimination, is the problem.)

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Barry Freed 04.15.12 at 5:32 pm

Just seconding Bruce Wilder’s praise of J. Otto Pohl’s comment at 94. That one’s worth keeping for future reference.

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Watson Ladd 04.15.12 at 6:01 pm

Bruce, the way we control behavior is through the criminal law. People have a penchant to steal, murder, and rape. The law controls that by punishing those who do it. No one here is talking about ending the Civil Rights Act or the Voting Rights Act, or letting lynchers get off. No one is talking about ending anti-discrimination suits or countering racist policies. The question is whether government should give certain groups extra advantages, apportioned by race, because these groups were historically worse off, even at the cost of disadvantaging those who had nothing to do with the events in question to benefit those who where harmed in very indeterminate ways. What exactly makes Oprah Winfrey deserving of assistance?

Any affirmative action program that would advantage the son of a Kenyan bureaucrat over a recent Hmong immigrant in the US is one that isn’t actually compensating anyone for anything. It’s not that racism doesn’t exist: stop and frisk etc. But why don’t we end it and compensate those affected, instead of making more racism by offering benefits to those of the right color, neglecting that they might not have suffered the wrongs we claim to address, and those who are harmed might aren’t actually responsible?

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Barry 04.15.12 at 6:12 pm

Seconding Barry F here.

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Barry 04.15.12 at 6:15 pm

Manta1976 04.14.12 at 3:35 pm

” christian_h, most of the thing you say can be interpreted in term of class, without need to resort to race: i.e., immigrants are poor, and poor people beget poor people.”

Since poverty is not exogenous where race is concerned, that interpretation would be incorrect; it’d fold the differences caused by race into the differences caused by class.

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nick s 04.15.12 at 6:26 pm

RK, that quote from Derbyshire is fascinating. I read along and thought “I’ll just bet he won’t even hint at the idea that the reason for continuing disparity is that there turns out to be a lot more to entrenched racial bias than the civil rights measures of the ‘60s alone could redress.” I also thought something rather like “fuckwit”.

What struck me was how Derbyshire has precious little understanding (or personal experience) of the American South. This applies to most of NRO’s staff and contributors, not just the ones who came over from the UK — John O’Sullivan (an expat Scouser) is something of an exception, living in northern Alabama, but even there is significantly whiter than the state in general. Bill Buckley’s rag speaks to Republicans about race the way Nelson put his telescope to his blind eye.

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Data Tutashkhia 04.15.12 at 6:31 pm

Otto, this is all fine, but I’m having hard time imagining French employers hating that imaginary Senegalese Muslim woman for her supposed Senegalese Muslim ancestry, while tolerating the imaginary Senegalese Christian woman because of her supposed Christian ancestry. But I’m not a scholar and I live in eastern Europe, so you probably think I’m a troll.

Also, the piece from 52 says that when they attached a photo of an obviously white woman to the CV it didn’t help at all, so the supposed Muslim ancestry doesn’t seem to be the issue here. They simply don’t want a Muslim, regardless of the ancestry. Therefore, even by your (quite reasonable, I admit) wider definition this is not racism.

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ckc (not kc) 04.15.12 at 6:46 pm

Bruce, the way we control behavior is through the criminal law. People have a penchant to steal, murder, and rape. The law controls that by punishing those who do it.

…man, when I think of all the time I wasted raising my kids!

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Salient 04.15.12 at 6:56 pm

Just noticed this from geo–

The case for stringent, and strictly enforced, anti-discrimination laws is compelling. The case for race-based affirmative action, less so. Educationally and economically deprived blacks do not benefit much from measures that advantage educationally and economically well-off blacks

Setting aside the fact that affirmative action is not only for improving university admission proportions but also for improving access to entry-level public-sector jobs that are, ahem, not typically pursued by educationally and economically well-off persons–and that’s setting aside quite a lot, mind you–it sounds to me like you’re saying: Having people who explicitly acknowledge the identity characteristics they share with a predominantly institutionally disenfranchised group obtain more positions of authority and power, does not much help those members of that group who are ineligible for positions of authority and power within those institutions.

Are you confident that, over the long-term, people who have declared themselves to be black are equally likely to reinforce or ignore institutional policies that reinforce the ineligibility?

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geo 04.15.12 at 7:23 pm

Salient: Yes to both paraphrase and question, at least as I understand you. (They both seem to me rather less limpid and precise than your usual prose.) I do think that poor and uneducated blacks benefit far more from receiving more money and more education than from seeing their better-off and better-educated fellow blacks given preference for jobs or scholastic places for which there are well-defined meritocratic criteria. (As you point out, there are many entry-level positions for which there are no such criteria, and for which there may be some coherent rationale for advantaging poor and uneducated blacks over poor and uneducated whites. But as I pointed out, that’s morally problematic — much better to fight for policies that help poor and uneducated whites and blacks together.)

As for your final question, if by “institutional policies that reinforce the ineligibility” you mean “leave discriminatory practices in place,” I think I could hardly have been clearer that, whatever one thinks about affirmative action, strict enforcement of anti-discrimination laws is still very important.

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Bruce Wilder 04.15.12 at 7:29 pm

WL @99: “The question is whether government should give certain groups extra advantages, apportioned by race . . . “

You think that is “The” question, and I do not.

Anti-racism appeals for the legitimacy of its cause to the validity of universal principles, such as the 14th amendment’s guarantee of equal protection of the laws. There’s a bit of intellectual jiu jitsu at work here, in which the opponents of anti-racism concede the abstract principle qua principle, but attempt to recast the associated program or policy, as opposed to the principle. It is analogous to the tactics of a judo master, who uses her opponent’s own momentum against him. It can be an effective tactic, in opposing anti-racism movements or initiatives. I think it is often a tactic used mechanically and cynically, by people, who have no genuine respect for the principle invoked, but I would concede that this tactic may lead to valid criticism of a particular program or policy — valid in the sense that the particular program or policy, whatever the good intentions of its proponents, does, in fact, violate the principle in the logic of its operation.

I won’t concede that “affirmative action” or “diversity programs”, which are labels of intention, applied to a very broad range of possible policies and programs, always and everywhere entail a violation of fundamental (anti-racism) principles, including the 14th amendment guarantee of equal protection under law. Taking action to ensure diversity in education, employment and political representation may be necessary to overcome the persistent forces, which seek to maintain or establish racist norms of privilege and exploitation, and an argument that seeks to define any such action as itself racist or violative of universal principles of justice seems perverse, at best.

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Salient 04.15.12 at 7:52 pm

Since the way we control behavior is through the criminal law is probably going to draw a lot of fire, it’s worth noting that the analog is completely true of the behavior of corporate entities and agencies of the state (I say ‘analog of’ because I’m pretty sure regulation isn’t normally considered part of criminal law) and worth emphasizing that this is why morally coercive regulations, like affirmative action, are appropriate.

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mpowell 04.15.12 at 7:56 pm

I think js has done a pretty bad job of explaining what his point is, but I think I understand it and I actually agree with it. Let me make a similar, though slightly different claim: You get color-blindness after you overcome racism, not the other way around. Going back to some familiar examples, the Italians and Irish are first accepted as legitimate members of the society and treated fairly in all walks of life and then people stop caring who the Irish or the Italians are. I don’t think there is any other way to proceed, for the reasons that Bruce Baugh has already explained. The last minority of people who are racists will continue to be racists after the rest of us pretend that racism doesn’t exist anymore by practicing color-blindness. We need to be race conscious in order to fight the effects of lingering racism in society. Though what we really need, in the US, is to get the public to understand the terribly damaging effects of the war on drugs. The illegal drug traded could be ended without substantially increasing the addict populations of heroin and coke and the only reasonable way to do it would be through non-police means. If you did that, I think you would actually have a pretty good shot of eventually getting to Dr. King’s dream.

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Manta1976 04.15.12 at 8:36 pm

Salient @105: do you really think that having a few queens during Middle Ages helped poor women?
It seems to me that for the peasantry whether the local strongman was a nobleman or a noblewoman did not make much of a difference.
And that the (economic and political) interests of a poor black person are much more similar to the one of a poor white person than of a rich black one (and what geo said @106).

I think that by focusing on fighting race discrimination at the expenses of income inequality American left is doing a disservice to the very people that they are trying to help: if we compare the situation in US with the one in a few European countries (say, France), we see less discrimination based e.g. on race in US, but also more inequality, less social mobility, and less welfare, and that happened not by chance or by fate, but (at least in part) because of different priorities of the progressive movements on the two sides of the Atlantic.

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Data Tutashkhia 04.15.12 at 8:39 pm

Going back to some familiar examples, the Italians and Irish are first accepted as legitimate members of the society and treated fairly in all walks of life and then people stop caring who the Irish or the Italians are.

The Italians and Irish got out of poverty with the help of various post WWII social programs (like the GI bill), and general post war socioeconomic environment. That, of course, didn’t specifically target the Italians and Irish, not at all. Once a whole bunch of them had become a part of the middle class, no one cared anymore. IOW, what Geo said.

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Helen 04.15.12 at 10:49 pm

The paradoxical result is that a piece that begins as a criticism of anti-white racism gradually morphs into something akin to an expression of white racism.

“Boy, the food at this place is really terrible.” “Yeah, I know; and such small portions.”

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purple 04.15.12 at 10:49 pm

The US is a society based on fraud and marketing, and its token policies on race reflect that.

As for class, the U.S. is amongst the most unequal societies in the world while pretending to be the opposite. The rich wear jeans too.

The idea of self-reflection is anathema here. After all, we’re #1.

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Bruce Baugh 04.15.12 at 11:39 pm

I don’t think that all that many people on the left do seek to address racial wrongs at the expense of class wrongs. I think that the right’s been quite successful at attacking both sorts of efforts and then using failures they’ve created on one front as a club to help beat down efforts on the other. Sure, there are some advocates of racial justice who are dismissive of the real needs of poor white people, and there are some advocates of economic justice who focus on the needs of poor white with seriously racist disregard for the situation of any person of color who happens not to be grindingly poor. Both sorts are very unrepresentative.

Tensions run higher the more folks assume that they can’t ever expect to have much more social-needs money than they have now. But that’s a mug’s game – the right-wing push isn’t going to stop with tax revenues where they are now, and “fuck this starvation gambit, we must have a different revenue base” should be getting more attention as an integral part of every plan for social relief. Right-wing social engineers don’t propose to settle for allowing anyone outside the halls of power to have as much money as they do now; we shouldn’t settle for allowing them to have so little. And we need to be clear that if we can’t reverse the long-term run of wealth concentration, then it doesn’t really matter if middle-class minorities get three sips of broth while poor whites get two spoons of drippings or vice versa.

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Sebastian H 04.15.12 at 11:49 pm

Witt, re a ‘huge’ boost. The university of Michigan court case showed that the level of boost needed to get favored races to the diversity quota was to equate race (from a preferred race not Asian) as counting for either MORE than the difference of getting the lowest possible score on the SAT and the highest possible score, or the difference of an entire grade point on a GPA.

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Salient 04.16.12 at 1:49 am

I do think that poor and uneducated blacks benefit far more from receiving more money and more education than from seeing their better-off and better-educated fellow blacks given preference for jobs or scholastic places for which there are well-defined meritocratic criteria.

A few problems with this.

First, it’s dangerous to make a statement of the form “I think group X would benefit more from Y than from Z” when receiving Y and receiving Z are at most extremely tenuously related. It’s a true statement, but it falsely implies a concrete relationship between quantities of Y and z. Eliminate affirmative action, and neither one additional dime nor one minute of attention will be spent on ensuring any blacks receive more money and more education. In fact, I think the only conceivable outcome would be additional effort spent on trying to eliminate or curtail initiatives to improve blacks’ access to money or education, as e.g. white supremacists who decided to crusade against AA as a galvanizing initiative declare victory and take up other initiatives, flush with morale.

It’s a bit like legally recognized abortion rights vs. access to contraception. On a formal but concrete level, those have almost nothing to do with one another; the former could be changed drastically without impacting the latter, and vice versa. The two are obviously related by the formal but *abstract* notion of reproductive rights, but that abstract relationship could mislead us into asserting something like, “women benefit far more from easy and free access to contraception than from the ability to get an abortion without an ultrasound.” True statement, sure. But it’s a dangerously misleading statement, because concretely, giving in to a change in law that requires that ultrasound would do nothing to improve women’s access to contraception. The people actively fighting for the former, are also actively fighting against the latter. In fact, I think the only conceivable outcome would be additional effort spent on trying to eliminate or curtail initiatives to improve women’s access to contraception. (Hell, in 2012 we now have concrete evidence of this.)

This just means we need to abandon the “vs.” mindset and just consider the former and the latter completely independently, and judge the merits of each without recourse to the inherently misleading “but more Z would be better than more Y” mode of analysis. If you feel affirmative action is inappropriate, argue that directly, don’t defer to “but this would be better” arguments that obfuscate the lack of a concrete relationship by appeal to the superficial existence of an abstract relationship.

Second, there aren’t well-defined meritocratic criteria, period. [My favorite construction in the English language, ever, is the comma-space-“period”-period, as if we’re commanding a dictation-taker to end the sentence and they misunderstand us.] The idea that the people who hold professorships or seats in representative government “deserve” them on merit is pernicious and false. (Let’s say it this way: for anyone in any position anywhere, there are a countless number of persons eligible for the job with equal or superior merit credentials, and the person who holds the position owes their predominantly to some combination of dumb luck and social-institutional constraints preventing superior candidates from obtaining the position. With notably rare exceptions, there’s not a human being anywhere in the world who is anywhere close to the ‘best’ candidate for the job they perform.)

In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that I believe one of the two following statements must obtain:

* There has never been a student admitted to university, or a candidate hired for an academic position, that was chosen over a meritoriously superior eligible student/candidate.

* Every student admitted to university, and every candidate hired for an academic position, was chosen over a meritoriously superior eligible student/candidate.

Which of the two statements above obtains is just a question of how expansive we let words like “eligible” be.

[I’m explicitly including ‘academic’ — and implicitly restricting my thoughts to public-sector situations — because I think it’s convenient for the purpose of conversation to be more specific, and because there’s no point in even discussing private-sector affirmative action until there’s some agreement about public-sector affirmative action.]

Something we probably do agree about: plenty of candidates who have been admitted to university, and plenty of candidates hired for academic positions who were for affirmative reasons chosen over someone else whom the admissions or hiring board felt was meritoriously superior.

Well, tough. For two reasons. First, blah blah subjective I-don’t-wanna-accede-to-their-definition blah blah. You can write that part off the top of your head. Second, something a bit less boring and predictable: Maximal meritocracy in job-worker pairing is an absurd goal. [If I could bear to write it, I think my eventual significant contribution to humanity would be to write Merit: The First 5000 Years, as “surely positions should be filled by those with the most merit” is right up there with “surely one must pay one’s debts” on the list of statements that manage to be so blindingly self-evidently-obvious that they conceal their core falseness.]

Certainly, we agree that people who work a particular job ought to be proficient and capable of fulfilling the core job requirements in a timely and reliable way, but even if we ignore the blah blah subjective blah blah and agree to let ‘best’-ness be magically objective… why should we want a society in which job duties are filled by the ‘best’ people for them?

Since merit, like debt, has so much baggage connected to it that we practically have to start from scratch, let me defer to a fairly stupid analogy. It’s only two paragraphs long, and then I can move on, bear with me.

It’s like wanting the most fuel efficient car engine. Ok, all else being equal, you want a car engine that gets as far as possible on one gallon of gas. [Sort of like, all else being equal, you should pay your debts.] This gives us a convenient definition of ‘best’ for engines. Let’s agree this really is a good definition of ‘best’ for engines, to ignore any blah blah subjective blah blah type objections I could raise. But suppose that maximizing this efficiency causes engines to release far more toxins per mile traveled. In turn, attempts to develop a less environmentally destructive or quieter engine are stifled, because the loss in fuel efficiency is decried. Makers of less fuel-efficient engines that have other interesting and notable characteristics either go bankrupt or abandon their attempt to develop those engines. Homogenization. Engines that are only marginally less fuel-efficient are passed over, even if they have a novel and interesting design, even if the company from which they come has a different perspective on what constitutes the goodness of an engine.

You get the best. Sure. You also create an environment in which nothing else matters, in which there’s no room to screw around and just do something different, the risk is unacceptable. And when the ‘best’ runs up against resource constraints, everyone doubles down on edging one another out. Maximizing merit minimizes people screwing around and accidentally accomplishing something that wasn’t in the job description. People who care about these costs, and demand artificially imposed constraints on environmental damage per mile traffic, are chastised for wanting a situation in which the ‘best’ engine can and does lose out to an ‘inferior’ engine quite a bit of the time. So, okay, the two obvious and predictable points made here are that selecting for efficiency and productivity maximization is always accomplished at the expense of adaptability and diversity. (In fact, genuinely valuing diversity is really identical to genuinely valuing alternatives despite their relative lack of merit.) You could probably counter the adaptability and diversity points with a point about how merit is this super magical thing that somehow includes one’s outsidetheboxidness and one’s creative capacities (which is wrong, IMO, but not a wrong I currently have the energy to dispute, because it requires unpacking what ‘creativity’ is and requires that the meaning of ‘merit’ be specified in a way that’s non-tautological).

