Let’s bury – I say, let’s bury the hatchet, but not in anyone’s head, boy.

by John Holbo on April 19, 2014

My Chait thread was a moderate disaster. I was like: ‘by saying X, I think Chait meant Y.’ And you were like: ‘by saying ‘by saying X, Chait meant Z,’ are you saying Q?’ And I was like: what? Z? Q? No: Y!’ And you were like: ‘Y what?’ Anyway, I take almost full responsibility for how that went down wrong. Some of the comments came round but it was, overall, a poor frame for my point. My bad.

Let’s cut all that loose and try again, from quite a different angle. This post is also, sort of, a presentation of arguments I cheekily refused to disclose in this post. On we go!

Conor Friedersdorf’s argument that gay marriage opponents shouldn’t be likened to racist bigots goes something like this.

P1: Racism is pretty simple.

“A belief in the superiority of one race and the inferiority of another.”

P2: Opposition to same-sex marriage is complex.

“One thing I’ve noticed in this debate is how unfamiliar proponents of stigma are with thoughtful orthodox Christians — that is to say, they haven’t interacted with them personally, critiqued the best version of their arguments, or even been exposed to the most sophisticated version of their reasoning, which I find to be obviously earnest, if ultimately unpersuasive.”

C: Comparing same-sex marriage opponents to racist bigots falsifies by over-simplification.

Friedersdorf is braced for resistance to P2. But P2 is ok and the problem is P1. I hope it’s obvious to you, when it’s put so simply. Racism is not … simple. (How could it be?)

At this point you could try to say that racism is simple insofar as racist psychology/sociology cannot be tangled up in anything even potentially good, whereas anti same-sex marriage folks are trying to hold onto things that are, at least potentially, really good: community and identity and tradition, so forth. But obviously this emendation is a total loser. Racism is tangled up with norms about community and identity and tradition and so forth. Insofar as those are potentially good, racism is psychologically tangled up with things that are potentially good. Community is good. Having an identity you value is good. The antebellum South was graceful. Grace is good. (I’m not opposed to grace, per se. Are you?)

Friedersdorf would agree, I’m sure, so why did he make the bad argument? He was sliding from morals to psychology and back again. This is easy to do.

Ultimately, the moral arguments against racism are pretty simple; and, as a society, we have instituted a categorical moral ban (honored so often in the breach, but nominally a ban.) We aren’t inclined to get morally grey about this. ‘Moderately racist’ sounds, to our ears, more like ‘moderately murderous’ than ‘moderately violent’. Moderation in one’s racism is not an exculpatory factor.

So far I take myself to be describing, not recommending. But (because I know you will want to know): I think it’s on balance a good thing that our racism ban is so absolute – even though an obvious consequence of having set the bar high is widespread moral hypocrisy and confusion. Hence the problem with Friedersdorf argument, among other things.

The severity of our social ‘racism bad!’ ban does encourage (though it does not mandate!) psychological simplification. Obviously if you just ask people, ‘is racism psychologically/sociologically simple?’, they are going to say ‘no’, if they are sensible. But, insofar as we let our morals do our psychologizing for us, we have a certain tendency to simplify what we are dealing with.

Friedersdorf is just trying to say that not all same-sex marriage opponents are Bull Connor, ready to release the dogs to tear apart queers. That’s terribly unfair to the more civilized sort of same-sex marriage opponent. But, for that matter, it’s terribly unfair to most racists – today and in the past – to compare them to Bull Connor. All racists are not as bad as the very worst of racists, at their very worst.

If today’s most thoughtful same-sex marriage opponents are to be compared to racists, they should be compared, not to Bull Connor, but to the most thoughtful and moderate racists. Obviously it was very painful to moderate racists to see Bull Connor on TV. They knew they would be, personally, tarred with all that. When they themselves did not approve of it in the least.

Of course, given our absolute moral ban on racism, pointing this out is barely better than a bad joke – or at least a sneaky move on my part. Since we don’t now consider moderate racism more justifiable – hence acceptable – than the Full Bull Connor, there is no way to defend opposition to same-sex marriage, moderately, by saying it is only like moderate segregationism.

Same-sex marriage opponents are worried they will be excluded from polite society. Their opinions will fall outside the range of opinions that it is considered acceptable to hold. Establishing their moderate segregationism analog bona fides would be no way to insure against that. Rather, it would immediately guarantee their worst fears have come true.

Nevertheless, I do think that, logically (though this is a total political loser) same-sex marriage opponents really ought to argue, not that they are not like racists, but that, just as regarding all racists as like Bull Connor is psychologically oversimple, regarding all same-sex marriage opponents as queer-bashers is psychologically oversimple. And, perhaps, when we come to appreciate this truth about the complexity of the soul, categorical moral bans will soften, in turn. We will learn to tolerate moderate same-sex marriage opponents and moderate racists alike, as the subtle complexities of their souls may merit.

Like I said: tough sell.

But: is same-sex marriage opposition like moderate racism? Soft segregationism, say? Let’s simplify that. What is moderate racism?

I’ve been doing some reading on the so-called ‘soft Southern strategy’ of the 50’s and 60’s and 70’s. I’ve been reading moderate defenses of segregation, that is. Last year, you may recall, I posted reflections on a bunch of ‘moderate’ defenses of slavery. I’m proud of that post, and I’ve been meaning to follow up. It’s an important moral category: moderation, concerning an issue that seems to us, in retrospect, to admit no moderation. I’m now reading a good biography: Senator Sam Ervin, Last of The Founding Fathers [amazon], by Karl E. Campbell.

Sam Ervin was the face of the Watergate hearings. Nixon called him “that old incredible bastard,” which is great adjective order. Senator Sam told folksy jokes and stories. He set back the cause of civil rights for African-Americans, every chance he got. He got a lot of chances. He denied having a racist or bigoted bone in his body. I’m pretty sure he was sincere about that, although I don’t think he was right; not by a country mile.

Throughout his life the senator expressed deep anguish whenever anyone charged him with racism. During congressional hearings on immigration in 1965, Ervin suggested that Ethiopians had no right to be treated as favorably as immigrants from northern Europe. “I don’t know of a single contribution that the Abyssinians [Ethiopians] have made,” Ervin said. “Why should we put them on an equality with those countries that wrote our Constitution and gave us our common laws?” When a reporter concluded that Ervin opposed immigration reform because he held racist opinions about Africans, the senator called the newspaper and demanded an apology. George B. Autry, who served on Ervin’s staff, recalled: “Those charges really hurt the Senator. He couldn’t understand how people could say such a thing about him.” Ervin consistently disavowed any racist motivations in speeches he delivered against civil rights on the Senate floor. “My opposition does not arise out of any matter of race,” he insisted. “All of my life I have been a friend to the Negro race. As a citizen, a lawyer and a judge, I have done everything within my power to see to it that all citizens enjoy equality before the law.”

But when Ervin had the opportunity to publicly disclaim the racist theory of white biological supremacy, he demurred. In 1963 an interviewer asked Ervin point blank: “Do you agree with [Mississippi governor Ross Barnett] that the Negro race is inferior to the white race?” Ervin answered with a story: “There was a man in my county one time who was talking about building fences. He said the best fence posts were made out of a locust tree. He said they would last two lifetimes. He said he had tried it. I have only lived one part of a lifetime, and I don’t think you can measure the relative abilities of races in a generation.” In contrast to the hesitancy he revealed in his statements on white supremacy, Ervin proudly enunciated his views on Jim Crow when he told Look magazine in 1956:

“I believe in racial segregation as it exists in the South today.” Since his childhood, he had lived in, and approved of, a racially divided world. Ervin did not endorse the extreme segregationist positions held by some of his southern senatorial colleagues. He stated publicly that he thought it was wrong to deny African Americans access to any professional or business opportunity open to whites. But Ervin did believe that in the area of social relations the races should remain separated. He insisted that segregation was not the product of racial prejudice, but the result of “a basic natural law, which decrees that like shall seek like. Whenever and wherever people are free to choose their own associates, they choose as their associates members of their own race.”

Ervin argued that “the relations between the white and Negro races in North Carolina [were] as harmonious as relations between any two races anywhere on the face of the earth.” The senator denied that black Tar Heels faced economic discrimination, citing as proof that “they operate banks, insurance companies, public transportation systems and other substantial business enterprises.” Ervin also claimed that most African Americans in his state supported the Jim Crow system. “The majority of Negroes, like the majority of whites, prefer to go to their own churches, their own social organizations and their own fraternal organizations,” he explained. “I believe that they prefer to send their children to their own schools.” If North Carolina enjoyed such harmonious race relations, why then was there such an active civil rights movement within Ervin’s home state? The senator’s answer echoed the comfortable rationalizations popular among white southerners. He suggested that “the present attack on racial segregation is spearheaded mainly by three groups: well meaning outsiders, whose unfamiliarity with the South causes them to ‘darken counsel by works without knowledge’; political opportunists who hanker after votes; and Negro leaders who demand that all governmental powers be diverted from their proper functions to force the involuntary mixing of the races.”

It seems so strange today that Ervin, as the ‘moderate’ face of segregation, could be the figure Look magazine would look to, to say something sensible. We today regard out-and-out racism as more sensible, if it comes to that. If you are going to insist that people be treated worse, you should have the decency to regard them as worse people, hence as deserving of worse treatment! Otherwise you are saying people who don’t deserve worse, deserve worse. Which makes no sense. (I think I get no argument from you.)

Anyway, I’m planning a follow-up post to this one. What do we think of the likes of Sam Ervin? I’ll round out this post by offering a few reflections.

But first, a few links. The author, Campbell, published an article-length argument about Ervin here, several years before the biography came out. (You need JSTOR, but it is possible to get a free JSTOR account that gives you access to a few articles at a time. Inconvenient, yes.) Here is a review of the biography. And I just noticed – I haven’t yet watched myself – a c-span interview with the author. I probably won’t have my follow-up post up for a week, at least. It might be nice if, in the meantime, anyone who wished to weigh in on my eventual discussion, had also read the biography – or at least something substantive on the subject. I haven’t read any of Sam Ervin’s own writings [amazon]. But you can get Preserving the Constitution! for a penny! Good deal, I expect.

Campbell writes:

We underestimate the complexity of the South’s response to the Second Reconstruction, and overlook the intricacies of southern racist thought, when we portray all opponents of civil rights as ignorant and irrational demagogues. To be sure, many were. But some of the white defenders of the segregated South developed shrewd and coherent political philosophies to maintain segregation. Sam Ervin’s soft southern strategy represented one of the most insidious and effective examples of the white South’s response to the African American struggle for freedom.

I can’t go all the way to ‘coherent’. But I’ll buy the rest. The question is really how such a manifestly incoherent, yet towering structure of legalism, paternalism, pretext, folk humor, and confabulation can hold together, let alone conceal – from itself! – that racism and bigotry are part of the mix. They called him Claghorn’s Hammurabi, and he was strange guy. (Touching back on Friedersdorf’s argument, for a moment: if you think ‘sophisticated and earnest’ are distinguishing features of anti same-sex marriage arguments, over and against racist arguments, you need to read Sam Ervin’s sophisticated, earnest constitutional arguments against civil rights.)

Bigotry is an inherently negative attitude. But racism is, essentially, just a hierarchical notion. It really has nothing inherent to do with hate. Bigotry says someone is bad. Racism says ‘I am better’. Which implies someone is worse. But it doesn’t necessarily dwell on it, darkly, let alone violently. Racism can walk on the sunny side of the street, in its mind.

Ervin does not seem to be bubbling over with race hate, in an emotional sense. This is why he felt that charges of racism, against him, were unjust. A racist is a bigot is consumed with hate. Ervin looked in his heart, saw no bubbling hate, per se, for the black man. He exonerated himself on that charge, and felt anger at his unjust accusers for calling him racist.

What he felt was love of hierarchy and order and preservation of social status.

He had a two-week (!) debate, in hearings with Robert Kennedy, in 1963. ‘The Bobby and Sam Show’, they called it. Kennedy cited figures and figures and figures, as evidence that actually things were not so great for the black man, in the South. Senator Sam joked: figures don’t lie, but liars sure do figure! Kennedy, wearily: “If we cannot recognize the fact that there is a problem, Senator, we are not going to get very far.”

Ervin’s temper, which had been rising, now boiled over. Standing to defend his homeland he retorted: “Mr. Attorney General, I will maintain at any time, and in any place, under any conditions, that North Carolina is more like heaven than any other place on earth.

Of course, he then admits there are problems. There are problems everywhere! And probably people know best how to handle their own problems, without outsiders interfering.

But really the fixed point is this: if there are angels on earth, probably they have tar on their heels.

Another passage:

Howard Lee, the first African American to be elected mayor in North Carolina in the twentieth century, explained: “Blacks tended to be rejected in the South as a race, as a whole, but accepted individually, and I always found that if that kind of system could continue then the power brokers could decide who would have certain privileges and who would not. . . . And it would be those privileges that would still give them a certain amount of power.”

Lee’s description of the southern paternalistic system helps explain Ervin’s absolute opposition to all civil rights legislation. The mayor believed that “Senator Sam’s position [against civil rights] was based to a great extent on a very unique position that many power brokers took within North Carolina and throughout the South. And that position is that if laws are enacted which give freedom to the whole then there is no longer the opportunity to give and take privileges. . . . With the enactment of civil rights laws, this whole process, this whole system crumbled.”

Pulling it all together: animosity towards blacks – wishing them ill, for ill’s sake – is not the center of the picture. What is important is that good things for blacks should flow down from a morally and socially hierarchical peak, inhabited by the likes of Ervin. There is also an intense just world hypothesis-grade refusal to admit anything really bad could be happening, and have happened.

Civil rights need to be resisted, not because good things for blacks are bad, but because good things cannot come to blacks in a way that suggests that bad things came to them before.

That is, Ervin does not want bad things for blacks but wants it to be the case that things that are (we see so clearly today) bad for blacks, are good for blacks. This is a very normal type of racism. But it doesn’t fit with our paradigm racist case: hate.

This is common sense, but we’re on the internet, so let me add the thing I shouldn’t need to: I’m not saying that I know, for a certain metaphysical truth, that Sam Ervin’s heart was as pure as the driven snow, when it came to being free from the least little bit of racial animus. I assume the contrary, since I am not insane. Nevertheless, if you took his primary motive, in resisting civil rights, to be race hatred – i.e. bigotry – I think you would be mistaken. His racism wasn’t a felt emotion of hate but a blinkered vision of the social good. A will to ‘I am better’, not a will to ‘you are worse’.

You will object that these are two sides of the same coin. Yes, and that means you can always be looking at one side – or mostly be looking at one side – rather than the other.

And speaking of saying things that should be obvious: the overall moral of this Ervin story isn’t about same-sex marriage, obviously. The point is: moderate racism is an important psychological/sociological category, to which we are semi-blinded by our (rightful!) exclusion of moderate racism as defensible moral position. The importance of thinking about moderate racism is mostly this: there are more Sam Ervins around today than Bull Connors. As society becomes less tolerant of racism, racism involves more double-thinking. No one exceeded Ervin at that! But when we think about racism we think: Bull Connor and dogs and firehoses.

Probably you will say: you didn’t need to argue it at such length! Still, I don’t think we have a standard model of the Sam Ervin-type mind; only of the Bull Connor-type mind. We have a standard model only of the non-standard model, that is.

But, having made an argument about same-sex marriage the occasion for bouncing off into reflections on Claghorn’s Hammurabi, I might as well tie it back, tie it off. Friedersdorf – and many others – argue that it is wrong to compare same-sex marriage opposition to racism, because same-sex marriage opposition can be fueled by a kind of (perhaps hopeless, nostalgic) positive, hierarchical vision of the good, where social order is concerned. My point, coming off the Ervin case, would be this: this doesn’t prove same-sex marriage opposition is unlike racism.

{ 296 comments }

1

Abigail 04.19.14 at 10:17 am

Surely the core problem here is discussing racism as if its definition were rooted in intent, rather than effects? I get that you’re trying to identify a particular type of psychological state (and your point about racist social orders being important because they put privilege and preference in the hands of the upper classes feels very important; I’m reminded of a report about a restaurant that eliminated tipping by raising their prices to include service costs, and received complaints primarily from male customers accustomed to “bestowing” largesse upon female servers), but I’m troubled by the implication that any of this matters as far as defining racism is concerned. In the Chait thread, there was a side discussion of a particular figure in the South’s history (Atwater? I’m not sure) and whether they were “really” racist, as in full of frothing hate for the black race, or just putting that attitude on for political gain. But seriously, what the fuck does that matter? If the policies this person enacted were knowingly and deliberately racist, and had racist effects, who the hell cares what was in their heart? Similarly, if you’re actively working to deny gay people a simple human right, who the hell cares whether you hate them the way good ol’ boys hated black people, or in some different, more sophisticated way?

This is actually (one of) the problems with Chait’s article, which tries to divorce racist intent from racist effects in order to discuss whether accusations of racism are justified or exaggerated in a vacuum. The fact that that vacuum doesn’t exist is (again, one of) the reasons his argument comes to seem so divorced from reality.

(Also, I would argue that the response to your comments on Chait had less to do with confusing Y for Z or Q, and more with a simple rejection of your “Chait said X, therefore he meant Y” thesis. As I’ve already pointed out, if a man means to say Y, why doesn’t he just say Y?)

2

John Holbo 04.19.14 at 10:33 am

“discussing racism as if its definition were rooted in intent, rather than effects?”

I’m talking about racism as rooted in intent AND in effects. (I take it that’s obvious.) You, I take it, want to narrow it so that no consideration of what people are thinking or feeling can have any bearing on whether what they are thinking or saying or doing is racist? That seems too narrow.

“I’m troubled by the implication that any of this matters as far as defining racism is concerned.”

Well, first, I’m not defining racism. I’m just offering what I take to be important cases of it, and discussing how they seem to work. That’s not the same.

“But seriously, what the fuck does that matter? If the policies this person enacted were knowingly and deliberately racist, and had racist effects, who the hell cares what was in their heart?”

I don’t really get this. How can understanding what you are dealing with not be important?

3

John Holbo 04.19.14 at 10:40 am

“if a man means to say Y, why doesn’t he just say Y?)”

Sometimes it’s an accident, sometimes it’s on purpose!

4

Main Street Muse 04.19.14 at 11:24 am

From OP: “Nevertheless, if you took his primary motive, in resisting civil rights, to be race hatred – i.e. bigotry – I think you would be mistaken. His racism wasn’t a felt emotion of hate but a blinkered vision of the social good. A will to ‘I am better’, not a will to ‘you are worse’.”

When the soft generosity of racism fertilizes the raging hatreds of bigots, we have soil that is ripe for codifying hatred into the legal system, which is what the South did with Jim Crow laws.