But the less obvious point, which ignores the negative externalities angle entirely, is the most essential. A maximally competitive society, in which we make a strong and consistent and thorough effort to identify merit in others and demonstrate it in ourselves, fucking sucks to live in. The ‘best’ person isn’t necessarily the person who strains and stresses the most, but a society in which we relentlessly promote merit is a society in which we reward those who willingly pour as much of their vitality and energy into their work as they can muster. And while that’s something we may feel compelled to ask of ourselves and each other right now, it’s not a condition to be glorified.

Jingoistic nonsense like the American Dream becomes jingoistic nonsense when it becomes a glorification of sacrifice for its own sake, rather than a sacrifice made for others. It makes sense to admire someone who ground their life away in a factory, accepting a horrible martyrdom of life securely confident that their children would NOT have to endure that awful fate. But at some point, admirating someone’s willingness to sacrifice their life for their children became admiration of the process of grinding one’s life away, as if the sacrifice was itself the goal, something to celebrate rather than regret. (Admiring someone’s willingness to accept pain for others, has become admiring and seeking to emulate their pain tolerance.) Merit plays into this by holding up effort — lifegrinding — as the pinnacle ideal. Whatever other merits a person may have, effort and exertion is the one most clearly under their control, and therefore the component of their merit for which they are most personally accountable.

Demanding superlative merit, even if it maximizes productivity in a meaningful sense, also maximizes the demands placed on each individual life, demands that take their toll on us. And that life — a life in which the work you contribute to society for your keep requires you to perform at the top of your game as often as possible, a life in which work consumes you because offering anything less to your job just opens you up to the traumatic instability of a person with superior merit displacing and replacing you — is a life that sucks. The only thing it offers is misplaced pride in one’s own ability to endure suffering for its own sake (and perhaps, in our far-from-meritocratic society, the misguided notion that one actually has contributed superior effort and demonstrated superlative merit).

Choosing to put maximal effort into one’s job, in order to be as meritorious as possible, is choosing to endure weariness and suffering. When done so that one’s children won’t have to do the same, that’s admirable. When done hoping that the spirit of self-sacrifice rubs off on one’s children and neighbors so that they are inspired to be more self-sacrificial, well, that’s deeply sick. Most people will derive their pleasures in life from the moments in which they are not making sacrifices, in which they are free to put in as much or as little effort as pleases them. There are plenty of types of people I’d feel a need to pendantically point this out to, but surely a building manager whose greatest joys in life include leisure reading and thoughtful commentary isn’t one of them?

Sure, a person can take pride in accepting and carrying the burden of suffering their job imposes on them. On an individual level, ideas like “putting effort in” and “doing one’s part” have some vague coherence to them — a person grinding themselves away for others is impressive. But we shouldn’t want that to be the position people are in, we shouldn’t confuse a person making the best of a bad situation with a good situation. If we’re all making that sacrifice — not even concretely to ensure our kids have a less stressful life, but just to contribute our part to some vague amorphous society — then we’re a society of sufferers, and for what?

We shouldn’t want a society in which people are straining and exerting all the time to prove they’re the “best” at what they do, that they deserve their role more than any contender, on the merits. We should want a society in which people feel well: healthy in mind and spirit, fairly relaxed, reasonably free of institutionally-imposed suffering, capable of taking part in various activities they find enjoyable, and connected to communities that nourish them. We should want a society in which we acknowledge and welcome the predominant role that chance and dumb luck inevitably play in determining our lot in life, rather than downplaying that with an artificial vision of maximal measurable accomplishment that only seems fundamentally righteous because it is fundamentally combative.

That vision of glorious merit, like the vision of debt as a moral imperative, screws people over. It glorifies an experience that most of us find wearying and grinding. It puts ‘driven’ over, say, ‘compassionate,’ as the supreme characteristic of a good person. It excuses and provides cover for actions taken in the name of efficiency that dump suffering on people in exchange for numbers in a bank account.

Affirmative action is the only attempt I have seen, in my (admittedly very short) lifetime, to systematically push back against that vision, to confront it head-on, to compromise it. That might mean it means a lot more to me than it should, or it might mean that it should mean a lot more to me than it does. But I do know, at its deepest, affirmative action is designed to accomplish far more than what you fear it is capable of: not only displacing the meritorious, but also challenging the supremacy of merit as the ideal around which we construct our communities and the institutions that we allow to govern us.

For that reason, it doesn’t surprise me to see AA in a nearly unique position, coming under fire from all quarters, even from people I consider close allies, swatting down a radical-seeming extension of principle they fear will tar and discredit them by proximity. But it does sadden me, a little, to know this is the case, to see that the radical ideal encoded in AA has not gained traction or prominence.

One vexing problem is that AA, like an argument for a blog comment, is a banged-together ad-hoc device, built in a mostly hostile environment, attempting to further a contentious objective with precious little infrastructural and conceptual support. And as with any ad-hoc fix designed and implemented in such a context, it makes for shitty infrastructure, it hasn’t aged well, it’s crude, and it opens the principles justifying its construction up to criticism, as if poor design is a reliable indicator of poor intent.

Another problem is that the singularity of AA makes it uniquely important to defend properly, which is intimidating. To take on the supremacy of merit as an organizing principle, the kind of thing it’s possible to whack together on a blog won’t do, it’s not the kind of thing you can just swat at…

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chris 04.16.12 at 3:28 am

the present system keeps poor people away from any important position.
And being poor is very much a hereditary thing.
Thus, the present system keeps children of poor people away from positions of power.

If that was all that was going on, we wouldn’t see watermelon and witch doctor jokes about the distinctly non-poor Obamas. Some people just know that he *ought* to be poor, even if he isn’t; that there’s something wrong with the notion of a man like Obama being in the White House when his rightful place is serving his betters and he ought to have known to stick to that. And they especially resent it if they are poor and someone like Obama is not — it’s an inversion of the natural order. (Really the socially defined order, but it’s what they know, which is enough.)

There’s really only one answer to the question of what makes Obama remind certain people of a witch doctor with a bone through his nose, so that a joke depicting him as one is funny. Class doesn’t cut it as an explanation.

Poverty is only weakly heritable; the real racism shows up when someone from the wrong group makes it *out* of the underclass and someone has to do the work of shoving him back in.

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Bruce Baugh 04.16.12 at 3:42 am

Salient, that was a really outstanding screed against “merit” in a bunch of its common aspects. These are thoughts I’ve been working toward for some time, and am delighted to see others ahead of me and articulate about it.

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geo 04.16.12 at 3:53 am

Salient: Don’t want to oversimplify your views. Do you really think it makes no sense – and even if it did, would serve no useful purpose – to say that programs to expand and support employment, education, healthcare, unemployment benefits, and other social-democratic and welfare-state measures probably help economically and educationally disadvantaged blacks than corporate diversity hiring programs and programs to reserve a minimum number of places for blacks in, say entering law or medical school classes? Of course it’s possible to support both – I never suggested otherwise. It may even be – which is a different matter – feasible to support both, for a left with a large amount of political capital. But I just don’t see how one can refuse to say that one set of policies might be more useful for a given purpose than the other, and even deny the legitimacy of the comparison.

And about merit: I agree, for the sake of argument, that it’s socially constructed. But that doesn’t mean it’s wholly arbitrary. We can’t get through an average day without making judgments about other people’s competence, aptitude, character, judgment – all the things that go into decisions about whom to hire or admit. Principal qualifications being pretty strictly equal, I’m all for giving blacks preference – if that’s affirmative action, it’s OK with me. And there are plenty of situations in which race is itself a principal qualification: choosing a newspaper columnist, for example, or perhaps even a school superintendent in a heavily black district, since the job will involve an enormous amount of community outreach. But as things have worked out over the last several decades, it seems to me at least plausible that, as Walter Benn Michaels points out in The Trouble With Diversity (a book I’ll keep recommending until there’s evidence that most Americans have read it), “the supposed left has turned into the human resources department of the right.”

The result, Michaels concludes: “As long as the left continues to worry about diversity, the right won’t have to worry about inequality.”

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Watson Ladd 04.16.12 at 3:59 am

Salient, merit means that ones life is under ones control. I chose how to develop my talents and thusly what my skills are and how I will fare when attempting to access goods based on merit. It’s an ideology of freedom. You can pursue your own path, letting your talents determine how you will fare along it. Whereas letting fate determine ones life means stepping back from the heroic self-determining individual, in favor of one who rues fortune for all that ails them.

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geo 04.16.12 at 3:59 am

PS – Sorry, dropped a word in the second sentence: should be “more than corporate diversity hiring programs … “

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Bruce Baugh 04.16.12 at 4:45 am

Watson is talking about autonomy, which is altogether independent of merit. One couldn’t ask for much of a better compact demonstration of Salient’s point.

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Steve Williams 04.16.12 at 4:55 am

Salient,

Thank you for writing such a considered comment. However, there’s something I’m not getting. We’ve got a policy, race-based affirmative action, and you’ve laid out a goal, which is the reason you support the policy: you want to break the esteem with which merit is held, and increase the weight of quality-of-life factors against professional factors when we consider our lives. Okay. But I don’t understand the mechanism by which the policy leads to the outcome here. Because to my mind, it’s not at all obvious that it does.

Affirmative action policies have been in place for the best part of fifty years. People now work longer hours, with fewer vacation days, and increased levels of stress than they did in the 60s and 70s. To be clear, I’m not saying there’s a causation here. But it strikes me as at least possible that affirmative action policies increase the value of merit amongst members of disfavored groups, as it increases the pressure to stand out.

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Gareth Wilson 04.16.12 at 5:55 am

I’ve got some sympathy for that view of merit. A while back, there was an election in the US. One candidate was being promoted in tedious detail as the “most qualified”, the one with the most merit. I thought that was rather silly, that qualifications and merit had little meaning in that sort of competition, and that both candidates would do fine if elected. Of course, that was the 2000 presidential election, and I’ve had to reconsider my views since then.

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Eli Rabett 04.16.12 at 7:50 am

js ignores the past again it’s overcome by changing the relevant institutions.

Many college (institutions) no longer have quotas for Catholics, Italians and shock horror Jews.

Why do you think there are Catholic colleges and universities js?

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Data Tutashkhia 04.16.12 at 7:59 am

I don’t think that all that many people on the left do seek to address racial wrongs at the expense of class wrongs.

I don’t know what you mean by ‘left’, but to me it’s exactly what liberals are doing.

The most typical, quintessential in fact, anti-racist complaint is that various groups (blacks, women) are under- or overrepresented in various socioeconomic strata. But that means that they already concede the hierarchical nature of the society; they are just unhappy about the way various groups are distributed among the hierarchical layers (classes). Anti-racism (the actually existing one, the one that demand that misery is proportionally distributed among all races and genders), is, IMO, simply a red herring, distraction, and it’s a really bad taste, as far as I’m concerned. It also needlessly contributes to racial tensions.

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faustusnotes 04.16.12 at 8:26 am

Watson:

I chose how to develop my talents and thusly what my skills are and how I will fare when attempting to access goods based on merit

Did you really? So you chose your parents? You chose your primary and secondary schools, the subjects you would take, the amount of time your parents had available to monitor your homework and their ability to help you? You chose the neighbourhoods you were raised in, their crime levels and degree of accessible infrastructure? You chose when your mother stopped breastfeeding you, whether your parents would beat you or neglect you, and when your parents decided that at age 15 you had to stop school to take up a trade, you just said “no thanks” and they changed their mind? Did you also choose the substances your parents were addicted to and how they chose to administer them during pregnancy? And did you choose the economic crises that wiped out their ability to send you to a better school, or to keep you in school at all? And when it came time to enter medical school but you didn’t have a spare couple of 10s of thousands of dollars to pay the fees, you were somehow able to “choose” to do this course anyway?

You must be a very unique person, to have been able to choose all that.

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Andrew F. 04.16.12 at 12:48 pm

Interpreting Watson’s point reasonably, I think he means that basing hiring/admission decisions on “merit” gives more power to the individual than the individual would possess if hiring/admissions decisions were not based on merit. In other words, he posits a direct relationship between the degree to which hiring/admissions decisions are based on merit, and the degree of autonomy possessed by individuals. The key is the relationship, not whether full autonomy is ever achieved.

As to Salient’s point about the destructive potential of a focus on merit… I think the point relies on an assumption that the achievement of high merit involves a grinding, straining, stressed, unhappy existence. And I don’t think that assumption is true.

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politicalfootball 04.16.12 at 2:29 pm

Witt offers this in 77, regarding Ben’s 49:

the extraordinary blindness necessary to think that hateful tirades are merely political debate chips, rather than something that may be deeply personally hurtful to others.

But note that bjk beat Ben to the punch way up in No. 9:

Truly there is no way for conservatives to avoid charges of racism, and Derb doesn’t even bother to try. Lowry and Goldberg can say that the Derb’s article was indefensible etc. but if you look at the comments, they run pretty much 90% in favor of the article. That wouldn’t have been the case five years ago. The “whites are under attack” theme is getting increasing prominence at conservative sites like the Daily Caller, and that’s where the audience is headed. So I don’t think it’s the case that conservatives are looking for more exquisitely delicate ways to avoid the charge of racism. Five years ago maybe, not today.

Actual racism isn’t really a concern for the conservatives bjk describes, else not being a racist would be its own reward. Rather, the only reason to pretend to be nonracist is so that you won’t be called a racist. But because liberals are insistent on accusing people like Derb of being racist, there’s no point in Derb hiding it any more.

I get the sense that bjk thinks this is a bad thing – this new lack of pretense. Or maybe he thinks that liberals should regard it as a bad thing. I’m not sure.

I’m guessing that bjk’s real point is that liberals ought to maintain the pretense that Derb-style conservatives aren’t racists, even as such conservatives themselves drop that pretense. Because what’s important – the matter that’s really at stake here – is that people like Derb oughtn’t be made to feel uncomfortable.

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chris 04.16.12 at 3:53 pm

The most typical, quintessential in fact, anti-racist complaint is that various groups (blacks, women) are under- or overrepresented in various socioeconomic strata. But that means that they already concede the hierarchical nature of the society

As opposed to a hypothetical society where garbage truck drivers and neurosurgeons have exactly the same amount of resources, material lifestyle and socially defined prestige? Even assuming such a thing could exist at all (human beings have an insanely strong instinct to sort each other into scales of social status), it would be the kind of communism that really would reduce the incentive to do difficult things like study neurosurgery.

It’s one thing to think the differences that actually exist are too extreme and should be shrunk, and that garbage truck drivers should have living wages and decent living conditions — liberals do a fair amount of that too, in case you haven’t noticed — but if socioeconomic differences continue to exist at all, as they have in every society in human history including the ones explicitly dedicated to eradicating them, anyone should have a fair chance at working their way into whatever upper class there is, and not be shut out based on characteristics they can’t control.

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mpowell 04.16.12 at 4:42 pm

I agree in the value of AA and to the extent that Salient’s post addresses that, I agree. The idea that a meritocracy is a miserable place to live, however, I cannot agree with. There are a lot of wrong assumptions packed in there, here are a few that I see.

First, even in a meritocracy, the world is not winner-take-all. Let’s say you are capable of twice as much work output as me (somehow). So you get paid twice as much. Fine, if I could produce more work by working longer hours and, because it’s a perfect meritocracy, that would directly lead to more pay, I would get to choose how hard to work. But if your idea of a meritocracy is a world where everyone strives as hard as they can because being the difference between best and second best is the difference between all the wealth in the world and none, well that’s a very strange view of meritocracy. The workplaces I’ve experienced have all been self-described meritocracies, but they’ve never been like that at all. Better workers get paid more, but it’s not the difference between destitution and riches. There is a top dog aspect where the guy who gets up to VP or CEO makes an order of magnitude more money for possibly dubious reasons, but to the degree that it’s a problem, you could easily argue that it’s because it’s not a meritocracy. A proper meritocracy would reward people in proportion to their contribution (that would lead to the most business success, I think), not in some kind of weird winner-take-all game.

Second, it’s not actually the case that excessive striving leads to better outcomes. The american corporate world has forgotten this, but in the 30s, 40s and 50s there were a lot of studies done about workplace productivity. The conclusions were that for both blue collar and white collar workers, you don’t get much more total production when workers work more than 40 hours/week. And you typically hit peak production at somewhere under 50 hours/week. Another way of saying this is that getting peak production out of yourself requires you to relax and enjoy life a little. This ended a lot of the corporate resistance to the 40 hour work week and led to its widespread adoption. This is a happy coincidence because nothing fundamentally requires this result, but, hey, it’s certainly convenient.

Generally, I think it’s mistaken that a workplace that places a high priority on merit will also necessarily value excessive striving. This is probably true in a legal firm, where producing billable hours is actually more important than producing quality work, but, hey, don’t go into law.

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politicalfootball 04.16.12 at 5:26 pm

Data T. in 103 offers this:

Also, the piece from 52 says that when they attached a photo of an obviously white woman to the CV it didn’t help at all, so the supposed Muslim ancestry doesn’t seem to be the issue here. They simply don’t want a Muslim, regardless of the ancestry. Therefore, even by your (quite reasonable, I admit) wider definition this is not racism.

So people discriminate against darker-skinned Muslims and white people with some kind of affinity with darker-skinned Muslims and this isn’t racist? Meanwhile, these people cut considerable slack to disfavored minorities – but still discriminate against them – if they are willing to adopt belief systems that support the majority. And this proves that racism isn’t really a problem?

Presumably the affection of Tea Partiers for Herman Cain demonstrates that the Tea Party isn’t significantly influenced by racism. Likewise, the Right’s contempt for Bill Clinton could not possibly have been meaningfully affected by racism.

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Data Tutashkhia 04.16.12 at 6:00 pm

@132, taking your inquiries ad seriatum:
– so, a white Muslim is perceived as someone expressing affinity with darker-skinned Muslims and thus rejected? Nice one, never occurred to me. I was thinking more along the lines of ‘probably won’t join our wine club’ or ‘unlikely to be available for “le cinq a sept”‘. Now I see how that was too simplistic.
– so, Christianity is a belief system that supports the majority in France. Right.
– yes, it certainly seems that it does. It doesn’t mean that there are no problems at all, of course, just that not everything is racism.

Presumably the affection of Tea Partiers for Herman Cain demonstrates that the Tea Party isn’t significantly influenced by racism.

Doesn’t it, though?

Likewise, the Right’s contempt for Bill Clinton could not possibly have been meaningfully affected by racism.

Could you give me some clue on what you mean by this, please. I really have no idea. What’s the trick here?

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Salient 04.16.12 at 6:05 pm

I just don’t see how one can refuse to say that one set of policies might be more useful for a given purpose than the other, and even deny the legitimacy of the comparison.

geo, sometimes it’s like you insist on working entirely outside the real world, in a place where we have control over all the resources. If Z is more beneficial than Y, and you have the power to redirect the money currently spent on Y to make sure it becomes spent on Z, then doing so would make sense. But you do not have that power.

…I give up. You seem to think that “We should abandon A and spend more on B” is more meaningful than “We should abandon A” and “We should spend more on B.”

But you should know how dangerous that form of thinking is! Here’s another example of it:

“Money spent enforcing the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act would be better spent on women’s shelters that assist low-income women in developing countries escape abuse.”

True statement, right? I agree. But it’s a shitty argument for abandoning LLFPA. It’s a shitty argument because you could say it about anything other than those women’s shelters and it would still be true. It’s basically a form of the shitty argument which Belle exploded so awesomely memorably.

If you genuinely believe LLFPA is bad policy, you should make an argument for that that doesn’t rely at all on “bbbbut the money could be better spent elsewhere!” So could a lot of spent money; that doesn’t imply that that money is spent badly, or even inefficiently. Argue against LLFPA on its own.

Alternatively, if you genuinely believe LLFPA is good or even just neutral policy, you should recognize that we can get money for other good policies elsewhere; the idea that we need to redirect money spent on LLFPA to another better policy is nonsense, because that’s just not how funding works. (Unless you are really going to argue that LLFPA is literally the most wasteful expense of money the government is making, and thus should be the first thing cut. But that’s not exactly compatible with thinking LLFPA is good policy.)

I am hoping, fingers crossed, that this clarifies my objection, because you do not seem to be understanding my objection at all.

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Manta1976 04.16.12 at 6:27 pm

Salient, I think you are misunderstanding the point.

What geo is advocating is not to stop fighting for more racial equality, but to give higher priority to economic equality, for instance when casting votes during primaries and general elections.

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Salient 04.16.12 at 6:30 pm

However, there’s something I’m not getting. We’ve got a policy, race-based affirmative action, and you’ve laid out a goal, which is the reason you support the policy: you want to break the esteem with which merit is held, and increase the weight of quality-of-life factors against professional factors when we consider our lives. Okay. But I don’t understand the mechanism by which the policy leads to the outcome here. Because to my mind, it’s not at all obvious that it does.

You’re correct. There’s no mechanism. It doesn’t lead to improved support of the underlying goal, and it won’t lead there. It’s the kind of policy folks would enact with enthusiasm if those folks were already conscientiously working toward that goal.

There is a bit of cart-before-the-horse problem here, in that somehow AA got enacted, even though not very many people are on board with the reason AA ought to be enacted. To be honest I have noooo idea how that happened. (I should probably research that.) But also, I don’t think AA is going to bring those people on board for the underlying goal. (That would be circular.)

But I’d say, just because AA is a lonely and isolated victory doesn’t mean we should abandon it. I also think that fighting for other lonely and isolated victories is… the best we can do. This is basically what I took away from MLK’s letter from a Birmingham prison. We are never really going to get the apathetic white moderates on board with a radical change, but we can hope to somehow create a new more radical status quo and then over time get apathetic white moderates on board with what’s now the status quo. So each policy we manage to get enacted is shaky and not well-supported for, like, 50 years. Then it will have become normal enough that we can repaint the landscape: the policy will probably still be contentious, but if we gradually repaint things right, it will be the people trying to undo the policy that will look like radicals.

Now of course, this doesn’t address your second paragraph: it’s “possible that affirmative action policies increase the value of merit amongst members of disfavored groups, as it increases the pressure to stand out.”

Agreed. Insofar as that’s true — and I think it is true, and in a nontrivial way — it’s a backlash thing, basically the result of people resenting the underlying goal.

A lot of people who receive benefits from AA basically feel the need to prove they didn’t, as an individual, need the benefits from AA. They feel that way because they feel they have sufficient merit to justify their employment, and they care about that fact in part because they face resentment from other people who resent the benefits that AA provides and resent the new, less meritorious world order which AA attempts to help create.

I don’t know how to deal with the backlash, but I do imagine it’s inevitable. More generally, this is part of what makes civil rights advocacy really damned hard to do. On the one hand, the hope of bringing a population on board with any radical change is basically zero, and we bring people on board basically by having them grow up in the modified environment. But the backlash problem works against that in the worst way, as resentments get passed from parents to children. Given that we probably aren’t going to win the current generations over, and significant portions of future generations will probably resent any progress we manage to sneak in… I have no idea why we shouldn’t despair of making any progress, and just give in to the grind-your-life-out fate.

Off-topic, but by the way, I believe the main reason people then worked shorter hours, with more vacation days, and decreased levels of stress was fallout from the G.I. bill(s), which was possibly the single most massive welfare project this country has ever undertaken, which gave a lot of people a lot of breathing room, a lot of flexibility… and less of a need to intensely and relentlessly compete on meritorious grounds.

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geo 04.16.12 at 6:39 pm

Salient: I’m not understanding your objection at all. The” goal” or “purpose” I keep talking about is helping educationally and economically disadvantaged black people, a goal shared by just about everyone on the left. Since it’s one of our paramount goals, surely we ought to be always discussing how best to achieve it. I keep suggesting that the best way to achieve it is through policies that help those blacks – and similarly disadvantaged whites – directly, by expanding employment, income supports, education, and health care, rather than, as the Democratic Party (to judge from its actions) appears to believe, by increasing the proportion of blacks in highly-paid or influential positions, which is a main purpose and effect of affirmative action as presently practiced.

As I acknowledged, it’s possible to argue for both sets of policies. But in practice, the Democratic Party and liberals generally have given up on the former (ie, social democracy) but not on the latter (ie, diversity). The reason, as Benn Michaels suggests and I agree, is that the former is far more threatening to institutionalized inequality and the privileges most cherished by powerful people than the latter. That is not to say that diversity is a bad thing or a useless thing, just that it’s not nearly as good or as useful for helping disadvantaged black people as social democracy. Of course, advantaged black people are also people, and it no doubt cheers and encourages their less fortunate brothers and sisters to see them getting ahead. I don’t want to take away that cheer and encouragement, for whatever it’s worth. I just want to point out that it isn’t worth much, and that if we let the Democratic Party and liberals generally get away with fobbing that off on poor blacks as the best that can be done for them, then we’re letting them down.

What’s not clear here?

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politicalfootball 04.16.12 at 6:49 pm

But in practice, the Democratic Party and liberals generally have given up on the former (ie, social democracy) but not on the latter (ie, diversity).

In fact, the Right has arguably had more success suppressing social democracy, but that’s got relatively little to do with the goals of Democrats, who, after all, unanimously supported universal healthcare among many social democrat-type goals.

Social democracy is a tough sell in this country. That fact has no bearing whatsoever on whether we ought to abandon other worthy goals.

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politicalfootball 04.16.12 at 6:54 pm

Salient, as a young man, I would occasionally pass time with an overtly racist retired cop. He was a security guard in a building in which I worked.

He and I were having lunch one day, along with a young friend of his. Regarding affirmative action, the friend lamented, “I don’t see why they can’t just give the job to the best person.”

I was formulating my response when the retired cop responded, “That’s never been the way the world worked, and it never will be.”

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Steph 04.16.12 at 7:07 pm

Currently, the only permissible basis for AA if by state or local governments or by the federal government IS to rectify past discrimination within the industry. See the Crosen v. City of Richmond and Adarand Constructors v. Pena cases. I haven’t gone back and reviewed the various university admissions cases, which are distinguishable, but my understanding is that the diversity rationale has been accepted (within limits) more because university admissions is seen as different — the school is accepted as having certain interests that include having a diverse (including racially) student body. This is similar to the idea that schools should and do take into account geographic and class background, whether one plays the flute or is good at soccer, etc.

Anyway, chances are that will change soon, although smart schools can achieve the goal in other ways.

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Barry 04.16.12 at 7:49 pm

political football “But because liberals are insistent on accusing people like Derb of being racist, there’s no point in Derb hiding it any more.”

I’m sorry, but did I miss liberals calling Derb racist back before he repeatedly said racist sh*t?

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Salient 04.16.12 at 8:08 pm

What’s not clear here?

Look, I hate to accuse you of goal-post shifting, especially since I was the one to start this discussion by dredging up a fragment of an old comment of yours. What may be happening here is that we’re each becoming more aware of what we meant to say. With that in mind, let’s look back to what you wrote that I objected to:

The case for stringent, and strictly enforced, anti-discrimination laws is compelling. The case for race-based affirmative action, less so. Educationally and economically deprived blacks do not benefit much from [AA]

Let’s say we agree completely about sentence 1, since I think we do. Sentence 2 is the thing I’ve been asking you to argue on its own merits (no pun intended). Certainly, sentence 3 is offered as evidence for sentence 2; that’s why sentence 3 is in the paragraph. Notice, for one thing, it’s a much stronger and broader assertion than “if we let the Democratic Party and liberals generally get away with fobbing [AA] off on poor blacks as the best that can be done for them, then we’re letting them down.”

I can agree with that assertion from @137. And if you’ve lost interest in supporting the specific assertion “The case for race-based affirmative action [is not very compelling] … Educationally and economically deprived blacks do not benefit much from measures [like AA] that advantage educationally and economically well-off blacks” then there might be nothing interesting left to disagree about. And I suppose if you want to revise your earlier statement to say “Educationally and economically deprived blacks do not receive relief from their deprivation, i.e. financial or educational support, from measures that advantage educationally and economically well-off blacks” then that brings us into an agreement … though that will mean the revised sentence 3 no longer provides any evidence whatsoever for sentence 2, which was really what I objected to: the assertion that the case for AA is not very compelling. (Which is not word-for-word what you said, granted, but I can’t figure out how else to represent the comma-space-“less so” ending sentence 2.

If you do feel the case for AA is compelling, then we’re to where there’s nothing to disagree about. Given that you don’t feel the case for AA is compelling, then you shouldn’t argue against it by pointing out that PEM2LIB is a better way to help with mass deprivation, especially since you’ve already acknowledged that AA is not supposed to help with mass deprivation.

Certainly by this point in the conversation we know we agree that “The case for race-based affirmative action” has little to do with alleviating deprivation, and a lot to do with other goals. If you were to assert that we should spend less time advancing the goals of AA and more time advancing alleviation of mass deprivation, as I thought you had been doing, well, I would refer you again to Belle’s column. (Hyperlinked again just because I think it’s a really awesome article and deserving of linkage.)

I’ll put on my social-democratic hat for a second. One of ‘our’ paramount goals, certainly at least as important a goal as helping the disadvantaged, is democracy: ensuring representation of all communities in the seats of power. Don’t let your attention get so focused on the social-welfare part that you lose sight of the equally important democracy-representation part. Consider how massively horribly wrong a statement like “It’s okay for there to be no non-whites in Congress, so long as nobody in our society’s poor” is. So long as race remains an important identity component, adequate representation of those identities in all seats of power is a tremendously important goal, and that’s independent of helping the disadvantaged.

Okay, I want to spend some time replying to mpowell’s great comment, but I might as well catch a couple other things here.

the Democratic Party and liberals generally have given up on the former (ie, social democracy) but not on the latter (ie, diversity).

Seriously? Last I checked, zero Democrats lately have been holding forth about the need for AA in order to ensure positions of authority are distributed across identities, for example. They pay stupid and meaningless lip service to “diversity” at conventions where that’s expected, and that’s it.

IMO the Democrats have given up on any meaningful progress in diversity completely, where as at least they put up some token resistance to tax cuts for the wealthy, on vaguely social-democratic grounds. But they’re not doing much of that either, really. Maybe let’s just agree Team D is so abysmal at both that they deserve no credit for either?

the former is far more threatening to institutionalized inequality and to the privileges most cherished by powerful people than the latter

That’s… not… true. What on Earth has been more threatening to institutionalized inequality than emancipation? The fact that we’ve managed to make a lot more progress on one goal than the other, should not mean that one goal is more important than the other.

Remember, our country is currently getting destroyed by a massive and incredibly successful campaign to reintroduce slavery “give prisoners a work ethic.” I for one don’t find it convincing to say that if only we can get poor people some more money and education, then whites will stop enslaving imprisoning blacks and putting them to work on plantations in compulsory work camps of for-profit prisons.

Honestly, when you say stuff like “That is not to say that diversity is a bad thing or a useless thing” what I want to ask is, okay, what does the word ‘diversity’ mean to you, and how is diversity a good or useful thing? Because to me, a statement like that sounds like someone paying lip service to Thing That Is Obviously Good, without actually valuing that thing in a personally meaningful way, or reflecting on the why of why it’s important. Is diversity actually something good, or is it merely something good all-else-being-equal? Something that is important all-else-being-equal but not worth making sacrifices for is probably actually not all that important. Is diversity something you would sacrifice some other gains [e.g. gains in economic equality] to achieve, in various plausible scenarios you can envision, or does it always take last-seat? Accusing someone of not actually caring about something is kind of automatically severe, and I’m trying to avoid that, because it feels unfair to me. But maybe it’s worth a moment of soul-searching — on a purely emotional level, how do you feel about this? Is ‘diversity’ something that actually resonates with you, or something you valuate for technical reasons?

I only say this because this thread is ostensibly about that Derb person. Derb got in trouble and lost his job… for putting some honest soul-searching on display. I kind of admire that; even though I think his soul is plainly odious, at least it was bared for all to see, y’know? I don’t dare do that, except in the most oblique of ways.

But consider the position you’re in when you are feeling the need to mildly protest in anticipation of a contention, “That is not to say that diversity is a bad thing or a useless thing.” — so far as I can tell, this is to indicate you don’t consider proportional identity-group representation among the empowered a “paramount goal” in importance, right alongside the welfare initiatives you call ‘social democracy’. In which case, maybe you should consider dropping the ‘democracy’ and just be a socialist? There’s no harm in that, and I for one would consider you no less an ally and would still hold you in the high esteem that I already hold you in. We all have our priorities, things that resonate with us, and it seems awful to me to demand that everyone resonate with everything. (And these resonances are one important reason for proportional identity-group representation, the idea being that resonances are closely linked to our identities, much of which are beyond our choice or control, so we should aim to have identity-groups fairly represented among authorities, because even supremely benevolent authorities who really care about those identity-groups can’t be trusted to comprehend and care for those resonances on the kind of emotional level that is necessary for motivation, and thus won’t defend the interests of those communities with the passion and commitment that those communities deserve.)

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geo 04.16.12 at 8:17 pm

Salient: Sorry, I’m going to take a pass, at least for now. I know you’ll disagree, but I can’t help feeling I’ve answered all the questions/objections @142 in previous comments, and I don’t want us to take over the thread.

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michael e sullivan 04.16.12 at 8:41 pm

I think what wasn’t clear was that you don’t appear to be arguing *against* AA, so much as suggesting that it’s a small piece of the puzzle, whose main pieces seem to be getting ever more off the table.

What you said took the form of a standard MovementConservativeSpeciousArgument[tm], which is generally to suggest that because B is more important than A, we should abandon A, usually uttered by those who have absolutely no intention of supporting any of B when the time comes. In fact, when the time does come to support or not support B, they will invariably find some C, which can be used against B in an argument of the same form as a reason not to support B either. And of course, when the time comes to support C, there will be a D, and so on. I’m sure if we looked hard enough we could find the same pundit making this argument in a completely circular fashion where ultimately we see A come back as an argument not to support Z.

Which is all to say that it’s generally a fully general counterargument, and that was pretty much Belle’s point in the linked essay.

If, on the other hand, you actually *support* AA, and are merely pointing out that you see it as a second best, or add-on policy to fundamentally more important ideas, you might want to make that clear by affirmatively stating it, rather than appearing to set it up in opposition to other more important goals.