NC is the site of one of the early and influential civil rights sit-ins, at a Greensboro Woolworth, back in 1960, three years before Ervin debated Kennedy. Clearly, he was blind to the roiling emotions within his own state.

NC gave us Jesse Helms, whose career was devoted to opposing Civil Rights legislation.

And JUST last year, NC gave us some of the most restrictive voting rules, immediately after SCOTUS struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act.

Wanna see what a NC politician had to say about why these new restrictive voting rules were needed in NC? Here’s one interviewed on The Daily Show: http://bit.ly/1dovzw7

Guess what? It’s about racism – it’s about preserving GOP superiority via restricting the vote. At one point, the GOP operative (since fired) was rattling on and the interviewer says: “You know we can hear you right?” (Please watch – it’s a snap shot into the madness that is happening right now in NC today!)

In America, you can go to whatever church you want to attend. That does not give legislators the right to codify laws that penalize two gay people who love each other and want the privilege of picking up the dead body from the hospital once one’s partner dies. One’s religious beliefs should not mean a child is prevented from getting Social Security survivor benefits when one of his two mothers died – Paul Ryan was able to get these benefits when HIS father died. (These things happened to someone I know – we have laws that codify privileges and benefits to married people – and restrict gays from benefitting from these priveliges. And by God, that’s wrong.)

To yammer about how racism is about hierarchy and bigotry is the real hate – what’s the point of this debate, John? How is Ervin any less of a hater than Bull Connor? As Campbell states in a quote you cite:

“Sam Ervin’s soft southern strategy represented one of the most insidious and effective examples of the white South’s response to the African American struggle for freedom.”

His racially focused sense of “hierarchy” enabled some of the worst legislation that American had to offer. And that we’ve got more Ervins and less Connors is not much of a victory – witness what’s going on in NC today.

5

John Holbo 04.19.14 at 12:19 pm

“To yammer about how racism is about hierarchy and bigotry is the real hate”

Sorry, I think that in a very basic sense, racism IS about hierarchy. It involves the view that one race is superior to another. And bigotry IS hate. Can you think of any examples of bigotry that don’t involve hatred?

You quote the Campbell that I quoted. I’ll quote it again right back at you: “Sam Ervin’s soft southern strategy represented one of the most insidious and effective examples of the white South’s response to the African American struggle for freedom.”

How can I seem to be apologizing for Sam Ervin, on the grounds that he wasn’t a hater, given that I obviously agree – otherwise, why quote that bit? – that his strategy represented one of the most insidious and effective examples, etc. Rather, the thing to conclude is that you don’t need hate to be insidious and effective, right?

Given my emphasis on the bad effects Ervin had, why would you assume I didn’t care about bad effects? Why would I emphasize that if I didn’t care about it. (Who doesn’t care about bad effects?)

I’m puzzled by this “what’s the point of this debate, John?” response, from both Abigrail and Main Street. It sounds to me like you are both saying ‘given that we know there’s some problem, why would we want to understand it?’ Which makes no sense to me.

6

John Holbo 04.19.14 at 12:30 pm

Perhaps this will help: Abigail seems to suggest, above, that we should make racism a function of bad effects, not psychology. Since we want to understand racism as an institutional feature, there is a certain sense to this. But being so strict about it leads to absurdities. For example, suppose we decide that Bull’s Connor’s tactics backfired. He single-handedly advanced the cause of civil rights, with his dogs and firehoses on the TV, more than he ever managed to set them back in all the years he worked to set them back. Surely it doesn’t follow that Bull Connor wasn’t a racist, after all, if functionally he turns out to have helped the cause he tried to hurt.

I know you didn’t mean that, Abigail. But this is a simple illustration of why you can’t leave the psychology clean out. And, in general, there just isn’t a way to understand the effects of racism – that is, the machinery that produces those effects – without considering what people are thinking and trying to do – what really matters to them. The machine is more than what people think and feel. But what they think and feel is part of it. So it matters what they think and feel.

7

Matt 04.19.14 at 12:45 pm

I guess I don’t exactly get or agree with the idea that bigotry means “hatred” in any sense where the later term involves the sort of firey or frothy emotions suggested here. If I meet someone who says they personally feels warm and kind towards blacks, and this is born out in their actions, but also thinks that blacks are, as a group, inherently inferior, not capable of being fully citizens because they are, in many ways, essentially child-like and so in need of the guidance of whites, and potentially dangerous, if left unsupervised, like children, and that because of this it would be dangerous to let them fully intermingle with whites in much the same way that it would be dangerous to allow children to fully intermingle with adults, I’d say, “Yes, that guy is a full-blow, grade-A, 100% bigot”, despite the lack of hot emotions, hatred, and ill-will. To say otherwise would seem obviously wrong to me, yet it seems like you’re committed to it several times in this piece.

8

Abigail 04.19.14 at 12:58 pm

I agree that discussing the psychological means by which people justify and perpetuate racism is important (as I said, what felt most valuable in your post was the observation about racist politicians wanting to preserve the power to reward specific black people). And you’re right that focusing exclusively on effects can lead to absurdity. My problem is that it often feels – in Chait’s essay in particular, but he’s hardly the only offender – as if the reverse absurdity, focusing solely on intent, is much more common. Your post here, for example, starts out purely as a discussion of intent – is it wrong to compare people who are anti-gay marriage to racist bigots? To me this feels like a perfect encapsulation of how social justice discussions will default to talking about perpetrators and oppressors with far more heat and passion than is ever given to victims and the oppressed. You bring up an example of sexism, and all of a sudden all anyone wants to talk about is whether the person (body, institution, culture) is “really” sexist or whether there are extenuating circumstances (they’re just looking for the best actor to cast, the judges can’t pick books that weren’t submitted, it’s really the audience’s fault for being prejudiced).

So yes, the psychology of how racism is justified is important if we’re ever to combat it, but I don’t think the framework of this discussion should be to ask whether specific people are “really” racist, but rather a way of explaining what their actions have already shown them to be.

9

Main Street Muse 04.19.14 at 1:02 pm

John – certainly it matters what people think and feel. Defining racism as some kind of non-hateful means to maintain a hierarchy of white superiority over blacks is a stretch. Jim Crow South was filled with hate. It was filled with bigotry. It was not just insidious, it was invidious.

Jim Crow was a legal quagmire that could only be maintained by the effective use of bigoted violence. A boy named Emmitt Till, who hailed from Chicago, went to Mississippi in 1955. He did not understand the unwritten codes of the bigots and he died as a result. Brutally, violently and eternally dead. He was 14. And his crime? He smiled at a white girl.

How can Ervin’s racial hierarchy be supported without Bull Connor’s violence? It cannot. They are married – irrevocably, without the possibility of a divorce. Ever.

Clearly, I don’t understand what you are thinking we need to understand about racism. Perhaps that’s because I live in North Carolina, and the insidious influence of racism – with or without bigotry – are still felt today. (And it’s all the fault of Obamacare…)

10

aepxc 04.19.14 at 1:09 pm

“Similarly, if you’re actively working to deny gay people a simple human right, who the hell cares whether you hate them the way good ol’ boys hated black people, or in some different, more sophisticated way?”

If the goal is changing hearts and minds, rather than simple moral outrage, understanding the specifics of the hearts and minds that one is trying to change is important. On the other hand, if one’s opponents are viewed as necessarily either stupid or evil (or both), the only solution left is to shoot them in the face.

11

JHW 04.19.14 at 1:13 pm

I think this underlies a lot of the dynamic around resistance to accusations of racism and homophobia. Racism gets simplistically caricatured in much mainstream American history. So it is impossible even for many thoughtful and reflective white Americans to see themselves in critiques of racism; if being racist is being Bull Connor, or even just having a formal and explicit belief in racial superiority, they “know” they’re not racist.

I think the real loss (balanced, to be sure, against some substantial benefits) of the common liberal failure to pay attention to “sophisticated” arguments against same-sex marriage is that it reproduces the same dynamic: opponents are either hateful, nasty people or just really stupid and irrational. The cost here is that we end up failing to appreciate how people can do destructive, evil things rooted in social prejudice while still being neither hateful nor stupid; and with it, a failure to recognize how we ourselves (who, we tend to think, aren’t hateful or stupid either) have the potential to do the same.

12

Colin R 04.19.14 at 1:17 pm

I understand that comprehension of the psychology and motives of racism are helpful from a historical perspective, but I guess the question is, how is understanding psychology politically useful? Generally, trying to make an argument based on what you perceive your opponent’s state of mind to be is not going to be helpful; ‘moderate’ racism is not any more acceptable than ‘strong’ racism, and no one is going to admit to it or accept arguments that take this sort of psychology as being attributed to them.

I mean the defense people use against charges of racism is basically “you can’t see inside my head, my intentions are pure!”. Just like Ervin. Which is why people generally focus on racisms effects to the exclusion of its intentions.

13

Anderson 04.19.14 at 1:33 pm

“how is understanding psychology politically useful?”

Ah, I see: changing people’s minds has nothing to do with politics.

I think Holbo’s post is too intelligent for some readers. Or maybe too long? Try reading it again, slowly?

14

Matt 04.19.14 at 1:37 pm

Or maybe too long?

That’s surely true.

15

John Holbo 04.19.14 at 1:40 pm

Matt, I think you and I may have different senses of the word ‘bigot’. I wouldn’t use ‘bigot’ to describe your case. For me, bigotry is really a matter of animus and expressions of animus. But I also don’t want to insist on my sense of the word. If you use the word in a different sense, I don’t want to argue about who is really right about what ‘bigot’ properly means.

I guess the simple version of my point is that equating the psychological life of racism with hate is wrong. Racism is hierarchy, and it contains, naturally, the seeds of hate. For hell hath no fury like a master spurned by a slave who denies the master’s right. But racism, even just in a psychological sense, is not just the top-down hate you get when the system is threatened – the lynchings, the whippings, the dogs and firehoses. I don’t say this to excuse it – although I actually do feel that a master who takes joy in lynching is a worse person than a master who dreams fondly of devoted, subservient, grateful workers in the field. I am a bit baffled that Abigail and Muse leap to the conclusion that I am trying to excuse it. The point of the post – I would have though this was obvious – is that very bad, racist effects can flow from dreams of happy hierarchy. Sam Ervin did a tremendous amount of real damage to African-Americans. He single-handedly turned things for the worse at several points. But I think he probably did it without a lot of animus.

Now it may seem that I have now backed myself into the corner of denying that Ervin was a bigot. He was merely a racist, in my terms. I don’t know. The truth is that I just don’t believe he was free of animus. So he’s not that pure, thought-experimental creature. And, again, I don’t much care what word gets applied. The point is to try to understand the dynamics of racism. What’s it like?

16

Anderson 04.19.14 at 1:42 pm

There are racist white Southerners today – older ones, mostly – who believe blacks in general are morally and intellectually inferior to whites in general. They have little trouble interacting with black folks they know, like at work, because those blacks are obviously exceptions to the(ir) rule. But these whites regret the Civil Rights Act for precisely the reasons Holbo describes: it deprives the whites of their power to choose who will be deemed an acceptable black. I’ve heard the same kind of whites also regret that property qualifications for voting are history, because they’re not crazy about poor whites voting, either. I believe these whites continue to dominate the GOP. Recent voting-related decisions of the Roberts Court fit their agenda. Money deserves to rule, and conveniently tends to be held by white people, so unlimited donation power helps undo that pernicious equality at the voting booth.

17

John Holbo 04.19.14 at 1:42 pm

“Defining racism as some kind of non-hateful means to maintain a hierarchy of white superiority over blacks is a stretch.”

Muse, you need to slow down. First, I’m not defining ‘racism’ at all. Second, if I were, I definitely would be defining it so as to exclude hate. I’m not saying that it’s logically impossible for racists to be hateful. I really don’t think I can be read as saying that.

18

John Holbo 04.19.14 at 1:45 pm

“how is understanding psychology politically useful?”

Are you serious about this? You see no potential political utility in grasping how people think?

19

John Holbo 04.19.14 at 1:52 pm

OK, I’ll try once more with Muse.

“Clearly, I don’t understand what you are thinking we need to understand about racism.”

Are you saying that we already understand racism perfectly, so there’s nothing my post could add to our stock of knowledge on the subject?

Or are you saying that we don’t need to understand racism, because we know it’s bad, and that’s all we need to know?

20

Bruce Baugh 04.19.14 at 1:55 pm

A couple separate thoughts.

#1. Friedersdorf’s complexity argument is pure bullshit. Nobody (to a first approximation) says “this belief I think is very deeply wrong is so complex that I must take it seriously”. Theosophy’s history is very compex but no more right than that of the Creation Science Museum. Timecube’s theory of everything is very complex, but it’s still the ravings of someone who needs their schizophrenia treated. We are not obligated to give special credence to things that are complex if they nonetheless are built on simple basic flaws.

Friedersdorf is not on record as advocating that libertarians need to be more respectful of Marxism because it’s very complex.

#2. Abigail surely doesn’t need me to speak on her behalf, but John, your responses to her give me an opportunity to expound on something that’s been on my mind a lot the last few years. Lucky you. :) My sermon topic for today is “Who is ‘we’?”

We are not all called to be apostles to the homophobes, for starters. Not all of us are engaged, wish to be engaged, or should be engaged in any general program of outreach to people who are still deeply committed to this particular moral BS. Some of us are looking primarily at our obligations as citizens and people committed to principles of equality, and interested mostly or exclusively in discussing things in a context where we don’t have to keep re-justifying why we’re not eating live babies.

This isn’t to criticize engagement and outreach, just to say that it’s not a driving concern for all of us, nor should it be.

This is much the same kind of thing as how most of us aren’t legislators and don’t owe anything to constituencies who hate us and vice versa. When we do engage, we are more likely to be engaging as advocates, with the responsibility to present our own side well. We may wish to debunk, and that calls for one kind of understanding of the opposition; we may wish to try to win over the undecided, vacillating, and weakly committed, and that calls for another; we may wish directly take on our counterpart advocates, and that calls for a third.

Whether Abigail – or anyone else – needs to know more about the etiology of this particular bit of crap depends on what she’s doing, which is a thing to find out rather than assume. :)

21

Layman 04.19.14 at 2:05 pm

“But: is same-sex marriage opposition like moderate racism?”

Isn’t this easy to answer? Denying the right of two gay people to marry is analogous to denying the right of two black (or Asian, etc) people to marry, or perhaps denying marriages where one partner isn’t white. Denying that right would not be moderate racism; thus opposition to same-sex marriage is not like moderate racism.

Though, honestly, I’m struggling to think of an example of ‘moderate’ racism. Is moderate racism that which exists in the mind but isn’t translated into overt action? Or is it racist acts absent overt violence, or the threat thereof? Or what?

22

John Holbo 04.19.14 at 2:06 pm

“We are not all called to be apostles to the homophobes, for starters. Not all of us are engaged, wish to be engaged, or should be engaged in any general program of outreach to people who are still deeply committed to this particular moral BS.”

This is fair enough. But, for what it’s worth, I don’t think of this post – or my previous one – as outreach. If it is, then I’m the world’s most incompetent diplomat. Because conservatives find all this stuff I’m saying intensely enraging and utterly unacceptable. Being told they are only ‘moderate racists’ doesn’t make them feel one whit better about it – nor should it.

I’m saying this stuff because I think it’s true, not because I think it’s rhetorically winning with conservative readers.

I say this because I feel I get hit from both sides. Not that I mind! But the overall effect seems to me absurd. Enraged conservatives are yelling at me, telling me not to spew hate at them, calling them racists-lite. At the same time I’m being accused of wanting to be a demure hausfrau who doesn’t upset her man, the conservative of the house. I’m inclined to say that the conservatives have the best of this meta-debate, at least. They’re right. I’m not on their side.

23

rustypleb 04.19.14 at 2:15 pm

Racism is one of many tactics used to justify entitlement. Entitlement is the fact of superiority based simply upon birth. Justification is the necessary palliative to insecurity or the alternative to raw power. Much as I love my children and gladly anticipate grand children inheritance is the proximate source of much great mischief.

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Colin R 04.19.14 at 2:20 pm

“Are you serious about this? You see no potential political utility in grasping how people think?”

I get that you are arguing that Friedersdorf is making a mistake–that anti-gay bigotry is not unlike racism, if you understand the psychology behind it. I guess, rereading it, that you’re joking when you suggest that anti-gay bigots should argue that they are only moderate bigots, and that ultimately there could/should be more tolerance of the varying degrees of bigotry? That is where I got hung up.

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SusanC 04.19.14 at 2:21 pm

I think there may be reasons why the gay rights debate has a different character from the civil rights (ie. race) debate.

1. It often isn’t obvious that someone is gay, unless they specifically tell you or make some kind of coded signal (clothing etc.). On the other hand, it is usually very obvious whether someone is black. These aren’t absolutes: there’s “gaydar”., there are people of various degreees of racial, it isn’t always easy to tell how Jewish someone is either, etc.

2. Being gay isn’t as obviously heritable as race.

The consequence of this is we have lots of people who are gay but have a very anti-gay family and social milieu, and try to hide their sexuality, sometimes over-compensate etc. Which makes the gay rights debate particularly fraught and open to acrimony. In cases where someone has come out as gay and been rejected by their family as a result, it is particularly hurtful because it is their _family_ rejecting them. Similarly, we might regard opponents of gay marriage as being particularly untrustworthy people — the sort of people who have a track record of betraying even their own children. (If someone would reject even their own children, why should you trust them to be — for example — CEO of a free software foundation, where the social ties are much weaker than within family?) (I don’t know if Brendan Eich himself had that degree of animosity towards gays — quite possibly he didn’t — but clearly some people do have such a level of animosity, and being associated with it is harmful to one’s reputation).

======

The common arguments against gay marriage really seem to make no sense. This ought to be interesting, philosophically, if it’s down to something more than just arguing in bad faith. What’s going on here?

Possible theories:

(a) Can we really justify many of our beliefs on purely empirical/rational grounds? Or does the chain of argument inevitable ground on something that itself has no rational basis, and is just believed “because reasons”. If the political argument takes a turn such that you’re required to present a argument for something that was really an axiom not a theorem, your answer may come out sounding strange.

(b) The political argument game requires you to reason from your opponents premises rather than your own, at least partially. Possibly the presenting argument over gay marriage disguises a much more fundamental disagreement, e.g. over the Enlightenment, and the incoherence is the result of taking an idea that made sense in its original context, and trying to translate it into an alien framework where it doesn’t fit. The pro-gay marriage arguments start from a viewpoint that is very centered on the rights of the individual, and this isn’t the only conceptual framework you could have.

(c) Psychoanalytic. Standard economics (etc.) tends to assume that people understand their own desires. In psychoanalysis on the other hand (e.g. Freud, Lacan) your motives aren’t necessarily clear even to yourself. Or especially to yourself. So possibly incoherence can result from getting too close to motives that aren’t available to concious thought.

26

John Holbo 04.19.14 at 2:30 pm

“anti-gay bigots should argue that they are only moderate bigots, and that ultimately there could/should be more tolerance of the varying degrees of bigotry?”

Yes, I was joking. It’s a complex joke, insofar as I really do think that, in a sense, this would be a better argument than the one Friederdorf is actually making. More logical, anyway. But obviously it wouldn’t win anyone over, and I personally would be very embarrassed to be caught making it.

27

JG 04.19.14 at 2:45 pm

Thanks, John, for trying again – this is good stuff. Although I agree that understanding the why as well as the what of racism is important, I always worry that focus on the why takes away from doing what we can today about the what. Also, given the complex web of institutions and systems that feed racism and inequality, what do you do about the huge number of Americans who express and believe that everyone is equal, etc., and have never known a black person well and who endorse and support the underlying structures that ensure the flourishing of racist, separatist institutions (e.g., schools). Do we name them too?

28

Bruce Baugh 04.19.14 at 2:53 pm

John: My apologies if I come off badly this week. I’m stressed and grumpy about unrelated matters and don’t intend to take it out on people here. Sorry for the inevitable lapses.

29

Frank Stain 04.19.14 at 2:54 pm

Your response to Friedersdorf’s claim about gay marriage is that he is wrong because racism is complicated too. But Friedersdorf appears to be saying not merely that sometimes opposition to gay marriage is sometimes based on a benevolent belief in hierarchy and (only) sometimes based on bigotry. That would make it analogous to what you say about race. But he is also saying that it is complicated in the sense that it is not based on a belief in hierarchy at all. Hence, he says ‘ it’s also commonly rooted in the much-less-problematic belief that marriage is a procreative institution, not one meant to join couples for love and companionship alone.’
I assume you weren’t just trying to say that Friedersdorf is wrong about racism being uncomplicated. I assume you were also saying that this vitiates his argument about gay marriage. But unless you’ve shown that it is complicated in an analogous way (i.e. a way that dispenses with hierarchy) it doesn’t.
Of course, it’s entirely possible that Friedersdorf is wrong about opposition to gay marriage not being based on a belief in hierarchy. However, it seems to me that this is where the issue is, not whether we think racism is c0mplicated or not.

30

P O'Neill 04.19.14 at 3:04 pm

Sam Ervin is a great subject for another reason … his opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment and the arguments he used against it. Including: it would lead to same-sex marriage!

31

John Holbo 04.19.14 at 3:08 pm

“Including: it would lead to same-sex marriage!”

I did not know that!

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christian_h 04.19.14 at 3:10 pm

Thanks John for a very thought provoking post. Also would like to second JHW in 11.

33

Lee A. Arnold 04.19.14 at 3:31 pm

John, would you put it this way?: Ervin received and believed in a certain view about Negroes. But he looks around him and meets black individuals who are not that way: who are as good as anyone in the top of the hierarchy; who someday might be at the top of the hierarchy. So he says, perhaps against the beliefs of some of his own supporters, “I don’t think you can measure the relative abilities of races in a generation.” But maybe he also knows that this will take a longer time to sort out, longer maybe than the time he’s got remaining on the planet. In this case then: he is aiding and abetting racism, he is himself a racist (though he doesn’t define it that way), but he thinks he is leaving the future open, while he hopes for a better world.

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John Holbo 04.19.14 at 3:58 pm

“Hence, he says ‘ it’s also commonly rooted in the much-less-problematic belief that marriage is a procreative institution, not one meant to join couples for love and companionship alone.’”

This is a bit complicated because I think Friedersdorf is just flat wrong – obviously so – that anti-same-sex marriage sentiment is rooted in a more general belief that marriage should be only for procreation. I don’t belief that there is such a a general belief, even among conservatives. There isn’t, for example, a general conservative hostility to people remarrying for love or companionship or any of that. (Conservatives don’t hate The Brady Bunch, or regard it as a plot to undermine the family)

Friedersdorf is right that anti-same-sex marriage sentiment is entangled with lots of desires for good things – healthy families. But, to a similar extent, racism is entangled with lots of desires for good things – healthy, harmonious communities. if he wants to semi-defend anti-same-sex marriage sentiment on these grounds, he really ought to semi-defend racism, too, for consistency.

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John Holbo 04.19.14 at 4:04 pm

“I don’t think you can measure the relative abilities of races in a generation.”

I think in that case Ervin was just hiding his true views, because he knew it would have been impolitic to express them.

“But he looks around him and meets black individuals who are not that way: who are as good as anyone in the top of the hierarchy; who someday might be at the top of the hierarchy.”

I am now an expert to the tune of 75% of one biography, so I don’t really know. I don’t think Ervin would have been comfortable contemplating that. I don’t see any evidence that he thought, ideally, that a color-blind world would be better. Thinking about the future like that, you would have only gotten rather incoherent thoughts out of him, due to profoundly mixed feelings. I would guess.

36

Bruce Wilder 04.19.14 at 4:08 pm

Bull Connor is no longer a racist bigot, upholding a system of oppressive and extractive racial segregation. He has been re-assigned to the anti-terrorism taskforce. The Constitution so beloved by Senator Sam is a forgotten artifact; soft is now Diane Feinstein, who is shocked to discover that they suspect her, too.

37

Dr. Hilarius 04.19.14 at 4:15 pm

John’s post is worthwhile in pointing out that bigotry and hatred are not identical. It is a worthwhile distinction if only to understand why so many obviously racist individuals resist being labeled racist (and with real conviction).

Growing up in the South of the 50s and 60s, it was an everyday experience to hear people say they thought blacks to be inferior to whites while claiming affection for the black race. Some would even concede blacks to be superior to whites in some areas of endeavor, just not those of intellect.

The notion that racism requires malice persists throughout the US of today and provides a psychological out for many conservatives whose policies are deeply racist. Sam Ervin was more often the face of racism than Bull Connor then and now. Paternalistic bigotry even allows acknowledgment that individual blacks might be exceptional (why, he’s brighter than most white folks) without challenging the basic belief in white superiority.

38

JanieM 04.19.14 at 4:17 pm

Sam Ervin is a great subject for another reason … his opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment and the arguments he used against it. Including: it would lead to same-sex marriage!

Even without the ERA, the path to same-sex marriage was cleared in part by the elimination of inequality between the sexes within marriage.

So along with semi-defending racism for consistency, Friedersdorf should also be semi-defending anti-feminism.

In all this talk in these recent threads about what marriage is and isn’t and might be and once was, there hasn’t been much (if any; I’ve been traveling…) attention given to the evolution of gender roles within marriage. All these respectable, non-bigoted, non-hate-based beliefs conservatives allegedly hold that are making them resist SSM seem to me to be just one of the replacements for what’s become almost totally taboo: talking about how women ought to be subordinate to men in marriage as in everything else. If we still had old-style marriages where the two people became legally one (the husband), we couldn’t have SSM because we wouldn’t have a “rational” basis for deciding who gets to be the husband.

And the other thing all that BS is a replacement for is disgust at yucky sex. (Which of course is only yucky when gay people do it.)

39

Phil Hand 04.19.14 at 4:25 pm

“John Holbo 04.19.14 at 1:52 pm 18
Are you saying that we already understand racism perfectly, so there’s nothing my post could add to our stock of knowledge on the subject?”

There is one very important sense in which we do understand racism perfectly. We understand that it’s wrong – always and unequivocally wrong. That moral knowledge shouldn’t be overlooked.

Of course, descriptive sociology has a duty to go further, and to examine racism on many levels and in many ways, but a big part of the reason why “racism” is a valid concept and category for sociology – and for politics – is because we have been able to define it morally with such success.

Given that we know racism is wrong, there is an important heuristic value for everyone other than sociologists in not investigating it. For atheists, theology is all wrong. Spending our time reading it is nothing but opportunity cost. For everyone who isn’t a racist and isn’t particularly concerned with descriptive sociology, talk about the different forms of racism is all opportunity cost.

There’s also this argument:
“JG 04.19.14 at 2:45 pm 27
Although I agree that understanding the why as well as the what of racism is important, I always worry that focus on the why takes away from doing what we can today about the what.”

The solutions to racism aren’t going to be “changing peoples’ minds”. They’re going to be adopting social practices (laws) which mitigate the worst forms of racism, and waiting for racists to die. Understanding racism is of little benefit in that process: it needs to be driven by an understanding of what happens to the victims, not what’s going on in the heads of the perpetrators.

And finally that leads to the moral ickyness which may be what underlies a lot of the vehement reactions here. “Understanding racism” in the sense in which you’re using it here is once again making this intrinsically multi-racial phenomenon all about the white guy. If you want to get into the psychology and different levels of racism, then the different kinds of damage done to minority people and communities seem like a better place to start. Obviously, many people have started there, but I don’t think that field is overpopulated yet.

40

adam.smith 04.19.14 at 4:27 pm

I really appreciate the larger point about “complex” racism/homophobia and Senator Sam is a wonderful example. I was thinking of Buckley as a prime example of a refined, complex racist (he may have the example of being more familiar to contemporary conservatives), but Sam is certainly better—more colorful and more obsessed with race.

I’m less convinced by the distinction between hierarchy and hate. Say, if your run-of-the-mill racist thinks blacks are like dogs—but he’s really fond of dogs as long as they’re good, obedient dogs—I suppose you’d call that “hierarchy”: He doesn’t have boiling rage against all black folks and is, in fact, quite fond of some.
But surely treating/viewing a human like an animal is hateful? Or in other words – do you think even Bull Connor (or Klansman XYZ) hated all blacks? Wasn’t the problem “just” those who didn’t “know their place”? Isn’t the group of people who universally _hates_ all people of another race pretty small and insignificant? I suspect there may actually be slightly more people who actually _hate_ gays (with blood boiling rage and all), but that, too, would seem to be a pretty tiny group.

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Bruce Wilder 04.19.14 at 4:40 pm

I stepped on my point by not finishing my thought.

. . . soft is now Diane Feinstein, who is shocked to discover that they suspect her, too, because she thinks torture might have been . . . not illegal and immoral, but (wait for it) . . . ineffective.

Focusing on the philosophical fine points, or the psychology of self-contradiction and self-regard, kind of misses the social structures, which give rise to the need for beliefs of various sorts.

We are so far from understanding a conviction based on beliefs about the character of an ethnic or racial group, because we are so far from believing in the distinctive importance of mass groups, because the world is no longer organized that way. Can we even fathom the idea of a cultural group being the actor responsible for “giving” us the Constitution? Can we imagine that Law is the gift of the Anglo-Saxon race to Civilization? When millions were being mobilized on behalf of nation-states, that sort of musing had an operative meaning.

The human propensities for authoritarian cruelty are still operative, but they have new forms, new guidelines, new sponsors.

42

Scott Supak 04.19.14 at 4:42 pm

I wish I had time to read all the comments, but I just want to say how much I’m enjoying this… I took some notes as I read the post, and look forward to more on this.

Ervin: “All of my life I have been a friend to the Negro race.”

My black friend! See Colbert, Stephen.

How much “moderation” on racism are we willing to put up with, legally?

How much “moderation” on same sex marriage are we willing to put up with, legally?

If the answer to both of those questions is none, then supporters of equal rights have no common ground with moderate opponents of equal rights, just as we have no common ground with extreme opponents.

“shrewd and coherent political philosophies to maintain segregation.”

The fact that they were smarter about their opposition to equal rights makes them more evil, not less. They’re arguing to move such a small distance that you wind up on the most slippery part of the slope.

“good things for blacks should flow down from a morally and socially hierarchical peak”

Trickle down civil rights!

“Civil rights need to be resisted, not because good things for blacks are bad, but because good things cannot come to blacks in a way that suggests that bad things came to them before.”

Colbert + GW Bush = “I don’t see color” + “I think we can agree, the past is over.”

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JHW 04.19.14 at 4:56 pm

To turn the issue here into a slogan:

If you think all racism is like Bull Connor, or all homophobia is like Fred Phelps, your sociology is simplistic. And if you think it takes racism-like-Bull-Connor, or homophobia-like-Fred-Phelps, for racism and homophobia to be serious, destructive social wrongs worthy of social condemnation, then your sense of ethics is simplistic.

Part of the point to see here, I think, is that these two errors travel together and are mutually reinforcing. Conor Friedersdorf starts from a poor sociology of racism (what John Holbo calls P1) and derives from it a poor moral theory of why racism is bad, allowing him to conclude (validly, from his flawed premises) that our social condemnation of racism shouldn’t apply to sophisticated justifications for discriminating against LGBT people. Other people make the converse inference, starting from a poor moral theory (“Racism and homophobia are bad because they involve conscious malice directed at other people, or an abstract denial of people’s equal moral worth”) and assuming that that, therefore, must be all we’re talking about when we talk about racism and homophobia.

It’s fairly obvious how this comes into play in conservative thinking. But it comes into play among American liberals too. Take, e.g., the common claim that there is no non-bigoted reason to oppose same-sex marriage. Of course this is not true–any more than there was no non-bigoted reason to support segregation, or “anti-miscegenation” laws. Human beings are smart and sophisticated enough to generate arguments in defense of long-standing (and thoroughly unjust) systems of inequality that don’t depend on clearly bigoted premises. The incompatibility between a commitment to equal worth and a social system of inequality is not psychological, nor even conceptual, but substantive: it emerges in practice, through social change, often through social struggle, as people try to make that commitment real.

The bottom line is this. If, in trying to avoid participation in racism and homophobia (etc.), you think searching your heart is enough, you are wrong. If you think doing a lot of careful conceptual analysis is enough, you are also wrong. Part of the way out is real, reflective engagement with the world. But part of the way out is also realizing that we are all products of an unequal world, and we don’t know what an equal one looks like. And that’s why this discussion of Sam Erwin seems useful to me: not because the psychology of people who perpetuate inequality is the appropriate focal point of a struggle for justice, but because, without grasping how that can work, we can’t really grasp ourselves, and our own positions.

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mud man 04.19.14 at 5:04 pm

What do we think of [unconscious racists]?
We have met the enemey, and he is us.

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ckc (not kc) 04.19.14 at 5:05 pm

Of course this is not true–any more than there was no non-bigoted reason to support segregation, or “anti-miscegenation” laws. Human beings are smart and sophisticated enough to generate arguments in defense of long-standing (and thoroughly unjust) systems of inequality that don’t depend on clearly bigoted premises.

…an example would add a convincing touch

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Bruce Baugh 04.19.14 at 5:10 pm

Is there a formal term for things you assert without any conscious intent to deceive, but which you don’t advocate or act on outside a single kind of context? “Self-deception”, of course, but of a particular kind.

Whatever that name might be, it’s the right name for statements like “Same-sex marriages are bad because marriage is procreative.” Nobody requires fertility tests for marriage certificates, and nobody’s trying to impose them. Elderly widows and widowers who re-marry are congratulated, not shunned, even in very conservative religious denominations. There is no effort to discourage fertile couples from adopting. And so on. The only action that statement ever generates is opposition to same-sex marriages, not ever to opposite-sex ones that are infertile by choice or necessity.

I assume everyone has some spots like these. I know for sure I do. It’d be nice to have a compact handle for them.

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Aristodemus 04.19.14 at 5:38 pm

John Holbo, Henry will disagree with you about this.

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Aristodemus 04.19.14 at 5:40 pm

It appears the link did not, er, link. Here’s the long-form version:

http://crookedtimber.org/2014/03/05/principled-bigotry-is-still-you-know-bigotry/

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JHW 04.19.14 at 5:46 pm

ckc (not kc): I don’t think (again, as a psychological or abstract conceptual matter) that belief in the separation of the races, as a matter of natural law or for the sake of racial harmony or for other justifications white Southerners invented, was inherently “bigoted” in the sense of being actively malicious, or even in the weaker sense of being grounded in a commitment to the superiority of one race over another. (Both of these were obviously also very present! And unquestionably they were often motivating. I’m not attempting revisionist history here. I’m making a point about the nature of “sophisticated racism.”)

It is also true that racial segregation was inherently and necessarily tied to a social system of white supremacy, both as cause and effect. And that makes justifications for racial segregation racist: racist in their effects, but also racist in their source, in the sense that they could only ever be socially plausible in a society already built on white supremacy. (Today, we–even conservatives–generally recognize these arguments as racist immediately, because their race-essentialist premises no longer have much social plausibility. But we still live in a social system of white supremacy and other kinds of racism have more contested social plausibility–e.g., the idea that racial inequality is due to “black culture,” or to genetic influence on IQ.) But that doesn’t mean that, if you looked beneath the surface of every defender of segregation, you would have found that their arguments were just camouflage for animosity. Nor does it mean that you would have found a sloppy or unsophisticated thinker. To think this is to oversimplify the social dynamics of racism.

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rustypleb 04.19.14 at 5:49 pm

who denies the master’s right. What a phrase. Who? denies the Master ‘s Right.

I think you could fill a library. Encapsulate much of human history….

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Kent 04.19.14 at 6:04 pm

I just wanted to say that I, for one, found John Holbo’s original argument clear, fair, and obviously correct. And important too. It reminds me just a tad of some of the better T-N Coates posts — one investigates historical figures who we can never agree with and who yet illuminate our present thinking and quandaries in unexpected ways.

I will be thinking about this whole complex of issues for much of the day I expect. Thanks J.H.

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adam.smith 04.19.14 at 6:07 pm

@Aristodemus – the only think John and Henry disagree about is the exact meaning of the word “bigot” and John says above that he isn’t interested in debating that definition and it is, indeed, marginal to his point. If you replace “bigotry” by “hatred” (which you can, because John treats bigotry as a subset of hatred) there is no disagreement.

53

Ronan(rf) 04.19.14 at 6:15 pm

” talking about how women ought to be subordinate to men in marriage as in everything else. If we still had old-style marriages where the two people became legally one (the husband), we couldn’t have SSM because we wouldn’t have a “rational” basis for deciding who gets to be the husband.”

This is really interesting, and I’m embarrassed to say I hadn’t thought of it like this before (although obviously the concept of marriage as an evolutionary process made sense.)

What I’m wondering is, what was it that changed the nature of a traditional marriage like this ? (was it the reality of women entering the workforce that changed the dynamics of the average marriage and forced it into a more reciprocal relationship, or was it a norm created by various feminist movements that changed the way we think about marriage? * )
I assume this is probably well known to most, but I don’t really know enough about this so wondering what the arguments are..

(I guess this leads to ask why gay marriage became ‘acceptable’ when it did ? Was it specifically the result of activism for gay marriage in the 00’s ? Any ideas ? Any reading recommendations on gay marriage activism etc .. ?)