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Matt 04.16.12 at 9:00 pm

… a hypothetical society where garbage truck drivers and neurosurgeons have exactly the same amount of resources, material lifestyle and socially defined prestige? Even assuming such a thing could exist at all (human beings have an insanely strong instinct to sort each other into scales of social status), it would be the kind of communism that really would reduce the incentive to do difficult things like study neurosurgery.

We don’t need to consider hypothetical societies: people already do things that require more training and longer work hours than driving a garbage truck, even if it pays less. According to a quick look on glassdoor.com, truck drivers in general fall in the $35k-$60k annual range. A garbage truck driver makes about $39,000 annually. A newly minted biology PhD may well make less, despite accumulating student debt and entering the workforce 8 years later. I don’t think the postdoc enjoys very much social prestige either. People get a biology PhD because biology interests them, even if it’s not a road to prestige or wealth.

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krippendorf 04.16.12 at 9:18 pm

Data —

Plenty of audit studies manipulate the race of the applicant, not the religion, and show racial differences in employment chances that can’t be attributed to religion, education, class, etc etc. See, e.g., any number of audit studies by Devah Pager over the past decade, most of which look at the employment prospects of whites, blacks, and Hispanics in low-wage labor markets in Milwaukee and NYC. (Pager’s studies also “manipulate” the past criminal record of the applicant, but you can ignore this and just interpret the main effects of race.) Or, see Bertrand and Mullathanian’s “Are Emily and Greg more Employable than Lakisha and Jamal?”

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Salient 04.16.12 at 9:42 pm

I agree in the value of AA and to the extent that Salient’s post addresses that, I agree. The idea that a meritocracy is a miserable place to live, however, I cannot agree with. There are a lot of wrong assumptions packed in there, here are a few that I see.

Up front, I think the society you’re envisioning in what follows is a “equal-pay-for-equal-effort” society, which is somewhat independent of a meritorious society. Actually, there’s some problematic tension between EPFEE and meritocracy.

The core meritocratic proposal “Each job ought to be filled by the person with the most merit” says nothing about pay or benefits. But meritocracy assumes the preexistence of well-defined jobs, with equally clearly defined benefits, and it assumes the population is well-aware of both. It assumes the benefits are aligned so that people who perform the best receive the best-compensated positions, but whether the compensation benefits are performance-based or not doesn’t really matter.

Meritocracy is a means for addressing the problem of job scarcity: when M persons want to fill N positions for a job, and M > N. Otherwise there would be no opportunity to select for merit.

What happens to the people who don’t merit the position is often left undiscussed. (That’s actually completely reasonable though, because as soon as we assume a condition of job scarcity, we’re admitting that there will have to be M – N many losers no matter what. The issue of what happens to the losers is independent of how we select which people will be winners.)

I think that answers (or at least dodges past) this objection:

Let’s say you are capable of twice as much work output as me (somehow). So you get paid twice as much. Fine, if I could produce more work by working longer hours and, because it’s a perfect meritocracy, that would directly lead to more pay, I would get to choose how hard to work.

As the previous bit probably indicated, what I’m interested in is the marginal position — suppose there are N jobs of this type and you are currently ranked in Nth or (N+1)th place; what do you do?

The person in 1st place might be able to breathe easy, especially if their merit does not require much effort from them, but as with any system that creates winners and losers, we should look to see how it affects people on the margin first, then how everyone else is affected.

But if your idea of a meritocracy is a world where everyone strives as hard as they can because being the difference between best and second best is the difference between all the wealth in the world and none, well that’s a very strange view of meritocracy.

Well, it’s certainly the difference between having something you want (a particular job) and not having that. That’s not all the wealth in the world, but it is something that you want, presumably because the job is preferable to whatever else society would have you doing if you didn’t get that job.

And of course, the more we decide to reward merit, the starker the gap will be between the merited winners and the undermerited losers. Rewarding X is just a way to increase the gap between X-havers and X-havenots.

The workplaces I’ve experienced have all been self-described meritocracies, but they’ve never been like that at all. Better workers get paid more, but it’s not the difference between destitution and riches.

The last sentence is basically saying “It has meritocratic aspect to it, but the merit-rewarding component does not overwhelm the social-democratic component.”

There is a top dog aspect where the guy who gets up to VP or CEO makes an order of magnitude more money for possibly dubious reasons, but to the degree that it’s a problem, you could easily argue that it’s because it’s not a meritocracy.

Yeah actually that’s an issue in meritocracy: the only people not required to have merit are the owners of property and wealth. Granted, a VP or CEO ostensibly has job duties, but they’re largely acting in the capacity of ‘business owner.’

A proper meritocracy would reward people in proportion to their contribution

This is just a difference of what we choose to focus on. The issue of whether the person in N – 1 is compensated better than the person in position N doesn’t interest me nearly as much as what is true about the Nth and N+1th people. I assume that wherever we draw the margin is where we want to look.

Second, it’s not actually the case that excessive striving leads to better outcomes.

Uh, in a way, that’s part of my point. People are generally happier when not pushed to strive (at least, people whose job is not production of creative content or artistry or craftsmanship, but “strive” there means something very different than striving in a factory position, and of course all the positions I have in mind are in manufacturing).

The american corporate world has forgotten this, but in the 30s, 40s and 50s there were a lot of studies done about workplace productivity. The conclusions were that for both blue collar and white collar workers, you don’t get much more total production when workers work more than 40 hours/week. And you typically hit peak production at somewhere under 50 hours/week.

Number of hours worked is independent of amount of hourly effort invested. We’re assuming the existence of well-defined jobs, with hours at least vaguely specified. Striving to be the person with the most merit is about laboring more intensely to improve one’s hourly productivity. Willingness to work additional hours might be part of merit, but only if that means you’re giving the company more value than the N+1st worker.

Another way of saying this is that getting peak production out of yourself requires you to relax and enjoy life a little.

That’s assuming people don’t get hired and fired, and asking what to do with a fixed workforce. Meritocracy requires the assumption that everyone at all times can be fired the moment their productivity is beneath the productivity offered by the N+1st person.

Generally, I think it’s mistaken that a workplace that places a high priority on merit will also necessarily value excessive striving.

They’ll punish insufficient striving by firing you and hiring the N+1st person, so you have to strive hard enough to beat their hypothetical productivity at all times. Whether that demand on how much a person strives is “excessive” is precisely what we disagree about.

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Watson Ladd 04.16.12 at 9:52 pm

Salient, is Lebanon better then the US because it ensures that all religious are represented in government? There is a case to be made that courts which have minorities on them are more likely to see unacceptable infringements upon the rights of minorities then those without. But in an electoral democracy ensuring group representation makes politics into racialized and ethnic conflicts. This is what destroyed the Netherlands in the pre-WWII period on religious lines, and what is ripping Belgium apart today. To live in a democracy is to be a citizen in public life, who makes arguments all can respect. It’s incompatible with any sort of set aside.

faustnotes, everyone alive had the good fortune not to be hit by a car. But we can equalize the conditions people face and so reduce the role of chance to an extent. Or we can follow Salient and make it impossible to think about accomplishing your dreams. I’m where I am today in part because I wanted to work eight hours a week on doing math, in addition to 40 hours of school a week. That wasn’t something that was due to luck, unless we reduce desert to nothing. I agree with Andrew F. about the charitable interpretation of my earlier post.

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chris 04.16.12 at 11:57 pm

But in practice, the Democratic Party and liberals generally have given up on the former (ie, social democracy) but not on the latter (ie, diversity). The reason, as Benn Michaels suggests and I agree, is that the former is far more threatening to institutionalized inequality and the privileges most cherished by powerful people than the latter.

You say given up on, I say were thwarted at because the resistance was that much harder. The ultimate reason is the same — one reform is more dangerous to entrenched interests than the other — but the assignment of blame is very different. Not every defeat is a surrender (indeed, your position strikes me as not far from being a dolchstosslegende of the left).

@139: sounds like the song “That’s Just the Way It Is” (the point of which is, of course, that it needn’t remain that way).

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Salient 04.17.12 at 12:15 am

Watson, ensuring that all identity-groups are proportionally represented in government (which certainly includes religious groups) is better than not doing so.

A question asking “If a country ensured all religions are proportionally represented in government but EXECUTED TEN PEOPLE AT RANDOM EVERY DAY, are they a good society?” is exactly as stupid a question as your fucking question about Lebanon, so it’s going to have to go unanswered. Swear to god, you expend your readers’ charity the way a Hummer expends gasoline.

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Watson Ladd 04.17.12 at 12:24 am

I would argue a lot of the history of Lebanon, including the Civil War, is a result of the decision to pursue a group-based political system, rather then creating a new national identity as Lebanese. Furthermore, Imperial China was a meritocracy sans inherited positions: the civil service exams were made to avoid having a aristocracy. I’ve made a substantive argument against group representation quotas, even if you object to my example. You might want to read up on the history of societies like Austria and the Netherlands that tried dividing all of society to achieve group representation at all levels. It wasn’t pretty.

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Salient 04.17.12 at 12:32 am

rather then creating a new national identity as Lebanese.

LOLs. And if only those Irish Protestants and Irish Catholics had created a new national identity as Irish!

This is deserving of mockery, but not from me, from Aragorn:

“One does not simply create a new national identity as Lebanese.”

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Bruce Baugh 04.17.12 at 1:15 am

“Even with a thousand oblivious self-righteous pricks you could not do this.”

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Doctor Slack 04.17.12 at 1:43 am

152: I hate that I know this and care enough to correct someone, but that’s Boromir.

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Darius Jedburgh 04.17.12 at 2:31 am

Hey has anyone seen Rod Liddle’s hilarious blog post on this? (I know: he’s a loathsome, offensive brute; yet I can’t look away.) Apparently Derbyshire is another martyr done in by the liberal lynch mob

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Daniel 04.17.12 at 4:30 am

John Derbyshire mouthin off again. Who would have thunk it that he lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn, NY

http://blogs.villagevoice.com/music/2011/03/park_slope_citi.php

SEND THE MESSAGE TO PRIME 6: Indie Music Will Earn You More Than Hip-Hop!!!
My name is John Derbyshire, and I live only a few doors down from the proposed site of Prime 6. Like most of the folks at the CB6 meeting on Monday night, I too have been concerned about the impending entrance of Prime 6 into our community and our daily lives.

I’m not generally the type of person that speaks up, (I remained silent during the entire Monday night meeting), but in this situation, I’m hopeful that I’ve stumbled onto a solution that makes so much sense for *both* parties that I’m beyond excited to share it with all of you.

First, let me explain what’s at the heart of this conflict: I know for a fact that there’s no single type of establishment (or type of bar/club patron for that matter) that Park Slopers would inherently view as “undesirable.” I don’t think anyone would deny that Park Slopers are about the least “racist” people on the planet.

What IS causing strife in this situation is that over the last ten years, Park Slope has become a family-oriented and family-centric community. This can be annoying at times – believe me, as someone who has chosen not to have children, I’m more than aware of the self-entitled attitude that often pervades parts of our community.

Nevertheless, it’s just a fact that in this neighborhood, family comes first.

Prime 6 has to realize this – but at the same time – Park Slope families need to realize that this is a free country, and that Prime 6 has a right to exist. Furthermore, no one can legally stop the owners from doing what it is they’re going to do.

So here’s the gist of my big idea: Isn’t there some middle ground between this spot being a stroller repair shop and it being a full-on hip-hop club?

No one can change the fact that Prime 6 WILL exist – they have their liquor license, and nothing’s going to deter them from opening. BUT: What if owner Akiva Ofshtein could be convinced that his business will see far more financial success as a different kind of nightlife establishment. Instead of focussing on hip-hop and urban entertainment, what if Prime 6 embraced some of the more indie local artists of ALL races who live and perform in the area.

It’s not “racist” to equate hip-hop with an elevated crime rate vis a vi other types of musical genres – It’s just a statistical fact that crime is more likely to occur among urban audiences than among audiences of other demographics. R&B and rap happen to be my two favorite types of music, but no one (especially my African American friends and colleagues) would seriously deny that hip-hop’s violent history tragically precedes it.

In addition, conveniently(!), we also happen to be in the middle of an unprecedented drought of live music. Seventh Ave has ZERO venues for live music by indie artists, and is absolutely ripe for the right type of establishment to come along and breathe life into the live music scene. The business owner who is able to do THAT will reap financial rewards far beyond what they could hope to earn by selling Henessey/etc to basketball fans after a Nets game.

Not only will Akiva Ofshtein make more money by creating a sustainable business that uses social media to bring crowd-drawing acts to Prime 6, he’ll also find that by working alongside the community he’s joining, he’ll build loyal allies in the neighbors around him – INSTEAD of the hostility we saw at the CB6 meeting and on the internet on Tuesday.

After all, which one of Prime 6’s direct neighbors wouldn’t be forever grateful to Ofshtein for seeding a vibrant artistic hub instead of another Yo MTV Raps “bling-bling” vip club.

As a Park slope resident that has lived steps from Flatbush avenue since 1998, I’ve seen the neighborhood change drastically in the last 12 years, and I’m well aware of the gentrification sensitivities that have been part of the neighborhood fabric for at least the last decade – so let me tell you first-hand:

We’ve waited a long time to get to this point: for once, this isn’t a question of race or even class. My hope is that artists and art-appreciators OF EVERY IMAGINABLE BACKGROUND will band together to make this happen – to that end, please tweet and tweet and re-tweet: sign this petition to let Prime 6’s owner know what he stands to GAIN by embracing independent LIVE music; and by steering clear of processed, commercial noise.

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Substance McGravitas 04.17.12 at 4:38 am

John Derbyshire mouthin off again.

From his super-duper time machine.

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js. 04.17.12 at 6:05 am

Looks like I failed spectacularly at making myself clear. So let’s just try once more. This mpowell bit helps (109):

You get color-blindness after you overcome racism, not the other way around. Going back to some familiar examples, the Italians and Irish are first accepted as legitimate members of the society and treated fairly in all walks of life and then people stop caring who the Irish or the Italians are. I don’t think there is any other way to proceed, for the reasons that Bruce Baugh has already explained.

Right, so, the first sentence there was certainly part of my point. The other part of the point is how it can come about that a certain group of people gets to be “accepted as legit. members” etc. To stay vaguely on topic, let’s focus on race. One way to approach the legitimizing question is to think that, setting aside the basically unpersuadable hard-core racists, we need to employ methods of rational or sentimental persuasion, so that significantly large numbers of people will come to see that racism (institutional or otherwise) exists and is harmful to those that are subject to it. Of course, for this approach to matter the target group for the persuasion must be (one of) the privileged one(s).

Another line of thought, as I see it, holds that attempts at persuasion are entirely (or almost entirely) misplaced. What’s needed is agitation (civil disobedience if necessary) for institutional changes that will directly materially improve the condition of the group discriminated against. (This kind of institutional change can of course happen quite fortuitously, as in Data T’s example at 111. But if we’re talking about black Americans, this seems to me basically impossible given how deeply embedded discrimination against blacks is in American history.) Anyway, the point is that the “persuasion” will happen perforce once the material conditions change. (And—elliptically again—this is why people now who are essentially defending 19th century race essentialism need to trot out the IWSB canard.)

So: I was arguing for the second line of thought. To put it in a very crude slogan: Fuck the persuasion; fight the actual unjust practice.

Another implicit assumption of mine that I think is causing problems is how race and class interact. Basically, I’m with christian_h on this (see above). It’s bizarre to me (ok, no, it’s pretty understandable; just unfortunate) that people would oppose race and class. But, just to be clear (and highly elliptical at once!), when I think of class I think of it roughly in terms of role in social production, and so the idea of regarding black people in the US in non-class terms is fairly bizarre to me (because, as Eli Rabett said (implied?), history matters!) (Also, yes, I am aware that there are more recent black immigrants to the US whose ancestry is perhaps entirely untouched by the slave trade. So, yeah, if you want to bring that up, please do.)

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Data Tutashkhia 04.17.12 at 7:50 am

Equating skin color with a socioeconomic class in 21st century USA seems really bizarre to me. One could say, of course, that there is a correlation: people with dark skin are likely to be a part of lumpenproletariat (which is what this whole thing is really all about), but nothing prevents a black person from being a capitalist, and I’m sure many thousands of them are. Or, for that matter, nothing prevents a white person from being destitute, and, of course, millions of them are. I bet an Appalachian hick doesn’t get more opportunities in life than someone in east Baltimore. Again, this insistence that class division and class segregation has to be proportionally allocated by race is really really weird.

So long as race remains an important identity component, adequate representation of those identities in all seats of power is a tremendously important goal…

But who are these people for whom “race remains an important identity component”? They are weirdos. If I asked you (over the phone): ‘please tell me who you are’, and ‘I’m a white (or black) person’ popped up anywhere within the first half dozen statement (I’m a school teacher, I’m a parent, I like jazz, I read blogs, – I’m white/black?), I’d immediately suspect that something’s wrong with you. I bet for a vast majority of people this is not even an identity, but merely a characteristic, like being, say, a brunet or a redhead. Only this one is extremely politicized.