* obviously the answer is more complicated than my 2 top of the head answers ..

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ckc (not kc) 04.19.14 at 6:17 pm

But that doesn’t mean that, if you looked beneath the surface of every defender of segregation, you would have found that their arguments were just camouflage for animosity. Nor does it mean that you would have found a sloppy or unsophisticated thinker. To think this is to oversimplify the social dynamics of racism.

What would be a sophisticated argument for segregation?

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JHW 04.19.14 at 6:26 pm

ckc (not kc): Did you read John Holbo’s post? (By “sophisticated” do you perhaps mean “good” or “morally respectable”?)

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ckc (not kc) 04.19.14 at 6:28 pm

I did – you said sophisticated – please point one out.

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ckc (not kc) 04.19.14 at 6:32 pm

(my mistake – you said “not… unsophisticated”)

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James Conran 04.19.14 at 6:41 pm

I haven’t read the comments yet and maybe they will change my mind but I found this a wonderful post.

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adam.smith 04.19.14 at 6:58 pm

@ckc – “sophisticated” arguments for segregation went along two main lines and were exactly the type espoused by folks like Senator Sam: Conservativism and paternalims:
Conservatism is the one the John alludes to in his post. Segregation is part of Southern culture. Getting rid of segregation destroys important parts of Southern identity. Moreover, social institutions are fragile and imposing radical social change by fiat may lead to chaos.
Paternalism: Segregation is really for the best of black folks. Look like all the bad things happening to them in the North! Things were fine down here and they were happy until Northern troublemakers started showing up.
And various versions of both arguments. I’m not sure this counts as “sophisticated,” but it’s just as sophisticated – and possible to present in very scholarly, gentlemanlike tone – as today’s sophisticated arguments against gay marriage.
I’m not convinced that they are really all that sophisticated. I suppose you can call them “complex”. I wonder, though, whether “polite” vs “impolite” wouldn’t be the better distinction.

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The Temporary Name 04.19.14 at 7:06 pm

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JanieM 04.19.14 at 7:09 pm

Ronan — I don’t know a lot of the history either, and most of what I once knew I’ve forgotten. But the Wikipedia article on coverture might be a good starting point.

From there:

According to Canaday, “coverture was diminished … in the 1970s, as part of a broader feminist revolution in law that further weakened the principle that a husband owned a wife’s labor (including her person)…. The regime of coverture … was coming undone [in the mid-20th century]”.[28][g] In 1966, the U.S. Supreme Court said “the institution of coverture is … obsolete”[29] even while acknowledging coverture’s existence in 1–11 states.[29] In a separate opinion in the same case, Hugo Black and two others of the 9 justices[30] said the “fiction that the husband and wife are one… in reality … mean[ing] that though the husband and wife are one, the one is the husband….[,] rested on … a … notion that a married woman, being a female, is without capacity to make her own contracts and do her own business”,[31] a notion that Black “had supposed is … completely discredited”.[31] Black described modern (as of 1966) coverture as an “archaic remnant of a primitive caste system”.[31][32] Canaday wrote, “the application of equal protection law to marital relations finally eviscerated the law of coverture”[33][h] and “coverture unraveled with accelerating speed [in the late 20th century].”[27] “Coverture’s demise blunted (even if it did not eliminate) male privilege within marriage”, according to Canaday.[34]

I was born in 1950 and raised in a conservative Catholic/Baptist context such that I barely knew homosexuality existed until I was in the process of discovering I was gay myself, during college. (It took a long time. There was a lot going on.) So I have watched us come from that world to the present time, when Ellen is unremarkably on TV and not only can gay people get married in a lot of states, they can bring foreign-born spouses into the US just like heterosexuals. (Twenty years too late for me.)

I don’t know the answers to your questions as to causes, but I’d surely say “both, and a lot of other things as well” (including the sexual revolution ©).

Reading…not for the first time, though it’s more directly about the long campaign to make birth control legally available: <a href="http://www.abebooks.com/servlet/SearchResults?an=David+Garrow&sts=t&tn=Liberty+and+SexualityLiberty and Sexuality", by David Garrow.

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JanieM 04.19.14 at 7:11 pm

Link maybe fixed:

Liberty and Sexuality, by David Garrow.

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The Raven 04.19.14 at 7:13 pm

I’ll have to read this in more detail, and the comments, but off the top of my head, I think the observation that Ervin’s racism was rooted in a desire to create, validate, and maintain a system of power, rather than in direct hatred of blacks, is a valuable one. In practice this is worse than simple hatred: simple hatred cannot build a system of oppression; there will always be at least a few people who do not hate. But if a system of oppression is deployed, those people too can be brought into line, or at least marginalized. So such a system sweeps in people are not themselves haters. Institutionalized racism, in other words, gives power over the whole population, not just blacks, and to the likes of Ervin that is what it is for: it reinforces political power.

And this is very like how the opposition to gay marriage works: left to themselves, many people do not care very much if gays marry as long as they themselves can marry. But if you can go to those people and convince them that their marriage is threatened by gay marriage, and even other aspects of their lives, well, then you have something. You can stampede them. It is also what the opposition to abortion is about: that was not an issue for evangelical Protestants until the 1980s. The anti-abortion campaign that rages now stems from a cold-blooded political recognition that abortion could be made that this could be made into an issue that would unite evangelical christians behind the conservative movement.

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ckc (not kc) 04.19.14 at 7:16 pm

…a desire to create, validate, and maintain a system of power

that, I will grant, is sophisticated (though I suspect never presented as an “argument”)

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ckc (not kc) 04.19.14 at 7:30 pm

here is a “sophisticated” argument for (against?) segregation. A good argument against sophisticated arguments?

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roy belmont 04.19.14 at 7:32 pm

Moral distinctions are goal-directed. Most of the goals we have operating now are inarticulated, or so fuzzy they can’t be outlined – everyone happy, plus well-fed and comfortable! Except for those bad behavers.
The moral goals of the recent past defer to a non-human authority, or say they do. Which gets us out of the problem of defining what it is we’re doing, why, and to what end. But then we’re left with this received tradition of racist misogynist and God knows what other ists we haven’t yet identified, a lot of harmful nonsense. But it worked for those it worked for, quite well.
Locking the SSM discussion into rejection of or defense of patriarchal misogyny/sexism makes for exciting times, but there’s the much longer, truer history of humans, kind of just sitting there undiscussed.

Native American societies had many different approaches to family life and gender roles, operating successfully before European contact. Some had powerful exclusively female lines of governance working parallel to the male, some had mixed-gender councils. etc. There’s probably a more accurate picture of the “traditional” past, the deeper history of human society, in there than in the last few thousand years of Judeo-Christian Western Civ.
Some indigenous tribes had accepted places for androgynous or transgendered members. Different but equal, not separate, not the same.
Colonizing racism put the kibosh on most of the exemplary there.

The racial disparity in the US prison system is of a piece with the sheer volume of the incarcerated, and it’s a fuck of a lot more to do with economic/behavioral discrimination than it is straight-up pure racist idiocy. The racist part is beforehand, with its effects carrying the color and tone into the present.

Poverty and crime just happen to be unequally distributed among the races, because of the past’s overt racism. So, a racist system, wherein not much but marginal, vestigial actual racist bias. Folks want criminals locked up and punished, and if they happen to be oddly more often minority, too bad. Behaviorism – the new racism.
That’s being encouraged in a gambit of divide-and-conquer.

Most of us are reacting in one way or another to the present consequences of a near-immediate authority that’s provably guilty of the things it’s charged with – bigotry, racist and sexual, with misogyny especially visible, as we move out and away from it.

People inherit the whole thing, including what works in their lives, and there’s some natural reluctance to just throwing it all wide open and starting from moral first principles that aren’t nearly as obvious as they look from under the boot of the patriarchy.

Childish moral constructs like “As long as it doesn’t hurt anyone…” don’t get it.
Because what that really means is “As long as we can’t see the harm from this narrow purchase.” Much of the harm of the present moment, and there is much harm, comes from things that were not visible when they began.
AIDS, broken weather, appalling degradation of natural systems, children raised by the entertainment industry, probably other problems still obscure to us.

Reliance on tradition isn’t weak, it’s vital, but the traditions themselves have to be vital and accurate. We’re in a spot, where the consensus view that everything’s basically fine is delusional, and increasingly hard to defend.
People are thrown back on received ways that worked, for some for a while, or just pioneering the entire deal.
Neither choice seems likely to work.
Not without a clearly articulated goal for moral decision-making.

Problem there is anyone trying to get that goal fixed and clear has to take on the burden of some form of discrimination.
Or else everybody’s fine just like they are.
Or only groups with powerful economic and political voices get their needs addressed.
A muddle of self-interest isn’t going to help much. In fact it bids fair to cripple hamstring anything like serious change/return to effective methods of moral discrimination.
People who scoff at tradition of any sort, while living within the tradition-protected bounds of an inherited culture aren’t fun to listen to, and they don’t have much to offer beyond the anthemic “Gimme some a that!”

Most of us in this discussion discriminate now on rational behavioral grounds, and the modern champions of diversity sit in the middle of an often smug conviction that their “rational” discriminating is valid and true. I don’t think so.
So, while at the top of society theft is glorified by amoral predators, at the bottom theft is punished, often with inhuman severity.
That’s a moral issue whose consequences are already trumping the serious injustices of what I believe to be a false tradition. Problem is it’s the only one a lot of people have.
So what to do?
Mindless uniformity of unthought.
Scorn and contempt! Fun!
Bleagh.

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rustypleb 04.19.14 at 7:32 pm

George Fitzhugh, at the time a leading defender of the peculiar institution believed a little slavery would do the lower castes of whites some good as well, taking the paternalistic argument to it’s logical conclusion. http://docsouth.unc.edu/southlit/fitzhughcan/bio.html

What interests me is how the top of the “white supremacist” hierarchy persuaded those same whites to die in their tens and hundreds of thousands and yet to still largely support them to this day.

I suppose it must be some manipulated gut appeal to basic tribal instinct so naturally I believe it’s all about the psychology.

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Bruce Wilder 04.19.14 at 7:40 pm

Whenever I see some one making the meta argument that there are “respectable” arguments for some superannuated authoritarian nonsense, without actually making such “respectable arguments”, I am not sure whether simply raising my eyebrows in disbelief is refutation enuf, or whether a prolonged yawn might be called for.

If you are going through life under the illusion that “thinking” is an activity typified by lone lucubration, and ethical conduct requires elaborate prior analysis, sure, I suppose tired rationalizations for drinking the kool aid well after its sell by date, may be of some passing interest. For rest of us, though, it is hard to see reciting tried-and-true formulations in response to people, who just yesterday woke up to events decades in the past, as anything but sweeping up the dung, long after the parade has passed by. Cleaner streets are a good thing to be sure; best to get rid of potential poison, etc. I’m not saying it doesn’t have to be done; to the contrary, I’m in favor of keeping on. I’m just wondering if the argument is really about whether it has to be done, and if digging deeper into the individual psyche is an effective counter, when the problem is a social pathology with institutional manifestation.

To take up the example of gay marriage, it seems to me that the context has to be the Sexual Revolution and the sweeping changes to the institutionalization of sexuality that followed. Marriage in the 21st century is not what it was as recently as 1950. Reactionaries, who woke up to cultural change 30 or 40 years after the Sexual Revolution, to express their deeply felt emotional distress that the institution of marriage had changed, and subsidiary legal reforms were in order, are not going to have sophisticated arguments. At best, they might manage some creative rationalizations, but I don’t expect to be adding any to my Kindle list. You cannot remain asleep in some idyllic suburban subculture of Christian family values, with an active Cable TeeVee subscription (HBO free for three months!), and also be a fount of intellectual creativity; at best, you can be incoherent in the entertaining manner of Glenn Beck or Michelle Bachmann (does Michelle know that she’s living gay marriage?).

To me, Senator Sam is an example of a living fossil. (Well, not living now, of course, but, back when he was debating Kennedy, say, or in Watergate days.) His soft racism, his moderation, makes sense as an adaptation to an institutional environment. In its way, it facilitated an orderly decline, in ways we could discuss, by holding law and law’s high principles, apart from the exercise of raw power on behalf of customary social dominance. Some aspects of the social order were conserved as legitimate, and that helped to facilitate the isolation and reform of others, sparing all of us, the stress of complete breakdown to the social order.

I think if Sam Ervin woke like Rip Van Winkle, he would be more upset by our trashing habeas corpus and the statute of frauds — ancient principles of Angl0-Saxon Law, in his reckoning — than he would by Obama’s complexion. And, he’d be right, imho, if that reflected his true priorities. We are more threatened today, by domination by the Money Power, than Lincoln’s generation was by the Slave Power, but, apparently less aware, less able to marshal history to make our case, because we continue to rehearse old lines, and dissect old disputes, forgetting the urgency of tasks other than street sweeping for the 1960s.

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Ronan(rf) 04.19.14 at 7:52 pm

Thanks JanieM – I’ve ordered the book from my local library.

Interestingly aswell, I think , is that it’s developing in a number of countries in the west at the same time ( afaik SSM has become law in the UK (?) in the past month, there’s a referendum in ireland coming up, I’m not sure of the specifics in Europe but think it’s pretty much the same story more or less.. ) So there seem to be cross national factors at play as well (perhaps) as there were with previous revolutionary movements afaict

I’m just astonished we’re all still arguing with the most idiotic remnants of the conservative movement rather than trying to work out how this all happened : )

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rustypleb 04.19.14 at 8:06 pm

Bruce @ 67:

who denies the master’s right?

71

Bloix 04.19.14 at 8:18 pm

#38, #52 – Yes. When Christians say that SSM threatens marriage they are not mistaken – it threatens the traditional patriarchal model of marriage (not in the feminist theory sense but in the literal sense).

Until quite recently in historical terms, marriage was the union of two families, or the transfer of human chattel from one man to another, or both.

Companionate marriage is only a few hundred years old, and egalitarian marriage as a practical social institution is much newer than that – maybe 50 years old. The idea is older, but as a workable arrangement for large numbers of people, there had to be legal, effective, and widely available birth control.

Traditional Christians, who accept companionate marriage, still do not accept egalitarian marriage. For them, marriage is the foundation of the ordering of society into two spheres – production and reproduction, male and female.

SSM marriage makes sense only in the context of egalitarian marriage. If you don’t believe in egalitarian marriage, SSM looks like a grotesque mockery of the traditional relationship – it is like drag, not as entertainment but daily life. The only way it makes sense is as egalitarian marriage, and so the state sponsorship of it truly does threaten patriarchal marriage.

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Main Street Muse 04.19.14 at 9:13 pm

“SSM marriage makes sense only in the context of egalitarian marriage.”

Single sex marriage makes sense within the context of the complex web of laws in CURRENTLY place that create protections for the married couple and their children.

No church has to sanction a marriage that does not conform to its interpretations of its religious laws. But the state condones marriage through its laws. That’s why it is discrimination to bar people from the state-sanctioned protections of marriage based solely on gender.

From the OP: “But racism is, essentially, just a hierarchical notion. It really has nothing inherent to do with hate. Bigotry says someone is bad. Racism says ‘I am better’. Which implies someone is worse. But it doesn’t necessarily dwell on it, darkly, let alone violently. Racism can walk on the sunny side of the street, in its mind.”

I don’t understand how you can say you are not defining racism. You are defining racism here.

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Bruce Wilder 04.19.14 at 9:46 pm

rustypleb @ 69: “. . . who denies the master’s right?”

As Main Street Muse @ 71 reminds us, the OP sunnily defines “racism” as a mild, self-regarding, “I’m better” rather than a rude and assertive, “I’m in charge (and you’d best know your place)” (any coincidence of hateful “bigotry” with the resentment we might imagine from someone assigned to nearly share the less fortunate place is apparently left as an exercise).

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Bloix 04.19.14 at 9:47 pm

Main Street Muse – Apparently you’re talking to me, and I’d be happy to talk to you, but I don’t understand what you’re saying.

Do you think I was trying to say something about racism? No, I wasn’t. I was trying to agree with people up-thread would were talking about socially defined gender roles, marriage, religion, the state, and same-sex marriage.

75

Main Street Muse 04.19.14 at 9:54 pm

From John: “Are you saying that we already understand racism perfectly, so there’s nothing my post could add to our stock of knowledge on the subject?

Or are you saying that we don’t need to understand racism, because we know it’s bad, and that’s all we need to know?”

I do not think we can ever understand anything “perfectly.” Nor do I feel we do not need to understand racism.

I’m saying the racism of Ervin and the other Jim Crow-abiding white folks was built on hate. The racism of Richard J. Daley, mid-century boss of Chicago, was built on hate. There is a cognitive dissonance built into humans that allows us to liberally lie to ourselves. Often, our “reality” is built on a foundation of lies. Ervin’s claim to be “not racist” is an example.

“But it doesn’t fit with our paradigm racist case: hate.” This is your paradigm. Not mine. Racism – the belief that one race is superior to another – can be implemented as law only in a society that threatens “the other” with violence and terror and murder and rape and Bull Connor brutality. That’s Ervin’s racism.

Is there racism that is not hate-filled? I honestly don’t know. There is an element of hate built into the idea that you can manage an entire race better than they can, resulting in the creation of laws that elevate one race over another. Sam Ervin’s strong sense of racial hierarchies could exist only in a society devoted to upholding those hierarchies through violence.

(And just a side note, a North Carolina ex-Klansman was arrested for the recent murders at the Kansas Jewish center.)

I am touchy on this topic because, as I said before, I live in a state (NC) that is enacting racially charged laws, like voter suppression legislation enacted a few moments after SCOTUS overturned relevant sections of the Voting Rights Act.

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Main Street Muse 04.19.14 at 10:03 pm

To Bloix @73, I was mixing two very different ideas on that post. In the first part, I was responding to your post. I look at single sex marriage outside of a religious context and focus on the civil laws (not religious beliefs) that protect a married couple. What a church says about marriage is one thing; our laws codify the religious discrimination into fact.

I had a colleague who was gay and when she died not long ago, her partner of 20 years could not claim her body from the hospital – by law, she was not considered “family.” Her child was not considered by the state to be her child and so her child could to collect Social Security survivor benefits. This opened my eyes to the very real problems single sex partners face, due to laws (not religious conventions) that discriminate against them.

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Ronan(rf) 04.19.14 at 10:27 pm

Actually, JanieM, your post just made me think of Dan Sperber’s book Explaining Culture (which I haven’t read but have been meaning to and just ordered) which might be of interest.

I think Main Street Muse’s second paragraph at 75 is the important point. This is how most people live their lives and come to decisions (afaict), through arguing with people they know or through lived experiences. (My own mother, who is the best example I can think of, and who would probably never have been (really) against SSM but maybe indifferent or ambivalent came to it through watching friends children get married,or listening to examples of the injustice built into the current system. I could extend this to pretty much everyone I know, and myself I’m sure )
I have literally *never heard anyone* outside of political ideologues run with the ‘it will destroy the institution of marriage’ line, which is so idiotic it barely deserves disagreement.
This must be the most tedious part of the conservative counter argument, that they’re speaking ‘for the people,’ rather than just adding their talking point to a statistical reality (ie a group of people who object for reasons A, B ,C D ..)

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Bloix 04.19.14 at 10:40 pm

#76 – I (a straight, not particularly liberal on social issues middle aged man) was skeptical of SSM when it first emerged as an issue because it seemed so totally in contradiction with the philosophy of gay liberation.

SSM seemed to be all about gaining access certain legal benefits, particularly health insurance and immigration rights. It seemed to me that the proponents of SSM were more or less openly advocating for the right to enter into paper relationships of no emotional weight – fraudulent relationships, if you want to be uncharitable – in order to gain access to these benefits.

I didn’t change my mind until I met gay people who actually were married – in their churches – or very much wanted to be married. It was their obvious sincerity that caused me to change my mind.

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Ronan(rf) 04.19.14 at 10:42 pm

..just to add to my above. That’s not to downplay the people arguing against conservative position X, or ‘creating the reality’ to change peoples minds. That’s the important point initially (of course)

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Ronan(rf) 04.19.14 at 10:44 pm

Bloix – I see where you’re coming from, but personally I’d support it for the legal benefits alone (which are important)

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Ronan(rf) 04.19.14 at 10:47 pm

Or to expand, I’d assume some might marry for the legal benefits, some for children’s security, some for the emotional weight, some for the day out .. just like any marriage (it’s not my position to pick and choose the reasons)

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Main Street Muse 04.19.14 at 11:26 pm

@77 “SSM seemed to be all about gaining access certain legal benefits, particularly health insurance and immigration rights. It seemed to me that the proponents of SSM were more or less openly advocating for the right to enter into paper relationships of no emotional weight – fraudulent relationships, if you want to be uncharitable – in order to gain access to these benefits.”

Really? Gay men and women are seeking paper relationships of no emotional weight? I think it’s the other way around. Single sex couples have important, long-term loving (as loving as any heterosexual couple) relationships that are legally ignored by the state. And that’s wrong.

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rustypleb 04.20.14 at 12:03 am

+Re Bruce @ 72. Sorry I took a long walk in the woods. I’m not so sure about this:

“As Main Street Muse @ 71 reminds us, the OP sunnily defines “racism” as a mild, self-regarding, “I’m better” rather than a rude and assertive, “I’m in charge (and you’d best know your place)”

I lifted the phrase “who denies the master’s right” from the OP’s comment #15

“I guess the simple version of my point is that equating the psychological life of racism with hate is wrong. Racism is hierarchy, and it contains, naturally, the seeds of hate. For hell hath no fury like a master spurned by a slave who denies the master’s right.”

That phrase, to copy the notion from whom…. Belle? Wins the internet today for me. I stated in 23 I believe at it’s core racism is one of many tactics used by the entitled to justify the same. As Johnnybutter put it in the previous thread (more or less) in cold blood.

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Barry 04.20.14 at 12:31 am

John: “Pulling it all together: animosity towards blacks – wishing them ill, for ill’s sake – is not the center of the picture. What is important is that good things for blacks should flow down from a morally and socially hierarchical peak, inhabited by the likes of Ervin. There is also an intense just world hypothesis-grade refusal to admit anything really bad could be happening, and have happened.”

John, IMHO you confusing things here. You confuse justifications with reasons. You confuse moderation in public word with moderation in private deeds. You confuse stated intent and confessed knowledge with actual intent and actual knowledge.

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John Holbo 04.20.14 at 12:49 am

““But racism is, essentially, just a hierarchical notion. It really has nothing inherent to do with hate. Bigotry says someone is bad. Racism says ‘I am better’. Which implies someone is worse. But it doesn’t necessarily dwell on it, darkly, let alone violently. Racism can walk on the sunny side of the street, in its mind.”

I don’t understand how you can say you are not defining racism. You are defining racism here.”

No, for the third time I’m not crafting a definition of racism. But I am touching on what I take to be the conceptual core of racism, which is hierarchy. What’s confusing you is that you take me to be saying that racism is inherently non-hateful. Hence you wrote: “Defining racism as some kind of non-hateful means to maintain a hierarchy of white superiority over blacks is a stretch.” It wouldn’t be just a stretch. It would be plainly nuts.

The logical mistake you are making analogous to the following one. The definition of ‘cat’ does not include ‘is brown’. Therefore cats are being defined as non-brown. Therefore, there can’t be any brown cats. I take it you see the problem clearly enough in the cat case. You can say that X is not inherently Y while not denying that X is sometimes or even almost always Y.

But again, I am not defining ‘racism’. I’m just trying to shed some light on how it works in some cases that I take to be fairly normal cases.

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John Holbo 04.20.14 at 1:01 am

Barry: ” You confuse justifications with reasons. You confuse moderation in public word with moderation in private deeds. You confuse stated intent and confessed knowledge with actual intent and actual knowledge.”

Barry, I take it you think it has simply failed to occur to me that Sam Ervin might have been a liar, rather than self-deceived. In this you are quite mistaken: I have duly considered both options and have opted for self-deceived as the more likely of the two, based on the evidence. So tell me: why do you think the other option is more likely? Is it just that you don’t believe that someone could exhibit as much cognitive dissonance as I attribute to Sam Ervin. Or is it that specific facts about Sam Ervin’s career suggest to you a different interpretation than I offer?

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js. 04.20.14 at 1:02 am

I don’t know. I think a lot of people might not see a lot of daylight between ‘defining’ and ‘identifying the conceptual core’. And one can see why. Admittedly, you said ‘touching on the conceptual core’ but that really can sound a lot like ‘touching on the definition’. Sorry if this is a bit of a distraction. (As it happens, I mostly agree with you on the conceptual core, tho I’m also with Abigail, etc. in not being terribly bothered about psychological profiles.)

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Bloix 04.20.14 at 1:07 am

#81 – I try not to be snarky but I suppose actually reading is not required in order to comment.

You may remember that among the themes of gay liberation were that sexual liberation was a positive good, that having sex with many partners was liberating, that monogamy was repressive, that marriage was an oppressive institution, and that having children was a way of destroying personal freedom (remember “breeders”)?

When SSM first became a political issue, it was often framed in terms of obtaining health insurance or immigration rights. And if you didn’t care about monogamy or children, you’d marry a friend to get the friend health insurance if he really needed it (i.e. had AIDS), wouldn’t you?

And so I was skeptical. It seemed like a desperate effort to get health insurance for people who were dying, not about winning the right to have genuine relationships recognized by society.

But eventually I met gay people who actually were married – in their churches – and they lived like married people – committed to each other. Not arguments by analogy with race or from first principles.

I still find it a strange turn of events that “we’re here, we’re queer, get used to it” is now “we’re just like straight people, and all we want is to marry and raise children and serve in the military.”

89

JanieM 04.20.14 at 1:30 am

I still find it a strange turn of events that “we’re here, we’re queer, get used to it” is now “we’re just like straight people, and all we want is to marry and raise children and serve in the military.”

I went out to dinner and came back to find the comment about “paper relationships of no emotional weight” and it quite literally took my breath away, so that between hurt and fury I just walked away for a while.

The people who said “we’re here, we’re queer, get used to it” never spoke for me, even if I agreed with and appreciated aspects of the point they thought they were making.

Nor do the others speak for me, if indeed they actually exist, who are now allegedly saying “all we want is to marry and raise children and serve in the military.”

Only I speak for me, and like millions of other people, I’m actually a lot more complicated than an over-simplified caricature of some already over-simplified political slogans can convey or encompass.

Just like straight people.

At least that part is correct.

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Kurt Newman 04.20.14 at 1:42 am

Apologies if this is redundant.

As I see it, the central principle of racism is “hierarchy” in a particular sense: an Aristotelian differentiation of human and non-human that is the inaugurating moment of politics. For this politician, the African Americans in his midst were, in some powerful sense, beings whose voices produced noise and not speech. The concern for order (which Northern liberals often assumed was the motivating force behind Southern resistance to desegregation) was not in fact central in the minds of Southern elites–or at least not, as far as I can tell, in any way different from the common sense argument that animals should not have political rights.

Why racism must be understood psychologically is that the distinction of human/non-human, speech/noise that renders African Americans non-members of the politically community is empirically groundless–it is, in a precise way, a kind of psychosis. From this–the history of modern racism and the madness of the human sciences and the ugliness of popular culture until very very recently (we would be correct to think of this as an unfinished project). The living refutation of the feeble distinctions abound. To persist with the kind of worldview that Ervin did is a lot of work. It requires the coordination of certain ideas and representations and money and institutional knowledges. The picture here seems anemic when measured against these prerogatives.

Anti-gay feeling is different from anti-African American racism or anti-Semitism or misogyny (though there have been, of course, endless historical permutations and combinations). There is, in the first instance, an ideological investment in what Lee Edelman famously calls “reproductive futurism”–Malthusian anxiety about social reproduction, focused in the figure of the “child.” There is, as Judith Butler notes, an obsession with same-sex sex and the disgust it generates (a disgust that produces a kind of energetic joy for homophobes, apparently).

I think these affective differences make the two hatreds analogous but not identical. Friedersdorf’s solicitude for anti-gay conservatives is, I think, totally misplaced and certainly completely off the mark as far as historians go (liberal and left historians are nothing if not dedicated to the idea that reactionaries ought to be studied sympathetically, as in the Klan literature of the last 30 years, and the new literature on the Right). So, one thinks with one’s enemies, understands that the politics is motivated and coherent, in its way, and not simply “paranoid” (though I think we ought to call it “paranoid” when it is). But beyond that history remains the site of these shabby and degraded ideological projects and ugly schema of domination and exploitation. I find the presentation above unconvincing to the degree that it abstracts from this basic truth.

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JanieM 04.20.14 at 1:45 am

Ronan@76, thanks for the Sperber reference. I’ll put it on my “check it out” list.

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Main Street Muse 04.20.14 at 1:51 am

What’s confusing me is that you keep saying you are not defining racism when in fact you are. “But racism is, essentially, just a hierarchical notion. It really has nothing inherent to do with hate.” How is that NOT a definition of racism? What are you doing, if not defining racism?

Your problem is the example you pick to show this particular kind of racism. You picked a white cat, John, to show how white cats can claim to like black cats. But you picked a white cat whose life was devoted to keeping the black cats in cages. They needed to be in cages. Not because the white cat hated the black cats, but because naturally, black cats should be in cages. And white cats, naturally, should be free make that determination. So of course, it’s not hatred. But to keep those black cats in those cages, Bull Connor’s snarling dogs were essential.

Sam Ervin remains with us today. We see his legacy in Reagan’s welfare queen, in the NC GOP operative interviewed on the Daily Show, in Paul Ryan’s discussion of “this tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work…” Maybe those are all the non-brown examples of racism – that racism focused on hierarchy, the sunny side of the street kind of racism. Whatever. It’s insidious. And it grows fat on hate.

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John Holbo 04.20.14 at 2:20 am

“I don’t know. I think a lot of people might not see a lot of daylight between ‘defining’ and ‘identifying the conceptual core’. And one can see why.”

I’m just resistant to defining a term like ‘racism’. Necessary and sufficient conditions and all that. As Nietzsche says: nothing with a history can be defined. It’s too complicated and mixed up with social and institutional factors. Racism may be extremely different in societies and institutional contexts, depending on other beliefs and factors etc. But I do think it’s important to try to impose some conceptual order on the domain, at least to start us out; and it seems to me that hierarchy – superior/inferior – is a better candidate for a core than hate.

This isn’t perfectly self-evident or anything. In a sense there are no right or wrong answers, just different points of focus. I would favor trying to answer all such questions by means of historical and cultural and sociological analysis rather than abstract definition.

Example: another book I’ve been reading recently is “Romans and Aliens” by the excellently named John Percy Vyvian Dacre Balsdon.

http://www.amazon.com/Romans-Aliens-Percy-Vyvian-Balsdon/dp/0807813834

Obviously this isn’t like Cowboys and Aliens. ‘Alien’ is non-Roman. How did the Romans think about non-Romans?

Were the ancient Romans racists about non-Roman ‘peoples’? A lot of scholars want to say no, because they lacked a lot of what we think of as ‘modern’ ideology of race. They didn’t have Bull Connors, when it came to race, would be a very operationally crude way to put it. (Balsdon’s book isn’t setting out to answer this question, but it’s relevant to it.) This is perfectly reasonable, as far as it goes, but there’s something to be said for taking a broader view.

This is too much for a comment, but one thing that I think is important is that a figure like Sam Ervin is – or may be – a lot closer to the Roman model than we tend to assume. Conjoin that with the standard thought that the Romans really weren’t racists, in the modern sense, and you get … well, you get some odd results which I would resolve by saying, not that modern racists like Ervin aren’t modern racists, after all, but that we ought to revise our concepts somewhat, the better to see what modern racists have in common with, say, the Romans in their attitudes towards ‘aliens’ – that is, members of other ‘races’.

For example, Muse assumes it’s just obvious that, “There is an element of hate built into the idea that you can manage an entire race better than they can, resulting in the creation of laws that elevate one race over another.” You can’t have Sam Ervin without Bull Connor (although even saying that grants my point, which is that they are different.)

Anyway, to me it isn’t so obvious that you can’t have Sam Ervin without Bull Connor because I’m taking a more historical view, whereas (I think) Muse is getting a bit too hung up about definitions. The Romans had Sam Ervins, in a sense; but, I think, they didn’t really build up from a base of Bull Connors. They certainly elevated ‘peoples’ over other peoples, and had definite views about proper order and rightful hierarchy, even though they didn’t have a rigid and reified modern conception of race. They thought Romans were ‘better'; could run the circus better than anyone else – and a very gratifying and self-flattering thought this was. This wasn’t because they hated everyone who wasn’t a Roman. Rome wasn’t built in a day, so it isn’t simple or anything. But, even if we wanted a good oversimplification, I don’t think ‘Rome was built on hatred of aliens’ would be our best candidate.

This really is too much too much for one comment. So if someone attacks my speculations about the Romans and Ervin as outrageous and offensive and wrong I am quite likely just to ignore such attacks on the grounds that I really haven’t explained my view on the subject – or even thought them through to my own satisfaction! – so how could you possibly know I’m saying something outrageous and offensive and wrong! Don’t get offended if I ignore you taking offense! (I kid, I kid!)

In short: when I say ‘conceptual core’, I’m not trying to make a definition. I’m just trying to find a plausible starting point for a historical and sociological and cultural investigation. Also, it is perfectly possible that, in the end, we will revise the core, in light of what we think we’ve learned.

Also, maybe the connection with Rome makes clear that – whether my analysis is correct or not – I’m not just engaging in psychoanalysis. Saying ‘maybe Sam Ervin was more like an ancient Roman than we think, given that he was a modern racist’ is a way of opening up a non-psychological question.

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js. 04.20.14 at 2:21 am

Re Holbo vs. MS Muse:

So, I may be totally misreading both of you here (probably am!), but it sounds to me like the disagreement is something like the following.

Holbo says: Look, the racism of Sam Ervine is really not like the racism of Bull Connor. Of course, Ervine’s brand of racism is very bad — it’s insidious, it’s effective, etc., but it’s also a lot more complex, psychologically and otherwise. There’s self-deception going on, etc. We really should understand it for what it is and not conflate it with Bull Connor-style racism.

MS Muse though is I think saying something like: Look, you’re missing that it’s basically like a good cop/bad cop routine. You’re all focused on the psychological complexity of the good cop, and sure maybe the good cop is a lot more interesting psychologically. But you’re neglecting that the good cop is by definition one half of a team, the other half of which is the bad cop (i.e., Bull Connor). You’re making them seem oppositional or at least disconnected, but this is a fundamental misunderstanding. There is, in the relevant sense, no good cop without the bad cop to complete the job, and so also there’s no Sam Ervine going on about paternalism and harmony unless there’s also Bull Connor around to turn on the hoses when necessary.

My reconstruction of MS Muse’s position may be entirely off (MS Muse: please let me know!), but it is I think a position that makes a whole lot of sense.

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js. 04.20.14 at 2:23 am

My 93 crossed with Holbo’s 92. Get back to you on that.

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Patrick 04.20.14 at 2:28 am

Some scattered thoughts after reading the comment thread:

We need to remember that racism (not just in thought but in word and deed) isn’t just compatible with “soft segregation,” but with support of particular agendas that reduce institutionalized racism. Starting from white abolitionists we have racists fighting for reduced power of racist systems. LBJ was very much a racist, but also threw his full weight behind civil rights laws, eventually.

Along those lines we need to remember that racism is not the sole property of revanchist conservatism, and that no white person should ever be certain that racism has no grip on their own thinking. Institutions and customs of white dominated society marginalize black and other PoC experiences in most every circle, not just conservative ones.

Indeed the main effect of the taboo on racism is not to make racism intolerable, but to make accusations of racism difficult. White leftists and liberals both are keen to recognize this tendency among the right-wing, but white leftists or liberals play by a similar script. Denying racist intention, pointing out positive contributions, tone policing, derailment, etc. Yes the left knows better than to say “some of my best friends are black,” but, you can make a thoroughly cliché action movie without actually putting everyone in long dark jackets.

While following the lead of many black queer thinkers I am hesitant to accept the framing of the (not even close to completion) struggle for racial liberation with the struggles for queer liberation, our concepts of homophobia, heteronormativity, cisnormativity, transphobia, etc. need to be similarly able to accept that someone actively for one particular facet of queer liberation can still be in both heart and action supporting other forms of homophobia, or transphobia.

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js. 04.20.14 at 2:41 am

one thing that I think is important is that a figure like Sam Ervin is – or may be – a lot closer to the Roman model than we tend to assume. Conjoin that with the standard thought that the Romans really weren’t racists, in the modern sense, and you get … well, you get some odd results which I would resolve by saying, not that modern racists like Ervin aren’t modern racists, after all, but that we ought to revise our concepts somewhat, the better to see what modern racists have in common with, say, the Romans in their attitudes towards ‘aliens’ – that is, members of other ‘races’.

First off, I’m not interested in the “hate” business, because I suspect that there’s some sort of confusion/slippage between thinking of it as a proper affective state (the way you are — rightly) and something more broadly attitudinal, don’t know what exactly.