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Manta1976 04.17.12 at 8:37 am

Saline @142: “Consider how massively horribly wrong a statement like “It’s okay for there to be no non-whites in Congress, so long as nobody in our society’s poor” is. “

I think that is completely backward: Democracy is a mean, not an end in itself: it is a mean to have a “good” government. What exactly a good government is is, of course, very much open to debate, but I think we can agree that a government that managed to achieve a society where nobody is poor is a good one.
A dictatorship that managed to eradicate poverty would be much better than any existing government, and in particular much better than present-day Congress.

Of course, from a practical point of view, it is more likely that if black people are more represented in congress, then congress will care more about black people: but, again, this is a mean (getting black people elected) to an end (getting the interests of black people taken care of).

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Katherine 04.17.12 at 8:53 am

If I asked you (over the phone): ‘please tell me who you are’, and ‘I’m a white (or black) person’ popped up anywhere within the first half dozen statement (I’m a school teacher, I’m a parent, I like jazz, I read blogs, – I’m white/black?), I’d immediately suspect that something’s wrong with you.

Let me guess – you’re white?

162

Data Tutashkhia 04.17.12 at 10:12 am

What difference does it make? Do you seriously believe that most non-white people are so preoccupied with their being non-white that it becomes their main identity? I highly doubt it, but if that’s the case, what they need is a psychiatrist.

163

Manta1976 04.17.12 at 11:06 am

Data, as the discussion around recent Trayvon Martin case reminded us, being black can lead to being shot; thus, if a person (especially one from a minority) feels that his race is his main identity, it is also because (some/many) other people treat it as such.

One can argue that this (i.e., that race is an important part of one’s identity) should not happen (or, on the contrary, that there is nothing wrong with it), but surely one cannot deny it, or chalk it to craziness.

164

ajay 04.17.12 at 11:24 am

Data, furthermore, it’s surely not at all surprising that a member of a minority – whatever that minority – is more likely to use it as part of their main identity than a member of the majority? Gay/straight, black/white, Scots/English, Manchester United/Manchester City, Jewish/Gentile…
Also, of course, what Manta said.

165

Barry Freed 04.17.12 at 12:23 pm

I’I thought it was Manchester United that was the majority and Manchester City that was the minority

166

Barry Freed 04.17.12 at 12:27 pm

oops, didn’t mean to hit submit yet. It’s a minor point but I guess I’ve misread that part of British culture (As an American most of my impression of Manchester City FC comes from Gene Hunt’s being a fan in “Life on Mars”).

167

politicalfootball 04.17.12 at 12:32 pm

What difference does it make?

One’s outlook on racial matters is necessarily affected by one’s race. If that isn’t obvious to you, it probably can’t be explained.

But, as a fan of Oliver Sachs, I’m intrigued by Data’s conceptual agnosia here. I’d like to ask, Data, if you’ve ever heard Stephen Colbert’s joke that he “doesn’t even see race”? Why do you think people in the audience chuckle when he says that? What do you think that joke is about? Are you able to process that joke at all?

168

Manta1976 04.17.12 at 12:39 pm

The joke is in Colbert’s tone (the emphasized “see”) and the word “even”: the actual content of the joke is not important.

169

politicalfootball 04.17.12 at 12:45 pm

being black can lead to being shot;

It’s a shame that it’s so hard to have these conversations absent a tragedy like this. When the conversation starts this way, it lets a lot of racists off the hook.

Among other things, Zimmerman is pretty obviously a nut, and it’s easy to distance ourselves from nuts. I didn’t shoot anybody, so I’m not a racist. I didn’t burn a cross, so I’m not a racist.

Oops, okay, so I did burn a cross. But I didn’t shoot anybody. So I’m not a racist.

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ajay 04.17.12 at 1:02 pm

165 is correct. I should have put that the other way round.

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Barry Freed 04.17.12 at 1:04 pm

I don’t mean to nitpick you ajay but I genuinely thought I’d misread that bit of British culture.

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Data Tutashkhia 04.17.12 at 1:06 pm

One’s outlook on racial matters is necessarily affected by one’s race.

But I imagine you’re also white. And so is Katherine. What makes you think that your outlook is more realistic than mine?

Yeah, I know the joke. I find it irritating, as well as a whole lot of his other tics, which is why I quit watching.

So, how do you see race? When you interact with (say) a colleague with a dark skin, do you act differently than if that was a white person? Are you desperately trying not to think about race and then realize, in horror, sweating excessively, that you can’t think about anything else? Is that it?

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politicalfootball 04.17.12 at 1:13 pm

But I imagine you’re also white.

This is true.

What makes you think that your outlook is more realistic than mine?

Because I see race.

If you’ve got the patience for it, I really am curious to know what you think Colbert’s joke is. When you describe it as a “tic” I take you to be basically agreeing with Manta’s 168. Am I reading you correctly?

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Data Tutashkhia 04.17.12 at 1:31 pm

Well, I think it’s supposed to be a parody of something similar to Derbyshire’s column for which he got fired from NR. Parody of the POV that people get what they deserve and those with low IQ naturally end up at the bottom of the pyramid.

Sure, that’s one way to be color-blind. But that’s not the only way. Another way would be to say: flatten the pyramid, get rid of it.

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Katherine 04.17.12 at 2:03 pm

Do you seriously believe that most non-white people are so preoccupied with their being non-white that it becomes their main identity?

You didn’t say “main identity”, and nor did I. You suggested that listing race as one of the first half dozen ways people might describe themselves is a psychiatric disorder. Ie that to describe race as a relatively important part of one’s identity is literally a mental disorder requiring treatment.

The thing is, you can afford for your race not to be a part of your identity because “white” is framed as the default, like “male” is. In the west at least, when the word “person” is used, without additional descriptors, you can safely bet that means “white, male, straight person”. If you are non-white, female, gay or a combination of any of those, you are described relative to this norm, and thus the description becomes part of your identity.

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michael e sullivan 04.17.12 at 2:45 pm

Data, what you don’t seem to get is that when you are in a minority that experiences some kind of oppression, the rest of the world appears to be preoccupied with your race/gender/sexuality/ethnicity. It’s not “preoccupation” with race when you really need to understand how race operates in order to succeed.

As a white person in NA or Europe, you and I don’t have to be aware of our racial identity, and the reason is that the culture treats *our* racial identity as *normal* and everybody else’s racial identity as distinctive.

If you could experience some time living as a black person, or as an asian or arabic person, you would begin to understand why race or ethnicity can be an important part of a person’s identity. Since that is impossible, and even rough simulations (such as _Black Like Me_) would require tremendous effort, here’s an easier suggestion: Take some time to read and/or listen to people of color describe their experiences and why their race or ethnicity is part of their identity. An important part of this reading or listening experience is to let go of your preconceived notions of what our culture is like for other people who do not share your cultural “normality”.

Approach this like you would approach asking someone who has climbed mount everest what that experience is like (assuming you don’t share it). Start from a position of *not knowing* and wanting information. Too often white people just don’t even listen to POC when the experience described differs from white experience. The first thing you need to understand is that your personal experience is not a good guide to what life is like for people of color. No one person will tell the same story, and they may even get some things wrong, but that doesn’t mean that *you* have the experience necessary to challenge them.

It’s important to get out of debate and challenge mode in order to learn something new. The most important thing is for you to realize that you do, in fact, *need to learn something new.* If you don’t start there, you aren’t going to learn anything, and it will continue to be very obvious to some of us (POC and white people who have opened themselves up to half a clue about race) both that you are white, and that you don’t understand the first thing about what it is like to not be white.

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bexley 04.17.12 at 2:45 pm

Maybe something that might help Data:

As a British Asian I frequently have conversations with someone I’ve just met that go along the lines of:

New acquaintance: Where are you from?
Me: London
New acquaintance: I mean where did your parents come from?

This isn’t something that bothers me particularly (although it does mean I’m never sure exactly what people mean when they ask “where are you from?”. Do they mean London or where my parents emigrated from?)

This shows that my race is part of my identity for people I meet.

NB This isn’t a conversation I have with every person I meet and whether or not the person I’m speaking to is a white and British doesn’t seem to affect the likelihood that this topic will come up. It’s pretty obvious that for lots of people race is part of identity.

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Data Tutashkhia 04.17.12 at 2:58 pm

In the west at least, when the word “person” is used, without additional descriptors, you can safely bet that means “white, male, straight person”.

No, you can’t. ‘Please contact the person responsible for …’ I don’t sense any assumption here whatsoever. It could be anybody, between ages 16 and 70.

What I’m saying is that normal people don’t think of themselves (and others, hopefully) as ‘white’ or ‘black’. They think of themselves as, I dunno, construction workers, parents, fans of Metallica, vegetarians, Americans, Republicans, dog owners… Something more meaningful.

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Steve LaBonne 04.17.12 at 3:06 pm

Data exhibits what the Catholic church of my boyhood called “invincible ignorance”. Very convenient when one does not wish to examine one’s own privilege.

180

Consumatopia 04.17.12 at 3:08 pm

No, you can’t. ‘Please contact the person responsible for …’ I don’t sense any assumption here whatsoever. It could be anybody, between ages 16 and 70.

Why between 16 and 70? 15 year olds and 71 year olds can be responsible for things. Putting any qualifiers on it at all reveals that you have in mind some kind of model–a “typical person” in your head you use to define what “person” means. When you see the 15 year old, you think “like a person, except only 15 years old.”

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mpowell 04.17.12 at 3:21 pm

Salient @ 147: Okay, now I think you’re making explicit an additional false assumption. You’re assuming there are a fixed number of jobs with strictly defined pay, benefits and expectations attached to each one. First, you need to come up an economic model that would support such a market for jobs. I think the supply and demand story is a pretty useless one for most purposes, but I will say that it will give you a better picture of what actually happens in the work place than your model with a strictly defined number of jobs and strictly defined number of applicants for those jobs. My direct experience is anecdotal, but I think this is a truly absurd model for employment outside of a few cases like academia and maybe medicine. In the vast majority of situations any given job type has a slightly less desirable substitute option that less qualified candidates can fill. So very few people in the end are entirely forced out of an industry due to not placing high enough on the meritocracy chart. And even then, there will be other fields where they can get jobs that are unlikely to be vastly different in prestige or pay compared to the job that they were almost able to get.

I’d like to also point out that you are not understanding my argument regarding the futility of excessive striving. Since it will not result in greater merit in most cases, it should not be the natural result of even a perfect meritocratic competition between rational actors who place greater achievement as their highest priority. It certainly happens in some cases, but it is not a direct result of a meritocracy.

Now I’ll grant that constant evaluation of merit could be quite stressful. In many jobs this is not a problem because it is only possible to get a proper view of merit over a fairly long time horizon. In other fields, you can preserve the principle of merit without applying it continuously. Tenure is a great example of this. My argument comes down to the case that merit should be a pretty important consideration in workplace rewards, though not necessarily the only consideration (as I agree with you on the AA case). Additionally, your view of what constitutes a meritocracy is both limited and, in certain ways, wrong, which causes evaluations based on merit to look less desirable in your story than they would be in reality.

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Barry Freed 04.17.12 at 3:25 pm

What I’m saying is that normal people don’t think of themselves (and others, hopefully) as ‘white’ or ‘black’. They think of themselves as, I dunno, construction workers, parents, fans of Metallica, vegetarians, Americans, Republicans, dog owners… Something more meaningful.

This is perfect. You do realize you’re constructing normativity as white, don’t you? When a black person has to take their own blackness into account when walking down the street, say to the local 7-11, because failing to do otherwise might result in their coming to harm due to how that indelible blackness is perceived by others, well, I’d say that’s pretty damn ‘meaningful’ right there.

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politicalfootball 04.17.12 at 3:26 pm

Very convenient when one does not wish to examine one’s own privilege.

I dunno. I think you’re asking something from Data that’s really very difficult. He can’t examine his privilege, because he’s not equipped to recognize that it exists. Look at his explanation of Colbert’s joke – it’s not that he disagrees with Colbert’s point, it’s that he doesn’t get it.

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Steve LaBonne 04.17.12 at 3:32 pm

I think you’re asking something from Data that’s really very difficult.

No doubt about that, it IS very difficult, and can be painful. But it can be done.

185

ajay 04.17.12 at 3:55 pm

Data, what you don’t seem to get is that when you are in a minority that experiences some kind of oppression, the rest of the world appears to be preoccupied with your race/gender/sexuality/ethnicity.

And, I would say, the effect applies (though less strongly) even when the minority doesn’t experience oppression – it’s just the case that you are more aware of things about yourself that mark you out from the norm, whatever that norm is, than things that conform with it. When you describe your own physical appearance, do you include the number of arms you’ve got? Probably not, as long as the number is higher than the mean.

To put it another way, I’m sure that “normal people don’t think of themselves as white” in the US. But I can pretty much guarantee that if you take that normal (white) person and put them in somewhere like, say, Hong Kong for a few months, then being white will become part of how they describe themselves.

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Data Tutashkhia 04.17.12 at 3:56 pm

You do realize you’re constructing normativity as white, don’t you? When a black person has to take their own blackness into account when walking down the street, say to the local 7-11, because failing to do otherwise might result in their coming to harm due to how that indelible blackness is perceived by others, well, I’d say that’s pretty damn ‘meaningful’ right there.

No, it sounds like you’re constructing normality as white. A black person doesn’t have to take their own blackness into account, because blackness is normality for them: it’s not like they were white all the time, then suddenly became black and now they need to take their blackness into account.

One needs to beware of vigilantes (among other dangers) and be careful.

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Barry Freed 04.17.12 at 4:09 pm

A black person doesn’t have to take their own blackness into account, because blackness is normality for them…

No, because the very experience of blackness in the US very much includes the awareness that it is not perceived as normal by the majority and is in fact perceived by that majority with suspicion as a potential source of danger.

I’m sadly reminded of that line of Malcolm X’s: “What do you call a black man with a PhD?”

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Watson Ladd 04.17.12 at 4:11 pm

Yes, let us go repent of our good fortune to have the rights that all individuals deserve. Forgive me, for I have exercised and eaten healthily, listened to my parents, worked hard in school, and not dealt drugs or robbed people. Or to put in another way, what requires examining isn’t the advantages I received, but why others don’t have them.

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Data Tutashkhia 04.17.12 at 4:17 pm

@185, no, I think he’s right: when people feel that they’re being persecuted for one of their characteristic, then they tend to grow it into an identity. And that’s … unfortunate. It would be much better if they could take a stand for universal equality and welfare.

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ajay 04.17.12 at 4:19 pm

A black person doesn’t have to take their own blackness into account, because blackness is normality for them

But you realise that this argument applies to any attribute of an individual, right? On that basis, it would be just as weird for people to “think of themselves as, I dunno, construction workers, parents, fans of Metallica, vegetarians, Americans, Republicans, dog owners” because all of that is normality for them.

The rest of us are not talking about “normality compared to my personal history”, but “normality by the standards of society”.

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Steph 04.17.12 at 4:29 pm

@185 — I wonder if that’s so, that whiteness would be part of how they’d think of themselves. It’s possible — I know I’ve been conscious of myself as “white” predominantly when in neighborhoods that are mostly non-white, but I suspect that for many of us the predominent difference if living in Hong Kong that one would be conscious of would be foreignness. But I’m not certain of this.

In the US, one generally has to be weird or racist to identify as white , which is one reason why those “why can’t White People have a month” or whatever nonsense like that you hear are so idiotic. Basically, I think people identify as African-American or black in the US for a couple of reasons (perhaps more I’m not thinking of), none of which apply to whites, usually. The first is societal — both the existence of discrimination and other race-based negative treatment and the related consciousness that others will frequently generalize from what other African-Americans do to you. Other groups have similar experiences or concerns (it’s the basis for the “good for the Jews?” thing), but this simply does not happen with whites in general in the US. I have no concern that because some white person does something awful or embarassing that anyone will make assumptions about me. Part of being the dominant group is the ability to demand others to see nuance and subcategories and not generalize.

Another issue is that in a lot of ways “African-Americanness” seems to function like an ethnicity in the US. It’s kind of like being Italian or Scottish or even Mormon or Southern Baptist, maybe. No one thinks it’s all that weird for people to feel some identity connection with their family’s country of origin or customs, at least not if it’s not too ridiculously attenuated. I don’t myself, but I don’t think it’s odd when friends identify as Greek or even go to St. Andrews Day games, and obviously we have St. Patrick Day parades and such. While obviously African-Americans, like all these other groups, are much more diverse than the cultural/ethnicity identity really takes into account, there is nothing like this to hold together “whites” as a group. To identify as white would neither be identifying with an experience of oppression and seeing things that the majority seems not to notice or with a particularly set of cultural commonalities or ideas, but instead purely race, and that’s why it’s different and unpleasant to do so within the usual context in the US.

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Data Tutashkhia 04.17.12 at 4:31 pm

No, because the very experience of blackness in the US very much includes the awareness that it is not perceived as normal by the majority and is in fact perceived by that majority with suspicion as a potential source of danger.

No. You know, from the experience, how you’re perceived and that’s normal for you. And a black person knows, from the experience, how he/she is perceived, and that’s normal for them. Same with, say, a menacingly looking biker with tattoos all over his body. Same with Angelina Jolie. Everyone is perceived differently.

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Data Tutashkhia 04.17.12 at 4:54 pm

@190, because all of that is normality for them.