Anyway, that quoted bit. That is… bizarre? You have of course anticipated this response. But here’s one question: why think there’s anything relevantly common about Roman institutions dealing with non–Romans and Sam Ervine’s positions re the status of blacks in the South? I put the question that way in light of your comment at the end about “opening up a non-psychological question”? I’m inclined to think of racism in institutional terms, so when I hear “non-psychological question”, I think: institutional question, roughly. And I completely fail to imagine what the relevant institutional similarities might be between the two cases. I suppose you mean something else, I’m just not sure what.

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Ronan(rf) 04.20.14 at 2:55 am

Tangentially to the heading and the general gist of the post.
Growing up, around our way, you (the collective) would use boy all the time. As in ‘well boy.’ (No racial connotations) ‘Well’ being ‘hello.’
Except boy would be pronounced ‘ba’ or at times ‘be.’ (not bee, but beh. Kind off) The travellers (gypsies) might say ‘boss’ (which caught on a little, but not enough to make a larger change) ‘Dude’ was rare to the point of non-existent. I tried to bring in bro.
I had a friend who grew up in London but came back in his early teens who used to say bey. (as in beeeee (h) – baaaa with e(h) )
He had an amalgamated London/Irish accent so when he’d greet you (well bey) it would sound like a sheep gasping for its last breathe.
He was a good dude.

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Clay Shirky 04.20.14 at 3:03 am

The last thing this thread needs is more arguments with broad but ill-defined ontological commitments, so here’s one now: Is there really any such thing as a “religious reason”?

One of the things Friedersdorf does is to trot out a bigot who insist’s she’s not one, because Jesus. (http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2014/04/a-23-year-old-gay-marriage-opponent-explains-herself/360518/) Reading her defense of discriminating against her fellow citizens, and reading Conor’s oddly indirect defense of her beliefs — “should society stigmatize this young woman as a bigot and punish her professionally for the mix of attitudes and beliefs expressed above?” — crystallized this question for me.

Is there any way in which holding a religious belief is different than holding a belief? Which is to say, is there any way in which her explanation that she has no personal hatred of same-sex couples, and does not like to be viewed negatively for her views, but has to hold those views anyway because of her religion, is separate from her holding a belief and not wanting to suffer because of it?

Now this question is sensitive to context, of course, but the American context includes 44% of the country changing religions at least once, as well as widespread selective ignoring of clear religious requirements; most Christian congregations have between 75% and 90% rates of non-tithing, despite the Bible being considerably clearer on tithing than on homosexuality.

I’m not proposing re-ajudicating the First Amendment with brain scans — if you hang with a group of people who all avow that the Creator of the Universe hates fags, you should be covered for expressing that view in public in most of the same situations you would be covered if declaiming the C. of the U. loves little children.

I am proposing, however, that ordinary citizens should not be swayed by these arguments at all. We should instead regard the explanatory power of the last three words of “I believe we should withhold marriage from same-sex couples for religious reasons” as having no more or less explanatory content than “I believe the earth revolves around the sun for school reasons.”

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John Holbo 04.20.14 at 3:12 am

“why think there’s anything relevantly common about Roman institutions dealing with non–Romans and Sam Ervine’s positions re the status of blacks in the South?”

Short answer: because Romans aimed at the glory that is Rome, and Sam Ervin aimed at the next-to-heavenliness that is North Carolina.

Look, I realize that what I’m saying is highly non-standard. I’m not asking you to accept what I’m saying on my say-so. I’m just mentioning the sort of thing I’m thinking about, generally, to emphasize that I’m exploring some rather counter-intuitive comparative options. People keep asking: what’s the point? And I find this a bit baffling, because isn’t it interesting? But I guess people are bothered by: is this just some kind of psychoanalysis of Sam Ervin? And I’m saying: well, no. It’s not supposed to be just that. Of course, if it turns out I’m wrong in saying ‘maybe we should understand the likes of Ervin a bit more on the ancient Roman model’ … well, then I’m wrong. But at least I’m wrong in an institutional sense, not just in an ‘I’m a bad psychoanalyst’ way.

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StevenAttewell 04.20.14 at 3:17 am

“If the goal is changing hearts and minds, rather than simple moral outrage, understanding the specifics of the hearts and minds that one is trying to change is important”

I think this misses something rather important, which might account for why people are to an extent talking past each other here. The hearts and minds being changed don’t belong to the Ervins of the world – they belong to the persuadables, who are often part of a quite different kettle of fish. The Civil Rights Act wasn’t passed by getting Ervin to vote for it, or by persuading southern whites to vote for someone who would – it was passed by assembling a different electoral and Congressional majority that didn’t include white southerners.

Likewise, the advances made in gay rights in recent years – and they are recent, since 2010 – hasn’t come by changing the minds of the Rick Santorums of the world. Support for gay rights still tracks strongly with college and post-college education, urban and suburban vs. rural, liberal to moderate democrat vs. conservative republican, etc. and polls of majority support by state map on to the partisan divide in the U.S pretty clearly. To the extent that there’s been movement, a lot of it is due to demographic shifts and changes in turnout, changes among jurists and other elites, and some movement in the middle but not on the right.

But to read the analogy backwards – if we’re looking for the parallel of people who shifted on gay marriage back in the 60s, you’re mostly looking at white middle class voters outside of the south. That’s the psychology you need to understand. Dirskens, not Ervins.

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John Holbo 04.20.14 at 3:18 am

“I completely fail to imagine what the relevant institutional similarities might be between the two cases.”

Aristocracy, hierarchy, oligarchy, class stratification, power brokerage maintained by patronage relations. Read the post again – the bit from Howard Lee about what Ervin felt was threatened civil rights. It was a paternalistic system, in which an oligarchic, landed aristocracy maintained its privileged position as ruling caste by being able to dispense goods through a kind of patronage system. This is not an utterly un-Roman way to run the railroad, although I freely admit that you would not want to push the analogy too far.

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John Holbo 04.20.14 at 3:19 am

Here’s one way in which the Romans were different. They didn’t suffer a lot of false-consciousness about what they were up to.

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Bloix 04.20.14 at 3:37 am

#88 – JamieM, your breath is taken away because you are not reading. I am trying to explain my evolution. Most straight Americans have undergone an evolution like mine, if polls and votes are to be believed. The President not too long ago made quite a public spectacle of his belated evolution. Perhaps it would be better if we were all to pretend that we were never prejudiced, that we always understood. But that would be false.

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Bruce Wilder 04.20.14 at 3:41 am

[The Romans] didn’t have Bull Connors, when it came to race, would be a very operationally crude way to put it.

And, operationally inaccurate, since the Roman state was all about organizing legions of Bull Connors’s and worse.

Hierarchy implies domination, and the Romans practiced an extreme form of domination, even if they didn’t bother with rationalizations structured around “race”.

What are the payoffs from domination? How is hierarchy applied to obtain those payoffs? That might be less dramatic, but more on point, than tracking affective “hate” and its cognates.

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Bloix 04.20.14 at 3:51 am

#99 – “the advances made in gay rights in recent years – and they are recent, since 2010 – hasn’t come by changing the minds of the Rick Santorums of the world.”

Oh, but it has. There’s been massive movement among church-going Catholics like Santorum. Over half now support SSM.

“A majority of Catholics in the United States who attend Mass weekly support same-sex marriage… The survey found that 56% of Americans, 53% of Catholics who attend Mass weekly, and 65% of Catholics who attend Mass less frequently would support “a law in your state that would allow same-sex couples to get married.”

http://www.catholicculture.org/news/headlines/index.cfm?storyid=19267

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John Holbo 04.20.14 at 3:55 am

“And, operationally inaccurate, since the Roman state was all about organizing legions of Bull Connors’s and worse.”

I’m just saying that the legions were not organized on a principle of race-hatred. I’m not denying that they had weaponry.

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John Holbo 04.20.14 at 3:56 am

“Hierarchy implies domination, and the Romans practiced an extreme form of domination”

Precisely.

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Deadbyedon 04.20.14 at 4:09 am

I still find it a strange turn of events that “we’re here, we’re queer, get used to it” is now “we’re just like straight people, and all we want is to marry and raise children and serve in the military.”

Setting aside the fact that no one has said precisely the latter, perhaps your ‘confusion’ can be alleviated by recognizing that few members of the second group (white, middle-class, middle-aged gay men of the HRC) never belonged to or needed to proclaim slogans from the first.

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Lee A. Arnold 04.20.14 at 4:09 am

Here is where I part ways with modernity. Hierarchy is no more basic than racism. Racism is a hatred, and hierarchy is a vainglory. The social and historical contingencies and concomitants are important but not primary.

Sins are both moral and psychological, and cause actions, and also cause shapes in the material world. Thus we pre-moderns have all the bases covered.

“Hierarchy” has a different meaning in systems theory, by the way, and social scientists should be ashamed of the way they have commandeered the word to label social power relations, in much the same way that economists should be ashamed of the way they use “ecological” in “ecological rationality”. Shame however is also a premodern concept, so perhaps no one will care.

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js. 04.20.14 at 4:18 am

Aristocracy, hierarchy, oligarchy, class stratification, power brokerage maintained by patronage relations.

I frankly don’t know enough about Roman institutions to really engage you here (which is not say I might not sound off later!), but I am not sure how helpful something as abstract as “class stratification” is going to be all that helpful, esp. since I don’t think that the social classes that composed ancient Rome are anything like the social classes that composed the American South. (I’ll stand by that even after someone points out to me that both had slaves.) Similarly, I don’t think that aristocracy in anything like the Roman sense existed in the American South. Etc.

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bianca steele 04.20.14 at 4:31 am

People keep asking: what’s the point? And I find this a bit baffling, because isn’t it interesting?

Actually, it’s kind of like the Eschaton scene in Infinite Jest when the kids are playing a roleplaying Global Thermonuclear War scenario, and they confuse the map with the territory and start beating each other up, and Hal just sits there and watches because it’s very fascinating and there’s an idea somewhere in all of it that he can’t quite catch yet. And that is something I never thought I’d say.

Clearly the problem is with defining “hierarchy” not “racism” if “hierarchy” doesn’t have to concern itself with subordinate. Otherwise it sounds like Esalen or “I’m OK You’re OK”. (Or else what Kurt Newman describes @ 89.) And whatever else you might say, I will never be convinced that conservatives like Friedersdorf are promoting the values of Esalen instead of, say, what normal people think of when they hear the word “hierarchy.”

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john c. halasz 04.20.14 at 4:34 am

After the 3rd Punic War, Carthage was famously “sown with salt”. To be clear, the Romans didn’t just sack the city and enslave its surviving inhabitants, which practices were par for the course in the ancient world and long after. Their legions stayed for a year after victory, dismantling and destroying everything, stone by stone. (No Phoenician writings survive, despite the fact that by most accounts, they invented alphabetic writing; all that survives are slanders from their enemies, mostly Roman, though some Biblical). The modern estimate is that about 500,000 people perished in the process. To put that into perspective, at its height, the Roman Empire had a population of 17 million, by modern estimates. So the Roman lack of “modern” racial animus is small comfort.

David Graeber had some interesting comments on the origins of “negative liberty” in Roman law. He points out that the idea that the property owner had complete disposal over his property, as the defining basis of “liberty”, makes little sense, unless one understands that the “property” in question is slaves. I doubt Sam Ervin was anywhere near that malicious in intention, but his plantation forebearers might have been quite correct in their idea that they were upholding a certain tradition of “republican” liberty.

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js. 04.20.14 at 4:40 am

It was a paternalistic system, in which an oligarchic, landed aristocracy maintained its privileged position as ruling caste by being able to dispense goods through a kind of patronage system.

Sorry, it was an ‘aristocratic system’ in a metaphorical sense, more or less. Legally and institutionally, an aristocracy didn’t exist. Unless you mean something quite else by ‘aristocracy’. But what? And no, white people in the South didn’t maintain their privileged position as a ruling class by dispensing goods through etc. — they maintained it by forcibly and violently denying black people their constitutional political rights and other social and economic rights and opportunities. The dispensing goods bit might have made them feel warm and fuzzy inside as they thought about their awesomeness, but it was categorically not the mechanism through which they maintained their position of privilege.

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js. 04.20.14 at 4:41 am

When I talk about ‘constitutional political rights’ in my last comment, I mean the Jim Crow ear. For the antebellum South, drop that bit; the rest stands.

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Lee A. Arnold 04.20.14 at 5:17 am

Definition of hierarchy? There are at least two kinds of hierarchies, after Salthe:

1. Extensional: Scale or composition hierarchies; often spatially nested. E.g. [individual-family-lineage-clan-tribe], [line-beat-scene-act-drama], [quark-particle-atom-molecule-compound]. Members of the lower level are often combined into new units having emergent properties.

2. Intentional thought: Specification, classification and control hierarchies; directed (sometimes temporally) in either or both ways as a sequence. E.g. a business management hierarchy, an automated control system, and some logical hierarchies: [measurement-calculation-theory-law], [mathematical semigroup-group-ring-field]. Units at the lower level have input to higher levels but do not compound to emerge as higher level units.

These can exist in pure form, but real hierarchies also can overlap the kinds, or segue into one another.

The reason it is important to keep “hierarchy” free from definition as “power domination” is because there is no other current word for a chain of levels, whether it is scalar or specificatory. And the concept may be important in many other areas: cognition, mereology, coarse/fine graining, set theory, etc.

Power domination is an intentional hierarchy which may employ other extensional ones (e.g. nation-state-region-locality) to exert its control. But I imagine that power domination itself is usually only two important levels anyway: the controllers and the controlled, with the minions in between. Thus, power domination is an intellectually paltry form of hierarchy.

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John Holbo 04.20.14 at 5:25 am

“Legally and institutionally, an aristocracy didn’t exist. Unless you mean something quite else by ‘aristocracy’.”

Well, but black people are born from black people and white people are born from white people. Just for starters.

“And no, white people in the South didn’t maintain their privileged position as a ruling class by dispensing goods through etc. — they maintained it by forcibly and violently denying black people their constitutional political rights and other social and economic rights and opportunities. The dispensing goods bit might have made them feel warm and fuzzy inside as they thought about their awesomeness, but it was categorically not the mechanism through which they maintained their position of privilege.”

Probably I should just drop the Rome stuff and shift to the North Carolina stuff (who knows, maybe that will even make Muse less touchy about all this!) Just for the record: I am not now, nor have I at any time, maintained in any simple and ludicrous sense, that North Carolina was exactly the same as ancient Rome. Clear?

On we go. I’m quoting from Campbell’s biography here:

“These men [the North Carolina ruling class] shared a vision of conservative modernization based on white supremacy, minimal government, social hierarchy, low wages, and anti-unionism. In spite of the growing contradictions inherent in their ideology—such as preserving social inequality while championing equal opportunity—or maybe because of these contradictions, the New South elites dedicated themselves to defeat any and all challenges to the political status quo. But as long as they remained securely in control, these Christian gentlemen felt a moral obligation to take care of their citizens. Historian William Chafe has described their philosophy as a “progressive mystique.” The essential element of this ideological self-perception was paternalism, or governing those under one’s care in a manner similar to the way in which a traditional father cares for this children—firmly but lovingly. Chafe suggested that to maintain their power these Tar Heel elites combined their paternalism with a strict code of gentlemanly civility in all social interactions, and with token gifts of privilege or opportunity to appease occasional dissatisfaction from below. A similar political culture dominated politics at the state level. The most famous description of North Carolina in the first half of the twentieth century was coined by V. O. Key, who called the state a “Progressive Plutocracy.” Key observed that the state enjoyed “a reputation for progressive outlook and action in many phases of life, especially industrial development, education, and race relations.” But Key also described the state’s dominant leadership as a plutocracy of businessmen and their lawyers who maintained strict control over the state’s government.”

This is pretty deep in the local weeds. My point is, again, not to convince you that North Carolina was exceptional, although it is Campbell’s view that it was rather distinctive. My point is to clear away the notion that the only possible interest in studying a figure like Sam Ervin is engaging in armchair psychoanalysis. The point isn’t that – or not just that. There are interesting institutional questions, although of course you are free to be bored by them. And of course you are free to feel skeptical about the correctness of the analysis.

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John Holbo 04.20.14 at 5:40 am

“his plantation forebearers might have been quite correct in their idea that they were upholding a certain tradition of “republican” liberty.”

It’s a first! John C. Halasz and John Holbo agree about something! Good for us!

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John Holbo 04.20.14 at 5:42 am

A couple comments – Clay’s upthread, and someone else’s, so far up the thread that I can’t even see it now – got caught in moderation and were only just now turned on. Apologies for that.

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john c. halasz 04.20.14 at 5:47 am

There is “primordial” fear and loathing of the other. Then there is the world in which there is an other of the other, which is the political world. No one possesses any immunity from this world. And whatever rationalizations one develops for such a world or one’s respective position in it, I fail to see why one should expect them to be entirely coherent or fully intentional. That leaves room for “racisms” of all sorts. (American, nor Yankee exceptionalism can claim no special privilege).

Which is kinda what is so irritating about these sorts of one-sided discussions, in which everyone competes to be “in the right”, and abhor (any contamination by) what is wrong with the world. No such “metaphysics of presence”, i.e. no such assumption of full intentionality, is possible, without accounting (impossibly) at the same time for the material conditions and structural constraints that render actual specific intentions and corresponding potentials or dispositions possible. And correspondingly, there is no one single continuous line of racism operating invariably throughout the course of a history. Rather there are material conditions and socio-structural constraints that leave there legacy effects, which “empirically” regenerate varying forms of intentional or attitudinal racism, but in changing contexts. E.P. Thompson spoke of sparing the denizens of the past from “the enormous condescension of posterity”, though in a specific context and perhaps not with full generality. But the general point would be how our mis-recognitions of (the legacies) of the past contribute to our failures to “see” present situations with any “clarity”. If we are at all to undo the material scarcities and twisted structures that have given rise to present predicaments.

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Bruce Wilder 04.20.14 at 5:56 am

Lee A. Arnold: Racism is a hatred, and hierarchy is a vainglory.

I really do not understand where you’re going with these declarations about hierarchy.

I might claim that socio-economic hierarchy is concentrating wealth and power, and racism is a rationalization and a political means.

In all these discussions I have yet to see an argument for how or why racism is hatred. Is social hierarchy implicated? Are shame and humiliation? Is contempt involved?

Are you arguing that the economic payoffs are mere incidents, while affective passions (can there be any other kind?) are primary motivators of racism?

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js. 04.20.14 at 6:13 am

JH @117:

1. “Black people are born black people…” That’s a fair point, and I’ll have to think more about the aristocracy stuff.

2. The long quote about Ervin etc. (sorry I kept misspelling his name), only shows that there was a certain conception of social hierarchy afoot among a certain set of white supremacists. Even if I were to take this entirely at face value, which for the purposes of the argument I’m happy to, it doesn’t at all speak to what I was saying.

You had originally said that the dominant class in the South (i.e. white people, or rich white people) “maintained its privileged position as a ruling caste [I’d prefer ‘class’ — js.] by being able to dispense goods through a kind of patronage system.”

This is straightforwardly a causal claim about how the dominant white class maintained its position of privilege — about what causal mechanism was responsible for this. I think the claim is false, and I don’t see how a quote about what certain people thought would be the ideal social hierarchy says anything about that one way or the other. I mean, you’re surely not denying that black people more or less continuously tried to win or assert their rights and were violently suppressed, again continuously?

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Lee A. Arnold 04.20.14 at 7:06 am

Bruce Wilder #121: “Are you arguing that the economic payoffs are mere incidents, while affective passions (can there be any other kind?) are primary motivators of racism?”

Neither one, exactly. I think that economic payoffs are not MERE incidents, because they can encourage or inculcate racism as feedback, through vanity. But I don’t think racism is MOTIVATED by an affective passion, I think it IS one, a form of hatred. I have observed poor whites who didn’t want to be accidentally touched by a black person on a bus, brushing by to get down the aisle. It was just physical revulsion — and similar to some anti-gay revulsion. I am not sure why we need the existence of the social-economic hierarchy concentrating wealth and power to explain this.

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John Holbo 04.20.14 at 7:08 am

“You had originally said that the dominant class in the South (i.e. white people, or rich white people) “maintained its privileged position as a ruling caste [I’d prefer ‘class’ — js.] by being able to dispense goods through a kind of patronage system.””

No, I didn’t generalize to the whole South. I was following Campbell in talking about the dominant class in North Carolina, i.e. Ervin’s home state, the point being that it was politically distinctive. North Carolina wasn’t the same as Alabama or Mississippi. Looking back at the passage from the Campbell bio we have a quote from the first black mayor of a North Carolina town, talking about the system under Ervin. He generalizes a bit to ‘the South’ but I think it’s reasonable to say he’s thinking locally, talking about what he knows.

“I mean, you’re surely not denying that black people more or less continuously tried to win or assert their rights and were violently suppressed, again continuously?”

Why would I be denying this?

But maybe this will help: one thing that Campbell mentions – I can’t find the quote – is that the North Carolina ruling class was proud that they had less violence and racial conflict in their state, at least up until the mid 50’s. They chalked it up to their more ‘progressive’ form of Jim Crow. All this started to seriously unravel after the first Brown decision. Ervin’s soft strategy for resisting civil rights was untenable, as the civil rights struggle intensified.

“I don’t see how a quote about what certain people thought would be the ideal social hierarchy says anything about that one way or the other.”

Well, perhaps it’s not clear from the quote, but the idea is that the North Carolina ruling class was not utterly delusional in thinking their state had a somewhat distinctive political culture. The historians are not just reasoning like so: whatever ruling classes think must be true, so it must be true. That would be crazy. The historians are judging that there was some truth to the idea that North Carolina had a distinctive political culture. It sounds like you are skeptical that there could be regional political differences, but I’m not sure why you are skeptical.

“This is straightforwardly a causal claim about how the dominant white class maintained its position of privilege — about what causal mechanism was responsible for this. I think the claim is false.”

You think it’s not just false, as a generalization about the whole South, but false also as a claim about North Carolina from, say, the 20’s to the mid-50’s? You do admit, I take it, that this is an empirical question. And you do see that the claim is not a silly one. That is, it’s not just a priori impossible to suppose that you could have a form of Jim Crow in which the ruling whites used a mix of carrots and sticks that involved more carrots, relatively, than were employed in the deeper South?

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shah8 04.20.14 at 7:16 am

js., one reason I haven’t really engaged with this thread yet is precisely the last two paragraphs in your 122 post. John Holbo’s formulation here isn’t really a very original one, and among the the intelligentsia of the oppressed classes, this formulation hasn’t been taken seriously for a little less than a hundred years. No less because people (adapting “realist” stances) have tried to operate a racial machinery based on some sort of understanding of how it works, people like Booker T Washington. Ambedkar struggled mightily to improve the rights of untouchables, only to be thoroughly blocked by Ghandi parochial attitude, and his brand “moderate caste-ism”. Franz Fanon’s writing about the dialect of violence is, in a sense, directly related to the intrinstic inter-relationship of racism, alienation, and hatred. When he was writing all of that, it was with a rear-view mirror of failure to connect with “moderates”.

There’s no such thing as “moderates who are just minding the machinery of power for their own self-interested benefit”. Racism cannot be conflated with hierarchy. Racism doesn’t have any sort of internal consistency–there’s no science of racism any more than there were a science of Lysenkoism, no matter how Charles Murray and his fellow travelers feel. What’s also important to know is that racism isn’t predictably incoherent either. Racism isn’t about social place, strictly speaking (can Hutus be racist to Tutsi? How? Can the X-Men be racist in a good way to ordinary humans? Was Magneto right?). The point of racism is to make what would be the commission of a crime, not a crime–from lynching to usury. As such, it fundamentally incorporates dehumanization. When looked at from this angle, you cannot separate racism from bigotry or hatred. More importantly, people have recognized that it is extremely plastic–built on contingency from the current circumstance, with the only watering holes being a systemic sense of advantage. Therefore, the very things oppressed people want, are what the privileged people tend to most want to deny. There is no reasoning with the privileged, and no way to parse it to the oppressed’ advantage without hiding the fruits of such work. In the end, there was never any point to understanding Sam Ervin, there was only salting that watering hole through the considered use of conflict. Of course, today, people understand boycotts and sit-ins and TV and bombings. And there’s no more Soviet Union or Pan-(whatever) or any other competing scheme for the order of things. So the Palestinians can be oppressed (and nobody can send them good things, neither, as NGOs and Mavi Mamara crew have found) and nothing can be done about it, as that they are too disempowered to defend themselves, and no one with authority will judge the Israeli for their actions.

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John Holbo 04.20.14 at 7:33 am

Shah8, I gather from your comment that you have some sort of disagreement with what I wrote in the post, and/or in comments. Perhaps you could calm down and try again. As the Russians say of their pancakes (so I am told): the first one is for the dogs. Often with comments it is the same. I really can’t tell what you are talking about.

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Bruce Wilder 04.20.14 at 7:41 am

Lee A. Arnold. I am not sure why we need the existence of the social-economic hierarchy concentrating wealth and power to explain this.

And, I am not sure why you are so determined to deny its central importance as a motivator and organizer.

I think that revulsion you witnessed is tactical. I don’t take it at face value. It is just more b.s. All that revulsion isn’t going to stop some grand white lady from employing a nanny or maid, creating an intimate domestic relation. In some cities of the segregated South, a negro couldn’t be a barber, because . . . cooties or something . . . in other places, all the barbers were black, because it was personal service beneath the white’s dignity. They made this crap up as they went along. Guided by advantages gained.

If something like hatred was involved, it wasn’t in the hearts of the guys on top, like Ervin, it was in the resentment of the whites, who gained little materially.

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shah8 04.20.14 at 8:03 am

Why would I need to calm down? Did I say anything rash?

Nah.

This is where your post start to founder, and where I direct my fire:

Bigotry is an inherently negative attitude. But racism is, essentially, just a hierarchical notion. It really has nothing inherent to do with hate. Bigotry says someone is bad. Racism says ‘I am better’. Which implies someone is worse. But it doesn’t necessarily dwell on it, darkly, let alone violently. Racism can walk on the sunny side of the street, in its mind.

Ervin does not seem to be bubbling over with race hate, in an emotional sense. This is why he felt that charges of racism, against him, were unjust. A racist is a bigot is consumed with hate. Ervin looked in his heart, saw no bubbling hate, per se, for the black man. He exonerated himself on that charge, and felt anger at his unjust accusers for calling him racist.

What he felt was love of hierarchy and order and preservation of social status.”

And yes, I do understand what you’re saying, and I understand well enough that I don’t think you truly grok what you’ve been reading. In a sense, I suspect art and literature is clearer on the matter than history, per se.

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John Holbo 04.20.14 at 8:16 am

“In a sense, I suspect art and literature is clearer on the matter than history, per se.”

Well, you keep it as a secret, then.

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shah8 04.20.14 at 8:53 am

What’s that suppose to mean?

It’s just that…it’s kinda plain that you don’t really get it. Have you asked yourself, for instance, why you use the term “soft strategy” rather than “soft tactics”? I mean, of course not, they’re just two words among many you’ve wrote, but there’s a universe of different implications flowing from word choice like that, so at least subconscious?

There is never a particularly strong differentiation of North Carolina Jim Crow from, say, Georgia Jim Crow, either. What’s there is just “more carrots”, “Progressive Jim Crow”, and other ladled words that can’t carry very much in terms of actual meaning.

Look, I’m not that invested in the discussion. You can do the dismissal, and I’m going to bed.

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John Holbo 04.20.14 at 8:59 am

“It’s just that…it’s kinda plain that you don’t really get it.”

That’s fine – and I’m not questioning your sincere irritation! – but I hardly call it art and literature.

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Ze Kraggash 04.20.14 at 10:00 am

To me, racism means assigning, as permanent, some essential human characteristics to a large ancestral category. These characteristics can be negative or positive or mixed, it doesn’t matter. When it’s not done for a purpose, it’s mostly a honest mistake of identifying a false cause-and-effect. When this turns into animosity and hatred, it becomes also a species of chauvinism, jingoism. Bigotry is something like cultural absolutism, contempt for other cultures.

Ervin, based on the quotes above, doesn’t sound like much of a racist, or even not at all, to the extent that “I don’t think you can measure the relative abilities of races in a generation” could be interpreted as a rejection of race-essentialism. Also, his “the majority of Negroes, like the majority of whites, prefer to go to their own churches, etc.” doesn’t sound bigoted (there is no contempt), but rather cultural-nativistic: they have their culture, we have ours, most of everyone likes it, let’s keep it this way.

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Neville Morley 04.20.14 at 10:58 am

Apologies for drive-by historical pedantry, but re 113: conventional estimates for population of Roman Empire currently hover around 60-65 million (there are respectable scholars who argue for a higher figure), and the idea of the Romans sowing the fields of Carthage with salt is a modern (Victorian, I think) invention – much more rationally, they parceled out the land to new settlers.

In relation to the main debate: the Romans certainly categorised other peoples in terms of what we’d call ethnicity, and there was a hierarchical element to this, but as suggested above it doesn’t appear to be foundational to their willingness to conquer, slaughter and enslave everybody else. Also striking that they were, at any rate relative to other slave societies, remarkably willing not only to manumit a fair number of slaves but to admit them to citizen status and almost full political rights.

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Suzanne 04.20.14 at 11:16 am

“Single sex couples have important, long-term loving (as loving as any heterosexual couple) relationships that are legally ignored by the state. And that’s wrong.”

@82: True. But there are plenty of loving long-term relationships that are legally ignored by the state. I do not mean to say that gay people shouldn’t be fighting for the right to marry, only that the resulting tributes to the super-wonderfulness of bourgeois marriage with Mom and Mom or Dad and Dad with Bobby, Susie, and the family labrador have obscured this somewhat.

For what anecdotal evidence is worth, I know people who oppose same-sex marriage but are happy to support civil unions and legal protections for gay people. I suppose they’re bigots. But they are decent people who wish no one harm and they are out there. They can be talked to. Throwing around the word “bigot” is not especially helpful.

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Chris Brooke 04.20.14 at 11:23 am

Neville: B. L. Hallward’s chapter in the Cambridge Ancient History, vol. 8, from 1930 seems to be the main source of the Carthage-ploughed-with-salt legend (though Paolo Visonà also found a 1905 text in French by L. Bertrand that made passing reference to something similar). A string of articles in Classical Philology, 1986-8 discussed the point. The main one is R. T. Ridley, “To be Taken with a Pinch of Salt: The Destruction of Carthage”, vol. 81, no. 2 (April 1986), pp. 140-146.

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Main Street Muse 04.20.14 at 12:33 pm

Happy Easter! Kids are satiated with chocolate and jelly beans.

To JS @ 94 – yes, that’s what I’m trying to say.

To John, somewhere down in the thread: ““These men [the North Carolina ruling class] shared a vision of conservative modernization based on white supremacy, minimal government, social hierarchy, low wages, and anti-unionism.”

God help us. These people are back in NC… with a vengeance. And now they want to destroy K-12 and higher education as well.

John – I don’t think you understand the impact of the very serious issues that result from the ideology of these “leaders.” Like you, I’m fascinated by their psychological make-up. Unlike you, I attribute much of their behaviors to the emotion of hate. Living in NC now, I can tell you these leaders are filled with hate and fear, not a benign sense of creating and maintaining order out of chaos.

There are hierarchies everywhere – in the university system, I am on the low-end of the totem-pole, as contingent faculty with a two-semester contract. Next year, I will teach three classes, not four, but lose half my salary (which is not big to begin with.) As much as I love teaching, I hate this particular hierarchy. It’s annoying enough that I am now planning an exit strategy.

In my situation, I am free to exit at will. I don’t like the hierarchies of the university – it does not accurately reflect the value I offer my students, the university, etc. I can leave if I want.

There is a difference between what I can do and what Sam Ervin’s black “friends” could do. I am not legally bound to stay within that hierarchy. Sam’s “friends” were legally constricted in ways that were really quite terrible.

To use Sam Ervin as your example is the problem. His hierarchy was not possible without hate-filled violence. That you don’t recognize that duality is a problem with your argument. That he lived in one of the most moderate of the Southern states doesn’t change the fact that the threat of violence was needed to uphold his racial hierarchies. And in 1960, the benevolence of the NC ruling elite towards blacks did not stop civil rights activists from selecting Greensboro as the site of one of the first sit-ins at a Woolworth’s counter.

Had you chosen Lincoln to explore the subject of racism, now that’s a cat of a different color….

I do not see Sam Ervin’s kind of racism as being isolated to the South, FYI. I hail from Chicago, still one of the most segregated cities in the country, a city with white racists who, in 1966, stoned MLK when he marched through a white neighborhood to focus attention on desegregating the neighborhoods. After that experience, MLK said of Chicago: ““I think the people from Mississippi ought to come to Chicago to learn how to hate.” (http://bit.ly/1r3vP7E)

Of course in 2008, Chicago was the city that gave us the first African-American president. The complexities of race in America are endlessly fascinating.

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John Holbo 04.20.14 at 1:20 pm

“His hierarchy was not possible without hate-filled violence. That you don’t recognize that duality is a problem with your argument.”

I guess I don’t see what I’m missing. You seem to be saying that, since the overall ecology of racism was a function of there being both Sam Ervin and Bull Connor-types around (obviously I think so, since I’m arguing so damn hard for this conclusion); therefore there’s … no real difference between Sam Ervin and Bull Connor? Or it’s morally suspect to notice the difference, even though it’s real? I just don’t understand the point.

“That he lived in one of the most moderate of the Southern states doesn’t change the fact that the threat of violence was needed to uphold his racial hierarchies.”

Yes, but why would I deny this?

Wait a second …

Do you take my post to be a moderate defense of moderate segregation as non-violent and harmonious? If so, then apologies for confusion caused! I assumed people would recognize that I am not, in any way shape or form, endorsing, as descriptively accurate, Sam Ervin’s portrait of North Carolina Jim Crow as a tar-heeled near-heaven!

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kent 04.20.14 at 1:51 pm

Clay Shirky @ 99, if you are of a philosophical bent, you may be interested in Brian Leiter’s book ‘Why Tolerate Religion?’ Or perhaps you won’t be since you have summarized a portion of his thesis already.

http://press.princeton.edu/titles/9839.html

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Clay Shirky 04.20.14 at 2:06 pm

Kent @138, thanks, and I’m quite interested.

I grew up both a First Amendment absolutist (before anyone pointed out to me that the First contains conflict within its various guarantees) and a devout Christian (for Midwestern and Anglican values of devout), so I am coming quite late (as in 48 hours ago) to the issue of whether the idea of a “religious reason” has any cognitive content.

So I’ll give Leiter a read…

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b9n10nt 04.20.14 at 2:08 pm

I think if we really want to fight the evil of racism, we have to become anarchists.

Those who are intent on declaring that “racism = hatred” fear that if we declare that “racism = hierarchy”, all the passion and conviction will be drained from anti-racism politics.

No one knows where the mental ends and the social begins. No one knows if we can or should reduce “hatred” to the amygdala or if “hatred” is always joined with a whole host of ideations that are socially-conditioned.

If we isolate Bull Connor from Sam Ervin, maybe we find a way to better de-legitimize Sam Ervin and adopt a rhetoric that better exposes the ill-meaning ideology of moderate racists (Holbo’s hope). But maybe the isolation backfires and we mistakenly legitimize Bull Connnor as merely a hot-headed hierarchist. And when has there ever been a successful anti-hierarchy movement? (“Hierarchy = hatred”: imagine a day when such a bumper sticker did whatever “racism = hate” does today).

It’d be better if anti-racism really were effectively replaced with anarchism. Then we could safely let go of the whole “racism = hatred” and work on the root issue: I want to avoid another’s misfortune without having to bother with helping them. But various contingencies make that impossible.

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Lee A. Arnold 04.20.14 at 2:11 pm

Bruce Wilder #127 — But then, what is your mechanism for explaining how or why someone avoids becoming a racist, or stops being a racist, while still occupying a position in the upper reaches of the socio-political-economic structure?

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rustypleb 04.20.14 at 3:49 pm

The settlement and development pattern in North Carolina varied enough from most of the South to create a tension in the white supremes (what a term!) Immigrants included religious refugees seeking freedom, escaped indentured servants, and with the opening of the Shenandoah wagon route kind of an end run into the western part of the state by yeoman farmers who are also more liberally sprinkled through the state than might be the pattern elsewhere in the South. Some of these tendencies also influenced the history of Tennessee and certainly Virginia from the Shenandoah west. The need to create a coalition large enough to rule.

The populace of the state rejected (as did Tennessee) the first ballot initiative proposing secession and it is alleged though I have no citation the 2nd ballot was rigged.

Ervin and company was operating under the constraints of the time to form the electoral majority. That is not a judgement of the morality of the situation but rather an observation of the practicalities.

The group currently holding sway has resorted to every degree of political force at their disposal to maintain control. Voting districts are incredibly jiggered. Once again the minority rules.

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bekabot 04.20.14 at 4:29 pm

Color me confused. Aren’t there already enough contrarian idiots running around earnestly trying to sell points of view that they just as earnestly protest they don’t really hold (or if they admit that they do hold them, they earnestly protest that they hold them for reasons infinitely far removed from those of the ruck of the common herd?) Aren’t there already enough of them and aren’t they good enough at their jobs? Is their bailiwick such an enticing one? Are they better paid for their services than people like me could ever imagine? (The society of which they’re a part fails to hold them in high regard, we all know that, so “reputation” can’t be an incentive.) Why would respectable, well-regarded academic writers be eager to copy their strain? For what reason? To what purpose? What’s the bait? What’s up with that?