All I’m saying is that some attributes are more meaningful than others. So, your shoe size is 44, so what?

194

Area Man 04.17.12 at 4:57 pm

It therefore strengthens the anti-white racism it is meant to satirize which, as it happens, is a growing problem in the U.S. — not in the suburbs or backwoods but in the corporate executive suites, the media elites, the courts…

Yes, if there’s one thing that these institutions definitely lack, it’s enough white people. I can’t remember the last time we had a white CEO or a white pundit with a regular column in a major newspaper. Surely, all of the studies showing that white people are disproportionately convicted of the same crimes, and given longer prison sentences, point to the anti-white racism of the courts. If only there were more white judges and lawyers…

Seriously, is this idiot from Planet Bizarro or something? If I were trying my hardest to pick institutions that are notorious for being over-represented by white people and have long been known or suspected to be stacked against minorities, I could not have done better. Maybe if he included the Charleston Country Club…

195

ajay 04.17.12 at 5:25 pm

191.1: in my experience, yes it is.

I don’t think it’s odd when friends identify as Greek or even go to St. Andrews Day games

Ah yes, the well-known Scoto-Greco-American community.

(“Actually it’s spelled McRopoulos”.)

196

Consumatopia 04.17.12 at 5:51 pm

He can’t examine his privilege, because he’s not equipped to recognize that it exists. Look at his explanation of Colbert’s joke – it’s not that he disagrees with Colbert’s point, it’s that he doesn’t get it.

If someone points out a phenomenon and provides an explanation, and you reject that explanation but your only alternatives are nonsense explanations, then it’s clear that you aren’t unable to see the truth, you’re just unwilling.

That’s even more true in the rest of the thread–a huge chunk of this thread is people pointing out his mistakes, then him responding with new nonsense (e.g. confusing “normalized” with “normal for you”.) It’s a failure of honesty, not of cognition. Sure, honesty can be difficult. But I don’t have much sympathy for this difficulty when it’s accompanied by as much arrogance as he’s put on display here.

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Consumatopia 04.17.12 at 5:56 pm

Forgive me, for I have exercised and eaten healthily, listened to my parents, worked hard in school, and not dealt drugs or robbed people. Or to put in another way, what requires examining isn’t the advantages I received, but why others don’t have them.

Same with this guy. Nobody honest could answer the question “why don’t others have the advantages I have?” with “because they didn’t exercise, eat healthy, listen to their parents, work hard in school and avoid dealing drugs or robbing people.”

198

politicalfootball 04.17.12 at 6:30 pm

It’s a failure of honesty, not of cognition.

I guess I don’t see these as cleanly distinct categories.

199

michael e sullivan 04.17.12 at 6:41 pm

Well, I gave up on Watson a long time ago. This Data guy seems like he might be headed there, but I still attach some probability to his problem being no more than a fairly typical case of white guy privilege blindness.

200

politicalfootball 04.17.12 at 6:42 pm

Yes, let us go repent of our good fortune to have the rights that all individuals deserve. Forgive me, for I have exercised and eaten healthily, listened to my parents, worked hard in school, and not dealt drugs or robbed people. Or to put in another way, what requires examining isn’t the advantages I received, but why others don’t have them.

Yes, rather than question white privilege, let’s work toward a society where black people, too, can be given preferential treatment over black people.

201

Norwegian Guy 04.17.12 at 6:43 pm

How “white” is someone with the name Data Tutashkhia? If he’s living in Western Europe, he’s perhaps “whiter” than a Chechen or a Turk, but less “white” than a Polish construction worker. Privilege can be a relative thing. Assuming he has a Georgian name, I wouldn’t be surprised if he has been asked where he, or his ancestors, came from. But what people usually are interested in is nationality and/or ethnicity, not obsolete, pseudoscientific concepts like “race”.[*] And nationality and ethnicity can certainly play an important part in the identities of many people. But black, white or Asian (a huge, heterogeneous continent containing 60% of mankind) are too broad categories to be useful for identity purposes. There are those who have tried to construct such broad identities like Christendom, the white race or the Aryan race, but they haven’t been widely successful.

[*]Except those who obsess about it of course, like some on the far right do.

202

Watson Ladd 04.17.12 at 6:48 pm

Consumatopia, not what I was aiming at. I have advantages that others don’t. But that doesn’t make me culpable in their deprivation, or even mean that their deprivation is morally impermissible. A prisoner is deprived of liberty: hardly an injustice. A fat man becomes diabetic: the inevitable working of biology. Yet somehow, if this prisoner is black, and the fat man black, it is their blackness that constitutes the only explanation for their fates. There is a gap between bad luck and a need for compensation, and that gap is guilt, which is why it is politically necessary to construct the idea of privilege. Just as original sin places everyone in the need to receive Christ for Christian theologians, or the Oedipal complex places everyone on the couch, privilege can only be recovered from by supporting affirmative action.

Of course, it’s really that people generalize that’s the real problem. Good to know when 10 black men got shot down on the street a few weeks ago in Chicago that this would go away if we all just stopped generalizing about the black experience and made sure that the children of middle-class blacks had an easier time getting into college then the children of middle-class whites.

203

politicalfootball 04.17.12 at 6:56 pm

Good to know when 10 black men got shot down on the street a few weeks ago in Chicago that this would go away if we all just stopped generalizing about the black experience and made sure that the children of middle-class blacks had an easier time getting into college then the children of middle-class whites.

We’re 200 comments in, and nobody has said anything that even vaguely resembles this. With whom are you arguing?

politically necessary to construct the idea of privilege

Watson doesn’t even see privilege.

How about you, Watson, can you explain what Colbert is joking about?

204

Steph 04.17.12 at 7:14 pm

@195–That’s interesting. Like I said, I will defer to your experience. Derbyshire (back to him, I guess) apparently argued a while back that white people in the US would start identifying as “white” when we are the minority, which strikes me as wrong — I think you need something more than simply being a minority, which is why I wondered if the experience in, say, Hong Kong might be also about feeling foreign, but I can certainly see that in that context whiteness might feel to you as more of an identifier.

“Ah yes, the well-known Scoto-Greco-American community.”

Heh — obviously different people were being referred to, as well as a whole bunch of other categories, hypothetical and not.

205

Data Tutashkhia 04.17.12 at 7:59 pm

What is this privilege you keep talking about? Do people get something simply for being white? Where do I apply?

Where I work (an international organization), women and minorities (by nationality, not race) are given priority, it’s written into official rules. Does it limit my opportunities, for me, as an individual? You bet. Do I complain, am I a victim? No, it is what it is, a fact of life. I got unlucky in this respect; very lucky in other respects. But privilege? Get off it.

This ain’t apartheid South Africa, this is a liberal capitalist society: the rich are privileged, the poor have to sell their labor. And no one will give you a red cent for being white.

206

Katherine 04.17.12 at 8:12 pm

A few years ago I was reading the blog of a black woman. She had an ongoing series called, roughly, “racist things white people do”. She gave the following example (I’m paraphrasing):

One day, while walking around campus on a hot sunny day, a white colleague (not a friend) cycled up beside her and came to halt. She held up her pale arm against the narrator’s black arm and asked the narrator “does black skin feel hotter than white skin in the sun?”

This was the end of the anecdote.

A storm arose in the comments section, with black commenters saying “ugh yes” and a number of white commenters saying “but she was just curious!”. For a while, reading these comments, I was in the “she was just curious” camp. But I knew from reading this blog before that the writer was not a fool, or an exaggerator, and I respected her voice. So I kept quiet and kept reading the comments to work out what was going on.

Then I had a light bulb moment and suddenly understood.

Do you understand Data, why this was racist? If not, think harder.

207

Substance McGravitas 04.17.12 at 8:14 pm

And no one will give you a red cent for being white.

Link lost to moderation, but hit Google Scholar up for “mortgage” “statistic” and “race” and you may find that whiteness can indeed bring you an advantage measured in red cents.

208

geo 04.17.12 at 8:25 pm

Katherine: Remarks of the form “If you don’t understand X, think harder” are almost always offensive. They are roughly equivalent to: “You poor dumbass.” The courteous thing is to say: “If you don’t understand X, try thinking of it this way.”

209

Steve LaBonne 04.17.12 at 8:27 pm

Katherine: Remarks of the form “If you don’t understand X, think harder” are almost always offensive.

The exception being when the same thing has been explained over, and over, and over to someone who wants to talk but never listen. Then it’s completely appropriate.

210

geo 04.17.12 at 8:29 pm

“Dumbass” or dumb-ass”? You decide.

211

geo 04.17.12 at 8:31 pm

Then it’s completely appropriate.

No, then it’s supercilious. If you’re completely exasperated, then just say “You dumb-ass motherfucker!” It will leave the air much clearer.

212

Barry Freed 04.17.12 at 8:36 pm

Is that required, geo? Because I just left the thread is all.

213

Data Tutashkhia 04.17.12 at 8:38 pm

Substance, two things:
1. racial discrimination in lending is illegal, and
2., and more to the point: if you believe that they will restrain themselves from ripping you off to the max because you’re white, you’re dreaming.

214

J. Otto Pohl 04.17.12 at 8:47 pm

It is true people often come to identify with categories that are forcibly imposed upon them from outside upon them. Thus discrimination and repression often serve to strengthen racialized identities. BTW ethnic and national identities even more so than religious ones are racialized all the time and no more so than in the former USSR. When people in Central Asia and Russia talk about natsionalnost it has the same basic meaning and connotations as ‘race’ in being a primordial, essentialized, and immutable category inherited at birth. The internal passports of a number of post-Soviet states still list natsionalnost as separate from citizenship. This is not conceptually any different than the old South African IDs having ‘race’ on them which was officially defined by cultural not genetic differences.

In my personal experience being a visible minority is not enough in itself to make one self identify on the basis of ‘race.’ Something else has to be there, usually a history of discrimination or wide spread prejudice on the basis of ‘race.’ I don’t think of myself as ‘white’ despite being completely surrounded by ‘black’ people. Skin color does not have the same historical valence here as in the US. On the other hand there is a stigma here against people descended of indigenous slaves that does seem to have some similarities with the history of racial discrimination in the US.

215

geo 04.17.12 at 8:51 pm

I just left the thread

Best of all. Keeping one’s mouth shut is an underrated rhetorical strategy, especially on the Internet.

216

Steve Williams 04.17.12 at 8:55 pm

Not sure if anyone’s still interested at this stage in the conversation, by the way, but Derb-gate now threatens Mr O’Sullivan himself! Well, sort of:

salon.com/2012/04/17/another_national_review_contributor_pals_around_with_nativists/

217

Substance McGravitas 04.17.12 at 8:55 pm

1. racial discrimination in lending is illegal, and
2., and more to the point: if you believe that they will restrain themselves from ripping you off to the max because you’re white, you’re dreaming.

Well, if you can imagine rolling your eyes at having to bring up number two – which I agree with! – you should take a closer look at number one.

218

Data Tutashkhia 04.17.12 at 9:01 pm

the old South African IDs having ‘race’ on them which was officially defined by cultural not genetic differences

Not that I don’t trust, but do you have a link for this assertion? It seems very odd.

219

Consumatopia 04.17.12 at 9:06 pm

@216, interesting, what I wrote at 23 might end up eventually being falsified.

220

J. Otto Pohl 04.17.12 at 9:06 pm

I don’t have a link, but I can refer you to some books. See for instance Robert Ross, _A Concise History of South Africa_ (Cambridge University Press, 1999), p. 116. That should be the easiest one to find.

221

Eli Rabett 04.17.12 at 9:20 pm

As far as the discussion about race being part of identity, from Digby quoting Vin Scully about Jackie Robinson
————————–
Vin talked about a game in Cincinnati where Jackie had received death threats, saying he’d be shot if he stepped onto the field. FBI sharpshooters were brought in to monitor the game from the roofttops. There was an anxious team meeting before the game. Finally one player jumped up and said, “I’ve got it! I know what to do!” Everyone waited for his brilliant plan. “We’ll all wear 42; then they won’t know which one’s Jackie!” The tense moment was broken up with laughter.

As Vin said, “Little did we know, someday it would come true.”

222

Eli Rabett 04.17.12 at 9:25 pm

Eli really enjoys talking identity politics with someone using the nom de electrons of Data Tutashkhia. Only on the Internet.

223

Doctor Slack 04.17.12 at 10:08 pm

I’m with 218 in being confused by that comment about South African ID’s. It’s my understanding that apartheid was officially based on a genetic theory of race and that subdivisions within the “races” were defined culturally / tribally.

224

Doctor Slack 04.17.12 at 10:16 pm

(Upon review, Data Tutashkhia is spectacularly wrong in other respects, though.)

225

Salient 04.17.12 at 10:24 pm

Salient @ 147: Okay, now I think you’re making explicit an additional false assumption. You’re assuming there are a fixed number of jobs with strictly defined pay, benefits and expectations attached to each one.

I only meant to assume this in the extremely short-term (as in hours or days, not months or years). Sorry, I should’ve clarified that. Over longer-term of course jobs are created and destroyed and the pool of applicants changes and etc etc. (I think this answers your request for a model — I don’t mean to be proposing a job market or a job scarcity that’s very different from the one we’re currently in in the US. I agree that in the long term.) Also, it occurred to me that all I need is job scarcity. It really doesn’t matter whether the benefits are specified; all that matters is that significantly more people want the job than can have it.

In the vast majority of situations any given job type has a slightly less desirable substitute option that less qualified candidates can fill. So very few people in the end are entirely forced out of an industry due to not placing high enough on the meritocracy chart. And even then, there will be other fields where they can get jobs that are unlikely to be vastly different in prestige or pay compared to the job that they were almost able to get.

If your anecdata here is broadly applicable and accurate, it’s a pretty serious objection, and I don’t have an answer to it.

Two things, though. The first is that you’re describing a scenario in which the difference between being selected or rejected for a position is minor or negligible. In this passage you’re basically saying, the difference between being a job-winner and a job-loser isn’t all that tremendous. But in that situation, the details of each employer’s selection process pretty much don’t matter, right? Even in an extreme case like a hiring employer chooses among reasonably qualified candidates to hire the person with the coolest eye color, it’s not a big deal from a justice standpoint, because people who don’t get that job will end up with similar-enough jobs with similar-enough benefits, and will get by okay.

So long as a person puts in reasonable effort and is reasonably competent, in your experience of the world, the consequences for coming up tenth-best versus first-best are minor enough to be acceptable — even if they were not hired to the best position because they’re green-eyed, rather than because they are slightly less meritorious. So, the ‘less meritorious people will still get by ok’ type objection works well against caring deeply about any particular method of making hiring decisions, not just meritocracy. (Hopefully bringing up an extreme example doesn’t come across as making light of it. I’m sincerely trying to say it’s an even more compelling and broadly applicable objection than proposed.)

A second thing, since the above is only applicable if your anecdata really do accurately represent the experience of most job-seekers. Your description may well be accurate to how the world works in general — I have no empirical evidence to the contrary — but it’s just literally not compatible with my own anecdotal experience, and this difference in what we see around us probably forms the basis of our disagreeing visions. Probably, if I intuitively felt that we lived in a world in which your anecdata obtained, then I never would have spent any time reflecting on the idea of merit in the first place, and never would have thought to question the merits of meritocracy (pun irresistible).

But I don’t intuitively feel that, or see it. I could point to the fact that there’s persistent fairly high levels of unemployment and underemployment, especially among people about as young as I am, but to be honest it’s not like I saw some unemployment figure and then thought, “uh oh, now we should care about hiring methods and hiring practices!” My motivation’s really just based on my own anecdotal experience, not on anything empirical: nearly every person I know who’s not a fellow grad student is either unemployed, underemployed, or seriously stressed about taking on more and more responsibilities in the midst of layoffs, believing that any protest will just get them canned in the next round. This might not be an accurate belief (it does seem like people I know who have successfully changed jobs four times successfully are still worried about a possible fifth change). Regardless, it does seem reasonable to me like an ordinary part of ordinary worklife is now (anecdatally) taking on unprecedented amounts of responsibility and work, at least among people as young as I am. (That’s to say, my anecdata might suck. Maybe I should start asking my acquaintances how their parents are doing, employment-wise.)

Of course, even if true, extra workload wouldn’t be directly relevant to hiring practices, except that I think the extra workload is stemming from the fact that everyone’s job is always in quite a bit of jeopardy, there are plenty of other absurdly-overqualified candidates frothing at the mouth at the opportunity to finally not be unemployed or underemployed (just to get health benefits! I’ve stayed in my current stipend position for two years now entirely in order to take advantage of crucial health benefits).

I really do live in a world in which almost all of my acquaintances are literally so horribly unmeritorious that they’re condemned to miserable scrounging for any jobs with benefits, never mind the salary or wage, and never mind their various credentials and corresponding abilities to do more sophisticated types of work. A lot of them just don’t have the energy or drive to try to be as meritorious as their competitors — people with more experience, more credentials, and greater willingness to make the personal sacrifices necessary to acquire them (taking an unpaid position for a year to get the experience credential is just not an option for most people, but finding a way to do so certainly does show a lot of merit).

And I think, so long as we hire on ‘merit’ and encourage the practice, this trend will continue and exacerbate, whenever the people that rule our world trigger another recession producing a slack labor market. There will always be people more willing to sacrifice everything else other than their work, in order to seem like the kind of person who will get more work done in the short-term.

The “seem like” and “short-term” are crucial, I think. When a company seeks to hire someone for a position with little job security, they’re not looking for someone who dares to say, “I refuse to regularly work more than 40 hours a week, because I spend my leisure time resting and recharging, which allows me to do a reasonable amount of work during those 40 hours without compromising my health. In the long run, research shows that I’m more likely to be more productive for you than someone who burns out. ” Even if that last bit is true according to empirical research, it’s only true about long-term prospects. Nobody’s hiring for the long-term anymore. Hiring someone thinking they’ll be with you for a decade–that you’ll want them around for a decade–is nowadays completely crazy. It’s easier and more sensible to hire someone, arrange duties so as to put more of the training and orientation process on their own responsibility list, work them hard, chew them up, lay them off, create a new position with similar duties and get new meat to fill it. You might not even need the position a few years from now; being “lean and competitive” and “adaptable” means making sure as many people in your company as possible are easily expendable, easily replaced, and permanently temporary.^2^

And that’s one objection I would raise: modern meritorious societies ultimately don’t select ideally for long-term productivity, because the presumption of volatility annihilates any long-term expectations. They don’t make long-term labor investments; that’s outdated thinking, too risky. (People who are determined to sustain a healthy life outside work might be less willing to put up with much of the bullshit you plan to dump on them.) Instead, hiring employers are going to select for people who seem to have a lot of merit, and that largely means people who seem like they’ll be willing to adapt to anything their employer needs of them. Lean, fast, competitive people for lean, fast, competitive company in a lean, fast, competitive “global” world.

And even if the collective result of people demonstrating maximal merit is awesome — which I think it’s not, but ignoring that — the collective result of people trying to seem meritorious is just awful.

Of course, the “seeming meritorious” versus “actually being meritorious” distinction only partially answers this:

I’d like to also point out that you are not understanding my argument regarding the futility of excessive striving. Since it will not result in greater merit in most cases, it should not be the natural result of even a perfect meritocratic competition between rational actors who place greater achievement as their highest priority.

But there’s other answers to that too. For example, what other than excessive striving can someone working a manual-labor job do, to demonstrate merit?

One thing you’ve helped me realize is that completely different arguments against merit have to be made for unskilled-labor, skilled-labor, and non-laborious positions, and the arguments I’ve put forth here are most applicable to the first of those categories.

But I think that applies to a hell of a lot of people. Third-shift grocery store stockers are graded almost exclusively on how much product they get on the shelves (there are other ways to lose your job, but really no other ways to get ahead and move on from entry-level to the better jobs). Factory workers (and foremen) have nothing to show for themselves but their quota (having a knack for fixing busted machines is as important as striving excessively, but once the machines are running the only thing you can do to improve quota is speed them up and keep pace; the factories I’ve worked for tested whether you can and will do this by exclusively hiring temp workers and then only hiring on those who show they can keep up with a continually accelerated pace, even though that pace is impossible for most people to sustain long-term for years, who cares? Just hire more temps).

I mean, the IT department [at the university where I work] got so many people with master’s or Ph.D. degrees applying for one vacant sysadmin position that they could practically just arbitrarily make the degree a job requirement even though it’s irrelevant to the work to be done, and the position is paying $12k/yr less than an equivalent position used to before it was eliminated last year. (This is all indirect anecdata via my D&D buddies; perhaps it’s exaggerated.) But it’s also a problem reflected, over the longer term, in the sheer number of entry-level low-skill positions that demand a university degree, why, because shut up that’s why. Positions that didn’t used to require a BA/BS now effectively do; anyone without a ridiculous mass of credentials has their application binned, not because the credentials are essential to the job, but just because having them shows the person is willing to work desperately hard and take on debt to accumulate credentials for years just to get an edge, and that kind of person is more likely to be a ‘hard worker’ willing to take on the new extra-heavy workload. The best secretary is the one who spent four years grinding through classes to get a degree. That shows merit. Credential-accomplishments are really the main way merit is communicated, at least for entry-level positions.

On the IT/salaried office work side of things this also seems to mean a lot of getting called in on weekends and evenings to do more work (we haven’t had a D&D session with the whole party for about a year now, and no matter which weeknight we try someone always has to work late or was called in to work). The problem is, in a labor market this slack, your boss knows if you protest or act undereager they can just go get some other stiff to do your job.

And that “can just go get someone else to do your job” is an essential nontrivial assumption that limits which jobs we’re talking about. And there might be a generation gap too (though I am perhaps unsafely assuming you’re older than I am). Since meritocracy is specifically a method for making hiring decisions, not a method for assigning merit-based compensation, I’m not really spending much time thinking about secure jobs with effectively little turnover, or those people who do effectively have a secure job, insofar as training a new person is prohibitive. The argument I’d make against meritocracy in fairly secure jobs like that is quite different, weaker, and more subtle.^1^

Back in undergrad years I actually tried to keep a factory job to help pay for school, by specifically compensating for my inability to keep up with the physical labor with cleverness, noticing and pointing out possible improvements to the system. For a bit it worked, I was reassigned to Quality Control Technician, but then management expected me to keep churning out the good ideas. At the same wage. Eventually there’s only so much you can notice or think up (and also, I felt shitty about having accidentally helped management eliminate two jobs and replace them with ad-hoc contraptions). And so, soon enough, I was let go. Is it unfair of me to generalize from this, that the only way to demonstrate merit in a wide variety of wage-earning entry-level unskilled labor jobs is to strive excessively and sacrifice long-term health for short-term work? Possibly I’m being an idiot here; I’ll have to let you be the judge of that.

Now I’ll grant that constant evaluation of merit could be quite stressful. In many jobs this is not a problem because it is only possible to get a proper view of merit over a fairly long time horizon.

Wait, what? … Then how do you use it to make hiring decisions?

Meritocracy is a procedure (like democracy) for choosing who, among a large pool of people, will receive a position (whether in government or in employment). It’s is not a way of assigning benefits and compensation according to merit; it’s a way of assigning who gets chosen for which job according to merit. At least, that’s what I’m talking about when I talk about meritocracy. And my using the word in this way is just following the standard meaning; check wikipedia and Merriam-Webster and stuff. Whether a person’s compensation over the long-term is tied to some notion of merit or productivity, is completely beside the point.

We’re looking at a situation where people are seeking a job, and the means for evaluating their merit is some combination of (1) looking at their previous experience and their credentials, and (2) making short-time-horizon evaluations looking at what they do for you shortly after being hired. Of course, if you’re looking at promoting someone or hiring them to a high-level position, (1) might involve having access to a long-time-horizon’s worth of work. But that brings me to the clearest-cut example of where that is the case:

In other fields, you can preserve the principle of merit without applying it continuously. Tenure is a great example of this.

Tenure works as a meritocratic because you can get most of your labor done by people desperately seeking an extremely rare job, who are willing to sacrifice years of their life for the possibility of attaining it. Seriously, literally more than half the math courses taught at this university are taught by grad students, lecturers, and adjuncts, each paid about $3k/course, most of whom are doing the job not because they feel the pay is reasonable but because intend to pursue a TT job somewhere, and know they have to grind through this phase and show they can do more and better work than their competitors and come out on top, so they can get the job.

And that’s the point: to hire on merit, you make sure there are few jobs that are highly desired, so you have a large labor pool interested in pursuing those few jobs, and then you get most of the grunt work you need done done by people determined to demonstrate merit in pursuit of the highly desired jobs.

For the grunt work, you don’t want to hire for merit, so much as you want to hire people determined to let you exploit them so they can demonstrate their merit in order to get the next job they really want, the one they hope to get after leaving your employ.

It occurs to me that tenure’s my best example of what’s fucked up about meritocracy, if I’m going to start extending my arguments into the white-collar sector. People get tenured only if they have demonstrated a willingness to endure a rather fucked-up life for half a decade or more. The amount of effort I see my colleagues expending, at the expense of everything else, is some combination of astounding and admirable and sickening. This sure as hell is not what society should demand of its citizens in any line of work: spend a decade demonstrating you not only have the ability to produce quality research, but also that you are willing to make extreme personal sacrifices in pursuit of a job producing quality research. People who can’t afford to or won’t put almost their entire lives into accumulating experience to use as credentials to get the TT job, are squeezed out by those who can and do.^3^ It’s the ultimate internship (and unpaid or barely-paid internships are possibly the most fucked-up institution that meritocracy inevitably produces, right up there with quasi-academic credentialing associations that put you through a ringer and deep into debt for years basically to help you prove your willingness to make sacrifices in order to get a secretarial job or other entry-level white-collar position…).

My argument comes down to the case that merit should be a pretty important consideration in workplace rewards

Again, unless by “workplace rewards” you mean deferred compensation, promotion to a new position, not-getting-fired, this isn’t explicitly a part of whether or not a place practices meritocracy. I probably have some arguments about the collective effect of individual workplaces rewarding meritorious persons over time.

though not necessarily the only consideration (as I agree with you on the AA case).

I appreciate you pointing out the various errors and problems to me, it’s given me a lot to think about.

Additionally, your view of what constitutes a meritocracy is both limited and, in certain ways, wrong, which causes evaluations based on merit to look less desirable in your story than they would be in reality.

While I’m willing to concede this, you kinda have to admit, you’ve been lumping in stuff like differential merit-based pay that has nothing to do with meritocracy, which is acting as a kind of complement to my various errors in describing what constitutes meritocracy. (And ok, I normally don’t point to dictionary definitions and Wikipedia first-sentences to correct people’s word usage, but in this case you’re the one offering a criticism of what I originally wrote, so I think I have some right to say that I’m using a standard definition of meritocracy and to stick with it…)

^1^Short version: such decisions, while individually rational, in the aggregate propagate existing disenfranchisement, and collectively entrench the notion that what defines a person’s morally-judgeworthy center should be based on what they are willing to do against their own interests for compensation, rather than what their interests are for themselves and their society; long version requires various careful definitions of enfranchisement).

^2^It took me a year of head-scratching about WTF was up with all these company spokespersons/CEOs/etc talking about how they need to be lean enough to react swiftly to market pressures, before I realized that the new standard operating assumption is that everything is now to be approached in this way.

^3^I can’t tell you how many women began the program here in my cohort and then had to leave because family demands overwhelmed their ability to put all their time into getting a degree; men, too; at this point I’ve completely given up on ever having kids; even if I could put medical complications aside, it’s an unaffordable liability.

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JanieM 04.17.12 at 10:40 pm

From here

An Office for Race Classification was set up to overview the classification process. Classification into groups was carried out using criteria such as outer appearance, general acceptance and social standing. For example, it defined a “white person” as one who “in appearance is obviously a white person who is generally not accepted as a coloured person; or is generally accepted as a white person and is not in appearance obviously a white person.” Because some aspects of the profile were of a social nature,[1] reclassifications were not uncommon, and a board was established to conduct that process. For example, the following criteria were used for separating the coloureds from the whites[1]:

Characteristics of the person’s head hair
Characteristics of the person’s other hair
Skin colour
Facial features
Home language and especially the knowledge of Afrikaans
Area where the person lives, the person’s friends and acquaintances
Employment
Socioeconomic status
Eating and drinking habits

Also:

Official teams or Boards were established to come to an ultimate conclusion on those people whose race was unclear.[22] This caused difficulty, especially for coloured people, separating their families as members were allocated different races.[23]

Sounds like cultural and “genetic” differences to me, though I’m not sure it’s worth the bother, because the longer the thread goes on the more I feel like DT is going the same way as WL.

Hoping the blockquote gods are with me…..

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Watson Ladd 04.17.12 at 10:42 pm

Salient, I’m not so sure that the presence of other jobs means we can ignore the selection process at just one. The eye color example is offensive because it’s judging someone by an inborn characteristic: even if they ultimately get another job, they’ve still be wronged in some sense by being judged on something they cannot control. (And also the labor market has significant search costs)

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Salient 04.17.12 at 10:44 pm

Salient, I’m not so sure that the presence of other jobs means we can ignore the selection process at just one.

Watson, you silly boy, you.

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Steve LaBonne 04.17.12 at 11:48 pm

If you’re completely exasperated, then just say “You dumb-ass motherfucker!”

OK then. Stop playing self-appointed moderator, you dumbass motherfucker.

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krippendorf 04.17.12 at 11:50 pm

Data: “What is this privilege you keep talking about? Do people get something simply for being white? Where do I apply?”

Gah. Did you read the audit studies cited above that show that whites are more likely to get callbacks and job offers simply because they are white? Or the studies showing de facto redlining, even though it’s been illegal since 1977’s CRA (from which the majority of lenders are exempt, incidentally).

“Data” has to be one of the least accurate internet handles I’ve encountered. Unless s/he’s a troll.

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Barry Freed 04.17.12 at 11:56 pm

Data Tutashkhia is certainly one of the most Caucasian handles I’ve encountered.

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geo 04.17.12 at 11:59 pm

self-appointed moderator

On the contrary, it’s every commenter’s prerogative to admonish other commenters for being rude or foolish. Seems to me you’ve made pretty regular use of that prerogative yourself, Steve.

233

js. 04.18.12 at 12:37 am

What is this privilege you keep talking about? Do people get something simply for being white? Where do I apply?

Of course, the really hilarious thing about this is that you don’t need to apply! (No, seriously, you get it for free. That’s what makes it totally awesome (for you).)

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Steve Williams 04.18.12 at 1:27 am

Consumatopia @219

‘interesting, what I wrote at 23 might end up eventually being falsified.’

I think you’re being too hard on your theory. It still looks pretty watertight to me. If O’Sullivan were to get canned, and there’s no specific indication that he will, he’d be being sacked for groups he’s worked for and associations he’s made, rather than what he wrote specifically. As was noted by someone in the previous thread, Mark Steyn already wrote a column that was, if not quite “pro-Derbyshire”, then at least “anti-anti-Derbyshire”, and doesn’t seem to have suffered for it. And I’m sure he’s not the only one either (I’m not looking for updates, for reasons I’m sure you can understand!)

So, what’s going on overall? In your comment at 23, you remarked on a continuity between the pro- and anti-Derb factions, in the framing arguments they use. And that continuity is real: ‘he took it too far’, ‘liberals are the real racists’, ‘race hustlers’, ‘look what Trayvon did on Twitter!’, ‘who does Obama think he is?’, ‘won’t anyone think of the put-upon white man?’ – these arguments are common to all of them. However, I think there is a fracture, and here’s where I think you can find it – it’s down to what they hear when they hear “let’s have a frank national conversation about race”.

For Derbyshire, this poses no problems. Look, he’s got a handy folder of racist ‘common sense’ in light storage just for this very purpose! All he needs to do is head over to a website for conservative, contrarian, wannabe-Patrick Bateman types, and push it into the ether. He doesn’t care; he admits he’s a racist, and this is a chance to make some real racist points. And look, they said it was okay!

For, say, Jonah Goldberg, that’s not at all what he hears when he hears about that ‘frank national conversation’. Let’s have a thought experiment for a moment. Let’s suppose that a fairly minor national conservative pundit had said what Derbyshire said, and that that pundit had no connection whatsoever to The National Review. Would Goldberg condemn him? Of course not; to ask the question is to answer it. But he’d never say it himself either. What I think Goldberg wants when he says he wants a ‘frank national conversation’ about race is this – lots of bomb-throwing. He wants minor, irrelevant people on the right to make controversial statements about race, and the very bottom-rung of the wingnut welfare tree to print the fouler, more odious stuff. And, if that provokes some idiots on the left to over-react (hello New Black Panther Party meme!) then so much the better. Then, the NR can stand at the right-end of the middle, wearing a concerned look on its face, condemning both sides but helpfully leaving the substance of the right-wing comments unchallenged. Basically, the NR leadership would like all of the benefits of a really ugly race conversation, without getting dirty. Derbyshire ruined that; he was too close to the tent to start pissing.

The NR has balancing acts to make. It’s raison d’etre is to get Republicans elected. For that to happen, they need a motivated base, and stoking white resentment always helps that. However, it can’t be so blatant as to make the party toxic to independents. Similarly, outright racism might put off advertisers, but on the other hand purging the entire comment team would make subscribers flee. Lowry and Goldberg have a tough enough job balancing the see-saw without Derbyshire plonking his fat butt on it, is what I’m saying.

So John Holbo is right that grass-roots conservatives aren’t seeing things when they point out the hypocrisy in NR’s position. However, grass-roots conservatives also need to get real about what a magazine like NR is actually for.

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Data Tutashkhia 04.18.12 at 6:27 am

Did you read the audit studies cited above that show that whites are more likely to get callbacks and job offers simply because they are white?

They let you work to make money for them, because they figure you must be better house-trained. Some privilege.

236

Data Tutashkhia 04.18.12 at 7:10 am

…by this logic those poor bastards at Foxconn factories must be tremendously privileged.

237

John Holbo 04.18.12 at 7:47 am

My goodness, what a thread!

238

J. Otto Pohl 04.18.12 at 9:40 am

223 Dr. Slack:

No, the official justification for apartheid was always culturally based not genetically based. See the works of George Fredrickson and Saul Dubnow in addition to the reference I already gave to Ross. For instance Dubnow states, “Volk and culture functioned as a useful substitute for a biological view of race.” (p. 283). He also notes that the in official discourse “the diffuse language of cultural essentialism was preferred to the crude scientific racism drawn from the vocabulary of social Darwinism.” (p. 246). Thus the South Africans like the Soviets used a system of race defined along terms of cultural essentialism not genetics like the Nazis. In part they did this because by 1948 biological definitions of race had been discredited by the defeat of the Nazis. But, there are other reasons as well.

One of the reasons for the emphasis on ethnicity and culture over biology is that one of the principle inspiration for the South African volkekundiges was Sergei Shirokogorov a student of Lev Shternberg who was in turn a close associate of Franz Boaz. Shternberg founded modern Soviet ethnography along with Vladimir (Natan) Bogoraz. Shirokogorv became the main influence for not only the South African theory of ethnos used to justify apartheid, but also the Soviet theory of ethnos as developed by Yulian Bromley, the foremost Soviet ethnographer during the Brezhnev era. For the best work on this common intellectual influence see the works of Petr Skalnik, a Czech scholar who worked in both Leningrad during the Soviet era and Cape Town during apartheid.

I have a lot about this on my blog and even recently published an article in HRR which is available online from Springer. But, nobody reads anything I write. It is true that most Americans wrongly thinks that racism in South Africa was a direct copy of the genetic and biological type of categories used by the Nazis. But, it is simply not true. The Ross book I cited earlier is basically an introduction to South African history for dumbies. But, it does note that apartheid was officially justified upon cultural rather than biological lines on page 116.

226

The discourse justifying apartheid by the _volkekundiges_ in particular, but also the government itself pointed to skin color as being merely a marker of cultural differences which were the real reason for ‘separate development.’ They noted that phenotypes distinguished groups with different levels of material development and culture. They did not, however, posit that the phenotypes themselves or genetics or biology were the reason for the differential treatment. Only that they corresponded with essential ethnic and cultural differences between Europeans and Africans. That is that phenotypes indicated, but did not cause essential cultural differences. They believed or at least claimed to believe that the cultural differences themselves resulted from a primordial process of ethnogensis and evolution rather than being genetically determined like skin color. In this sense the South African idea of ethnos or race is almost identical to the Soviet one of natsionalnost. Which given that they both have the same roots in Shirokogorov, and less directly Shternberg is not surprising. But, other than Petr Skalnik, nobody else seemed to have noticed these similarities while the USSR and apartheid still existed.

The official reason for differential treatment in South Africa was that the differences in culture and development between European and African groups or ethnoses as the _volkekundiges_ referred to them required different treatment. So the fact that skin color was used as a marker to distinguish different cultural groups does not make the racism genetically rather than culturally based. That is like as I noted above claiming that anti-semitism is religious bigotry rather than racism because it uses ancestral religion as a marker rather than skin color.

Source: Saul Dubnow, _Scientific Racism in Modern South Africa_ (Cambridge University Press, 1995).

239

Scott Martens 04.18.12 at 10:31 am

J. Otto@238 – Another rather large factor in the incoherent racial classification system of apartheid was the realization that large numbers of white Afrikaners have a visible amount of black and Asian ancestry. I recall reading about using the “pencil test” to classify people’s race, and how in ambiguous cases, children would be homeschooled or use correspondence classes to avoid being forced to register in coloured schools while their cases were evaluated, since registering in a coloured school constituted proof of being culturally assimilated to the coloured community.

Apartheid was a kind of “post-racial” racism that seems very in tune with modern American racial paleoconservativism.

240

J. Otto Pohl 04.18.12 at 11:11 am

Scott Martens @239

I think you will find most racism in the post-WWII era is of the ‘post-racial’ cultural kind. Certainly the ‘new racism’ in Europe denies it is racist because it is focused on cultural differences rather than biological ones. I would even go so far as to note that other than a brief time between 1850 and 1945 that the scientific genetically based and biologically justified racism that characterized the Nazis has been much rarer than culturally justified racism. Of course the South Africans were hardly pioneers in this matter. I would argue that Soviet Union had already beat them to the punch in using a primordial and essentialist definition of ethnicity to create a system of racial classifications. After 2 April 1938 natsionalnost became a category automatically inherited at birth regardless of degree of assimilation. Yet, the standard orthodox line in the US regarding Soviet history is that there was never any official racism in the USSR because the Stalin regime used the word natsionalnost rather than race. The fact that such a position will get you tenure at the University of Wisconsin or Stanford is quite telling.

241

Steve LaBonne 04.18.12 at 12:14 pm

I trust 235 and 236 have removed any lingering doubt anyone may still have had that our buddy Data is just trolling.

242

Data Tutashkhia 04.18.12 at 12:23 pm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientific_racism#South_African_Apartheid

Scientific racism played a role in establishing Apartheid in South Africa. In South Africa, white scientists, like Dudly Kidd, who published The essential Kafir in 1904, sought to “understand the African mind.” They believed that the cultural differences between whites and blacks in South Africa might be caused by physiological differences in the brain. Rather than suggesting that Africans were “overgrown children,” as early white explorers had, Kidd believed that Africans were “misgrown with a vengeance.” He described Africans as at once “hopelessly deficient,” yet “very shrewd.”[52]

The Carnegie Commission on the Poor White Problem in South Africa played a key role in establishing Apartheid in South Africa. According to one memorandum sent to Frederick Keppel, then president of the Carnegie Corporation, there was “little doubt that if the natives were given full economic opportunity, the more competent among them would soon outstrip the less competent whites”.[53] Keppel’s support for the project of creating the report was motivated by his concern with the maintenance of existing racial boundaries.[53] The preoccupation of the Carnegie Corporation with the so-called poor white problem in South Africa was at least in part the outcome of similar misgivings about the state of poor whites in the American South.[53]

The report was five volumes in length.[54] At the turn of the century, white Americans, and whites elsewhere in the world, felt uneasy because poverty and economic depression seemed to strike people regardless of race.[54] White poverty contradicted notions of racial superiority, and hence it became the focus of “scientific” study.

Though the ground work for Apartheid began earlier, the report provided support for this central idea of black inferiority. This was used to justify racial segregation and discrimination[55] in the following decades.[56] The report expressed fear about the loss of white racial pride, and in particular pointed to the danger that the poor white would not be able to resist the process of “Africanisation”.[53]

243

Data Tutashkhia 04.18.12 at 12:41 pm

Steve LaBonne,
the only (okay 98%, I’ll give you 2%) reason an employer might prefer you to your dark skin clone is that you’re far less likely to have a cousin in a ghetto who might feed you subversive ideas about the ‘pig power structure’, ‘stick it to the Man’ or some such.

If you conclude your CV with ‘Viva Che!’, and your dark skin clone his identical CV with ‘member of the Republican National Committee since 1996′, he’ll beat you 9 times out of 10. The one you win being that hippie coop where Sandwichman works. And this is the truth.

If you consider this a privilege, enjoy it.

244

Katherine 04.18.12 at 12:43 pm

They are roughly equivalent to: “You poor dumbass.”

Well, that’s okay, because that’s pretty much what I meant. I’m not even slightly concerned that I might be offending Data Tutashkhia, given the amount of dumbassery he has displayed in this thread.

245

John Holbo 04.18.12 at 12:48 pm

OK, Data has now trolled as much as I will tolerate. Further such nonsense will be deleted.

246

J. Otto Pohl 04.18.12 at 2:21 pm

I don’t let my students cite wiki rather than books. But, 1904 is 44 years before apartheid was established and during the time between 1850-1945 when scientific racism was in vogue in the white world. I already quoted Saul Dubnow’s book which details the rise and fall of scientific racism in South Africa and it falls very rapidly in 1945 due to events in Europe. After that culturalist justifications by the _volkekundiges_ and also Christian nationalists take precedence over the type of biological racism that had earlier been advocated by a number of South African scholars. Neither of whom made reference to genetics or biology as the reason for their support of apartheid. The sciences of apartheid which was founded in 1948 were anthropology, sociology, and ethnography not biology and genetics.

247

mpowell 04.18.12 at 5:14 pm

Salient, a few more points. First, it is definitely true that when there is a lot of slack in the job market things get really bad for marginal workers. I don’t really think this is a problem with meritocracy so much as it with a mismanaged economy. This is also kind of a new phenomenon in the US at least. We had a 50 year or so run with short recessions and pretty limited problems with unemployment. We ran into troubles in the 70s and then the post 2000 recovery was a little soft (but not really that bad comparatively!). Now we are looking at moving into what, our 4th consecutive year with 8%+ unemployment? And that number is actually a lot worse than it might seem at first glance because once you get unemployment down to 5% what that really means is that the vast majority of anyone who wants a job can eventually get one that isn’t too terrible of a match with their skill set. But at 8% unemployment that means a large number of people are underemployed and in certain narrow demographics there will be incredibly high unemployment and substantial suffering. It’s really a terrible situation. I don’t know if it’s purely a function of monetary mismanagement or a general breakdown of our economic system. But either way, I think it’s probably a separate issue from whether hiring should be meritocratic or not.

Secondly, anecdota back and forth doesn’t really reach a conclusion, but my take away would be this: in market sectors with a lot of employment demand, it seems like meritocracy doesn’t look so bad. In market sectors without much employment demand, well, see point one. The thing here is that it still matters which job you get, but the knife edge of competition isn’t quite what you make it, in my opinion. What I mean is that there may be a substantial difference between being the best at a job and the 100th best in a region in terms of what kind of job you can get, but the 100th best worker is never going to move up 100 spots. Realistically, you might move up or down 10 to 20 spots depending on your effort and also just random chance. The difference still matters but to the degree that this is determined by merit instead of random chance (which it frequently is to a certain extent) I think people prefer merit.

Third, on the definition of meritocracy, I just didn’t realize you were intending to use the term to apply strictly to hiring (though I can see how your arguments focused nearly exclusively on this point). Here I would just say that unless you are talking about certain very specific sectors, it doesn’t make sense to just talk about hiring. In most jobs the ongoing evaluation process is at least as important as the initial hire. But part of why I would be willing to defend AA hiring practices is that there is a considerable limit to how well you can evaluate merit in an initial hire (or be confident that your hiring managers will actually use this criterion), so a recognition of this limitation makes sense.

Finally, I do wonder what the distribution of work experiences is really like. From some evidence it seems that on average hours worked have declined slowly over time, especially as far as vacation time goes (at least this is what I remember reading). Anecodotally, you never tell an executive that you’re only going to work 40 hours a week, but it’s also not my observation that people need to slave away in their office to have a stable career or even one with an upward trajectory. It will vary by manager, though. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to make informed decisions ahead of time and without on-the-job experience (and to a certain extent, how do you even know what the jobs are- I can clearly see that there are jobs I never realized existed nor do I really understand how you get those jobs and this is in the field I work!) But it does appear that there are fields with a very poor set of options for new or young workers. But again, I think this may be separate from the issue of merit.

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Salient 04.18.12 at 5:38 pm

But part of why I would be willing to defend AA hiring practices is that there is a considerable limit to how well you can evaluate merit in an initial hire (or be confident that your hiring managers will actually use this criterion), so a recognition of this limitation makes sense.

In this sense I think we agree a lot at least in spirit about the angle on AA that I was taking, and I have to thank you for giving me a good amount to reflect on (and thanks also to JH for patience with me mucking up a chunk of his thread with my tangent — I kinda forgot it was about Derb somewhere in there).

Thinking on it more, if I do decide to try and write something extensive about merit, I’ll probably have to extend past hiring decisions to include firing and compensation decisions, which means I’ll need to come up with answers to various objections you raised that at this point I basically just dodged by limiting my own scope, in a way that now seems artificial to me.

Is there a glorification and institutionalization of merit that on an individual level recognizes a set of genuinely virtuous behaviors, but on a collective level has come to operate at the net expense of society, essentially because an institutionalized expectation of virtue is far more socially pernicious than acclaiming virtuous persons? What answer do I have, to core conservative arguments like, poverty and disenfranchisement would not be ongoing issues, if everybody would just work as hard as they’re supposed to? Is some version of their voiced expectation reasonable on an individual level? If so, is some version of their voiced expectation also reasonable on an societal level? How do I reconcile the conservative vision of merit, which makes some intuitive sense, with my intuitive sense that its demands are inappropriate to institutionalize?

This is something I have only a very patchy and incomplete answer to at the moment, and some of the holes you’ve pointed out are big concerns I’ll need to be thinking about for some time. Thanks again. :)

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mattski 04.19.12 at 3:12 pm

What answer do I have, to core conservative arguments like, poverty and disenfranchisement would not be ongoing issues, if everybody would just work as hard as they’re supposed to?

The lives of the working poor testify that hard work is insufficient to alleviate poverty.

But I come back to the notion of balance. That the work ethic should be balanced by a ‘decency’ ethic. It helps to give the right its due: there is such a thing as human laziness, and at certain levels it becomes a problem. On the other hand we have our own due, which is that there is more to life than toiling after money & things. (Isn’t it ironic the way Communism was “godless”… while here in America the cultural imperative to produce material wealth is perhaps the dominant ethic of our time.)

Language is always a problem, but I think the term ‘meritocratic’ is sufficiently broad that–to me–it’s almost perverse to argue against it. It’s like saying I shouldn’t try to hire competent people. What I want to argue against is the cultural ethic that producing material wealth is the highest value we are called to strive for. Material wealth is fabulous, but we should balance our striving after it with other values, values like learning to enjoy the company of our neighbors, learning to care about their welfare, and so on.

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GiT 04.20.12 at 2:19 am

@249

Aristotle on chrematistic?

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Salient 04.20.12 at 7:23 am

The lives of the working poor testify that hard work is insufficient to alleviate poverty.

Right, and you’re implicitly correctly calling me on a badly worded question, as ‘merit’ encompasses much more than ‘hard worker’ and the attitude in question still says, basically, well fuck those people, we live in an opportunity society and they have had their opportunity, if they can’t get a job or a better job that’s an indicator they’re undeserving in the first place, ’cause c’mon, who can’t get a job? Must be something wrong with them, right? If you’re out of a job, work harder to find one; if you can’t find one and are working as hard as you can, well, uh, be a better person.

But that really is what they mean in the first place: don’t like your lot in life? then be a better person. Phrases like ‘lazy’ or ‘try harder,’ when spoken by a tea partier, have nothing to do with laziness or trying hard. You can test this by asking ‘em about people who have a full-time job doing hard labor. They’ll still dismiss the notion that such a person should be paid nearly as well as they are paid, or were paid before retirement; they’ll argue that the market forces should dictate compensation (each job individually selecting for merit!), and/or will argue that the person in question should just go find a better job if they don’t feel they’re getting paid enough. If they can’t or won’t find a better job, that means they don’t merit anything more than they’re getting, and if they don’t even bother to try to find a job, they have only themselves to blame. Effort is just a socially acceptable way to talk about worthiness without sounding like a racist, so effort is code for merit, and lazy is code for unworthy (meritless? unmeritable? unmerited?).

…I only just now realized my argument/screed was just a (perhaps badly done) exercise in bickering with luck egalitarians about what behaviors and choices we can and should rightly hold individuals accountable for, so tl;dr = selecting for merit on the level of individual or firm is rational, sure, but it reinforces a social order in which the valuation that concerns mattski and I is rather exclusively promoted, and in which other goals we [should] have for society are compromised or undermined; we can address this by forcing firms to select for various other things we want in our society (like diversity, valuing a richness of variety in interactions between identity groups), and demanding that they expect only competence and responsibility rather than superlative excellence relative to the field of candidate replacements, and that’s a pretty cool idea and may be deserving of more conscientious thought than it normally gets (just as “one ought to pay one’s debts” deserves more conscientious scrutiny than it normally gets, I guess, that was a parallel inspiration anyway).

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mattski 04.20.12 at 12:46 pm

Salient, thanks for your reply. I enjoy these conversations, and good-natured bickering is sometimes a productive activity. Re giving the right its due, I should have added another dimension to that: It’s not only that there is a tendency in human nature to grow lazy if work isn’t necessary, it is also that–in the proper dose–competition is very good medicine. I think as it stands now our culture is based to an unhealthy degree on competition. But we don’t want to condemn competition in the abstract, we just don’t want to make a fetish of it.

I guess in my mind it is opinion rather than legislation that is going to create lasting change for the better. Legislation is necessary of course, and where I look in that regard is mainly the tax code. It is right and proper that taxation be progressive and not regressive. Some of the worst damage to our culture, I think, comes from Republicans inculcating the public with the idea that taxation is evil, immoral, unnecessary, take your pick.

@250 Glad you mentioned Aristotle. I’m not familiar with chrematistics but I’ve long thought that it would be helpful for our public debate if we kept in mind a very blunt objection Aristotle made to democracy. Paraphrasing, “The poor will simply vote themselves the property of the rich.” It’s a valid point. I think what it points to is, “everything in moderation.” Any idea taken to an extreme becomes absurd and potentially destructive. And the tragedy of today is that the public debate is notionally between the “right” and the “left”. While in *reality* the public debate is between an absolutist laissez-faire right and, waaaaaay at the other end of the spectrum, a tepid centrism.

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