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shah8 04.20.14 at 4:58 pm

John Holbo, my point about arts and literature relates to the fact that you felt that analyzing the internal state such that you are given distinction and richness matters a great deal. As such, the great fiction writers has an expertise that isn’t really matched by historians, like being able to relate the inner state of the characters they draw to the outside effects of their worlds.

My irritation is with your obtuseness, mostly because the ground you are defending has been worked over pretty well. I also know North Carolina history pretty well (and I don’t think you have it right there, either), too. There isn’t a debate to be had here.

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Bruce Wilder 04.20.14 at 5:44 pm

. . . what is your mechanism for explaining how or why someone avoids becoming a racist, or stops being a racist, while still occupying a position in the upper reaches of the socio-political-economic structure?

He accepts Jesus into his heart?

Is this supposed to be a trick question?

It seems to me that the a socio-political-economic structure produces (and reproduces) the behaviors it needs, and the emotions it needs to get those behaviors. Maybe, we could say that the structure selects for the behaviors and emotions it needs to (re)produce. And, like any organic, reproducing structure, it changes, deteriorates, ages, and, occasionally, renews itself, or gives way, suddenly or gradually as the case may be, to some different structure.

Contra b9n10nt, I don’t think anarchy is the only path to personal virtue, because, though I think social cooperation structured by hierarchy is inherently problematic, I don’t think it has to entail a raw deal for those at bottom, as a matter of logical or practical necessity. In a variety of circumstances, hierarchical social cooperation can be enormously productive and remarkably efficient, so there’s a surplus to distribute in the deal, in the actual contract, or more generally, in the social contract. Doesn’t have to be. That’s the problematic part: the boss may prefer terms that trade away a degree of productivity and efficiency, and reduces the available surplus, in order to enhance his own relative power and status at the expense of his subordinates. And, being individually less powerful, and relatively less organized (independent of the boss and outside the dominant hierarchy where the boss is the boss), the subordinates may not have the political capacity to negotiate forcefully for a fair deal.

All of that is just a sketch of hierarchy. We could explore why hierarchy can be economically productive. (And, why the doctrines of the academic discipline of economics largely ignore hierarchy in favor of studying a theoretical “market economy”, even though hierarchical relations and administrative structures predominate over markets in the actual economy — my personal bugaboo) But, this is a thread about racism, and I would make the case for racism = hierarchy, which is to say that racism is a doctrine and set of beliefs, employed by a particular architecture of hierarchy, part of a particular design for socio-economic-political hierarchy. And, it follows from this, that hatred is an epiphenomenon of racism employed to structure hierarchy, and the hatred that accompanies racism has no causal influence of its own.

A socio-economic-political hierarchy didn’t fall down from heaven as a turnkey operation. It was created, put in place, by means of considerable violence, by a campaign of terror as a matter of historical fact, and kept in place by the threat of violence, reinforced by actual acts of violence. Perpetrating the violence required, and in the reflexive nature of these things, itself created, hatred.

As I wrote in a previous comment on the other thread, human nature provides some ready substrate for dominance and submission, in-group v out-group hostility and bigotry, etc. If you look to the history of the First World War in the U.S., you will see that hatred of all things German erupted overnight in the U.S. Absolutely huge German-speaking urban communities, which had persisted for decades, disappeared in an instant. In the Second World War, before there was a Bull Connor, there was a Bull Halsey, an Admiral, put the slogan, ‘Kill Japs, Kill Japs, Kill more Japs.’ on billboards.

If you are going to put some numerous group of people into a subordinate role, and require a meek submissiveness, then violence and humiliations will be required, and if you want some people to perpetrate the violence and the shaming, it helps to inculcate hatred and resentment. Creating and maintaining the structure is the context for racism. And, the division of the surplus from social cooperation figures into the motives of the elite that is managing and administering the structure.

So, “how or why someone avoids becoming a racist, or stops being a racist” — I’m tempted to say something about camels passing through the eye of the needle, but the guys at the top are the ones, who least need to hate. In an earlier comment in this thread, I offered two hypotheses about Ervin: that he was a bit of a living fossil in his own time, exhibiting somewhat anachronistic views more appropriate to the elite of an earlier generation (talking about achievements of races, etc), and that he was, in his way, facilitating transition, by honoring the law as a means to getting to a better deal and the idealization of a society of mutual consent and benefit.

In one case with which I am familiar — Columbus, Indiana, home of Cummins Engine — the ruling family, which derived little benefit from racial segregation anyway and was cosmopolitan in its outlook, simply decided that the time had come, and set about managing an orderly end to racial segregation.

Branch Rickey, famously, ended the color barrier in MLB — attribution to his deep Christian faith is made; also he made money.

MLK used non-violent civil disobedience to expose the ugly roots of racial segregation in the threat of violence.

There are lots examples, which could be used to explore the complex, mixed motives, emotions and relations people bring to the social systems they inhabit. I don’t intend to (over)simplify any of that, only to draw attention to an essential order of society and the nature of racism as a social ordering.

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shah8 04.20.14 at 6:16 pm

Hey Bruce, have you read Bank’s Player of Games?

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Lee A. Arnold 04.20.14 at 6:45 pm

Bruce Wilder #145: “It seems to me that the a socio-political-economic structure produces (and reproduces) the behaviors it needs, and the emotions it needs to get those behaviors. Maybe, we could say that the structure selects for the behaviors and emotions it needs to (re)produce. And, like any organic, reproducing structure, it changes, deteriorates, ages, and, occasionally, renews itself, or gives way, suddenly or gradually as the case may be, to some different structure.”

I think this is an artistic metaphor and has an aesthetic value, but I don’t think that a valid scientific holism for social structures can always go so far as organicism.

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js. 04.20.14 at 7:08 pm

Holbo @93:

Anyway, to me it isn’t so obvious that you can’t have Sam Ervin without Bull Connor because I’m taking a more historical view… The Romans had Sam Ervins, in a sense; but, I think, they didn’t really build up from a base of Bull Connors.

Holbo @137:

“His hierarchy was not possible without hate-filled violence. That you don’t recognize that duality is a problem with your argument.” [MS Muse]

I guess I don’t see what I’m missing. You seem to be saying that, since the overall ecology of racism was a function of there being both Sam Ervin and Bull Connor-types around (obviously I think so, since I’m arguing so damn hard for this conclusion)

Well, you do seem to be missing the “duality” insofar as @93, e.g., you seem committed to the claim that you can have Sam Ervin without Bull Connor — or at least that this is an open possibility — even if as a matter of fact the South had both. I don’t think the people disagreeing with you are misreading you (tho to a small extent I was insofar as I took one of your claims to be about the South generally when it was about NC in particular).

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roy belmont 04.20.14 at 8:20 pm

Bruce Wilder at 7:40 pm:

The cleanest streets have no people on them. This is important.
-
Everybody seems to agree we’re crawling out of the swamp of ignorance.
The dispute seems to be whether we were born there, or thrown in at some as yet unrevealed moment long ago.
-
There are no racial differences!
There are but they don’t matter!
There are and they do matter but not that much!
There are and they do and we are the best ones!

Melungeons are the key to the whole question of race..

150

someguy 04.20.14 at 8:22 pm

That was very good. A good explanation of where we are and where liberalism insists we must go. The notion that homosexuality is a sin must become a sin and anyone who fails to affirm that those people who believe homosexuality is a sin are sinners, must be utterly completely shamed and shunned from the public square. In addition you provide the abstract reasoning why this is true. Very good stuff.

It is also totally and completely wrong because it lacks any context. All sorts of people believe all sorts of wrong things about other people. We don’t need to identify all those beliefs and ban each and everyone one of them on pain of the ultimate public shaming and shunning.

We did it with with racism and do it because the reality of racism was so awful.

More Republicans support civil unions and/or gay marriage than oppose it.

If in 1900s the Democrats in the deep South, had supported full civil rights for black Americans and only asked that interracial couples be banned from marrying but be granted fully equal civil unions, racism would not have been that bad and we would not have had to utterly ban any expression of racism.

This was never about the ‘right’ to marry. This was always about complete state and cultural approval of homosexuality. What I should have seen, and did not see, was that in addition any contrary expression/thought was to be totally banned.

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shah8 04.20.14 at 8:30 pm

I suppose I’d better continue less I be thought of as cryptic.

I was noting that Bruce Wilder was spending a lot of thought and words on the necessary community of hate, and I sort of thought that this isn’t really needed.

I think discussions about actions and natures tend to warp around issues of mens rea unless we accept that some actions accurately depicts the mindset. People often take advantage of that, say in race discussion, by pretending that you can’t be racist unless you XXX(some outrageous action, like burning a cross on the lawn of a black family and lynching eveyone inside). Dealing in the back and forth about the nature of hatred that Ervin has and Conner has evinces this sort of dialect, and to go so far around the bush as Bruce Wilder has, makes it pretty hard to read or accept the conclusions.

To me, Iain Banks got around this issue in his early book (although, I suppose Surface Detail opposes John Holbo’s formulation more directly), by sort of contrasting the Azad Empire vs the Culture through its utter lack of compassion, and by making a sort of parable of the nominal protagonist’s journey of growth from engagement of the “way it is” to rejection through means of subversive seduction. The end of the final game, with the losing emperor, who we assume to love himself most, winds up destroying himself. Hate doesn’t flow through this story, like the way it does for the Sith. Absence of compassion does.

So let’s substitute that notion in Holbo’s formulation. So instead of asking whether Sam Ervin hates more than Bull Conner, why don’t we ask whether Ervin has more or less compassion for black people than Bull Conner, and then ask whether there could be a “moderate lack of compassion”. You spend much less time trying to prove negatives, and more time finding affirmative acts, and you’ll feel more comfortable on steadier ground that doesn’t take so much time to delineate.

152

Anderson 04.20.14 at 9:50 pm

This blog post on a book about “The Jurisprudence of Denigration” ties into Holbo’s post:

‘In Windsor, Justice Kennedy argued that section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act was the product of “a bare congressional desire to harm a politically unpopular group”—that it came from a “purpose . . . to demean,” “injure,” and “disparage.” As Smith writes, “Justice Kennedy and the Court thereby in essence accused Congress—and, by implication, millions of Americans—of acting from pure malevolence.” ***

‘At the level of moral discourse too, however, we find disagreement about basic premises, with “no way to achieve closure or resolution of the disagreements.” At this point, we search for some “common ground from which to reason.” And here, we find “widespread support” for one proposition: that “it is wrong to act from hatred or malevolence or ill-will toward others.”‘

Link (I’m on my phone so fuck the HTML.)

http://conlaw.jotwell.com/denigration-as-forbidden-conduct-and-required-judicial-rhetoric/

153

Anderson 04.20.14 at 9:52 pm

150: I gather you’re a troll, but regardless, you’re mistaken. Assholes aren’t banned. We just treat them like assholes. And opposing civil rights for gays is assholery.

154

b9n10nt 04.20.14 at 10:17 pm

I keep thinking that somewhere in this thread we should consider the neuroscience that says actions come first, pre-conscious , then the justification. Not sure how broad or narrow that finding is, but it certainly supports -at a different scale, perhaps- the historical evidence that racism is epiphenomenal of dominant/submissive relations.

and…Yes, anarchists will recreate hierarchies, but they’ll be instrumental and come with a built in Egg-Timer of Liberty!

155

StevenAttewell 04.20.14 at 11:07 pm

@106 – Ok, bad example (although I’ll note that that’s a 3% shift only within church-going Catholics). If I said the Mike Huckabees, I think my point is clearer – only 22% of white evangelical Protestants are pro-gay marriage in (Pew 2013).

Regardless, I think my overall point is clearer: the people who are shifting on gay marriage are not the historical analogues of Sam Ervin.

156

john c. halasz 04.20.14 at 11:39 pm

@133:

Oops! Sorry, not my specialty. I might have garbled the 17 mn figure as the population of Rome at the time, (which would have included Italy, Southern Spain, Greece, and Tunisia?). But I think the 500,000 killed in the destruction of Carthage might hold. Carthago delenda est and all that.

But I’m a bit surprised at the 60-65 mn figure. IIRC the estimate for the population of Europe in 1493 has been put at just 60 mn, (though I don’t know if that estimate extends all the way to the Urals, since it was cited relative to the “new world”). Some estimates have Timur-leyn and his men killing 17 mn before he was finished, a century earlier, which was estimated to be 5% of the population of the entire world at the time.

At any rate, the Romans were fairly brutal militarists, with a genius for engineering, but whose culture was mostly borrowed finery. One of my favorite counterfactual fantasies is: what would have happened if the Carthaginians/Phoenicians had won the Punic Wars, (as they very nearly did the 2nd one), since, though we know little of them, they were very clearly industrious and ace traders, (which might have been there weakness in enforcing alliances rather than relying on mutual trading advantages), and what then would have been the legacy of the ancient Mediterranean world to subsequent history?

At any rate, many empires have acknowledged the diversity of peoples under their rule. The Persians were quite proud of their multi-ethnic, polyglot diversity, provided submission and tribute to the Great Shah were forthcoming. And the Ottomans left local affairs in the hands of local notables, in fairly tolerant ways. And, of course, the Emperor Akbar gave his great speech on religious tolerance, (even as he was militarily ruthless), which far exceeded anything the West was capable of conceiving at the time. I don’t think Roman law was so exceptional.

157

Bruce Wilder 04.20.14 at 11:51 pm

@ shah8

I may have read Bank’s Player of Games. It sounds like the kind of SciFi I liked when I was a kid, though it was published in 1988 and in 1988 I wasn’t a kid anymore, just staggeringly immature. I put it on my precious Kindle.

158

roy belmont 04.21.14 at 12:50 am

” opposing civil rights our opinion of what civil rights consists of for anyone and everyone including for gays is assholery”

It’s beyond silliness at this sordid juncture, but the real discussion, I thought, such as it was, was about what constitutes civil rights as regards marriage.
Any disagreement, here, was primarily overcome by disgust, contempt, vituperation, name-calling and a stubborn refusal, by some anyway, to engage beyond scolding.
Not much to bring to the wider table.

Here’s a confounding truth-like thing:

Atrazine is the second-most widely used agricultural chemical. It’s been shown to have an endocrine-disrupting effect on frogs, with the correlative idea that it may have similar effect on young humans. Especially males. This looks to be borne out by symptomologies inc lusters around areas of wide-spread Atrazine use.
So a young male human with endocrine-disruption will be more or less feminized.
So is that okay?
No, because of choice. Or something.
Not because it’s an unnatural consequence, but because it wasn’t intentional result on the part of the boy. Or frog.
But there’s something else in there, something around “natural”, something around a traditional view of human completeness, biology, and reproduction.

Personally I’m a freak patriot, freakier the better says me. Mutants forever!
What animates my animosity, here, besides the smug vacuuity and latent sadism – enough all by itself, is the bourgeois idiocy, from which springs the assertion of “rights”, that being gay is just another iteration of the grand human mass of normalcy. A refusal to fly that freak flag.
Being gay is a demographically large but still minority phenomenon.
No problem until it’s time to hand out those little badges of normalness.
Everybody gets one!
Just for showing up!
It’s hard to celebrate true diversity at the same time you’re pretending there’s no real difference between people, but by golly you’re almost doing it.

159

John Holbo 04.21.14 at 1:08 am

“you seem committed to the claim that you can have Sam Ervin without Bull Connor — or at least that this is an open possibility — even if as a matter of fact the South had both.”

Yes, that sounds about right. That’s not my point, of course. But it does sound right, as a corollary. If you took the Jim Crow South, raptured away all harshest sorts of racists and replaced them with much milder-mannered racists, you could still have a racist system. It would be different, of course – milder, by hypothesis. It wouldn’t automatically be as stable, but presumably some milder forms would have been as stable – perhaps even more so – at least in some places at some times. Maybe if there had been more Sam Ervins, the system would have maintained itself longer, thanks to its strategic softness; or maybe it would have collapsed even sooner, for lack of dogs and firehoses.

Here’s another thought in the vicinity that may help: Muse seems to object to the proposition that Sam Ervin is a ‘moderate’ racist, given that he was part of a system that contained Bull Connor. She’s inclined to say (I’m guessing a bit here): anyone who is part of a racist system involving extreme racism is an extreme racist. But this is more a strategically heavy moral indictment (like: anyone who is involved in a robbery that involves a murder will be charged with murder) than it is sociologically sound.

Turn the thought around. The racist system of which Bull Connor was a part actually depended on there being some Sam Ervins around. (Complementarity is a two-way street, as social function goes.) But surely we aren’t willing to argue that Bull Connor was a moderate racist, just because he was part of the same system as Sam Ervin. In general, I think that a lot of the objections I am getting to the post are a symptom of resistance – on moral grounds, I’m guessing – to thinking about institutional racism as a thing that typically involves a variety of types of racism, and racists attitudes. There is a fallacy of composition. A harshly racist society isn’t necessarily composed of all and only harsh racists, no more so than a big crowd has to be made of big people. A ‘moderately’ racist society isn’t necessarily composed of all and only ‘moderate’ racists.

“Why would respectable, well-regarded academic writers be eager to copy their strain? For what reason? To what purpose? What’s the bait? What’s up with that?”

I take it your question is this: why study history, given that the people in it turn nasty at times? (Actually, I just thought of a good joke. Stern Victorian lady is looking at her abashed daughter, who is putting down a book in haste. “I don’t approve of the study of life, young lady. It contains too many of … THOSE sorts of people!”)

160

Frank Stain 04.21.14 at 1:29 am

John Holbo: ‘If you took the Jim Crow South, raptured away all harshest sorts of racists and replaced them with much milder-mannered racists, you could still have a racist system.’

I think you are wrong about this, and this speaks directly to your formulation of Muse’s objection. According to you, she is saying: ‘anyone who is part of a racist system involving extreme racism is an extreme racist’.
But that doesn’t seem to me to be the most plausible presentation of the argument. What she seems to be pointing towards is that the fact that you can’t have a racist system without extreme racists. The problem with your argument is sociological rather than philosophical . You are suggesting that a whole society of ‘mild mannered racists’ might constitute, say, a durable social system of segregation. But this seems to ignore so much of what we know about the character of the ‘racial authoritarianism’ that actually ruled in the South. Everybody knew where the boundaries were, and it was accepted by all that certain transgressions were ‘unacceptable’. I find it sociologicially implausible that one could create such an authoritarian society with mild and moderate racists. You don’t have to personally endorse the violence that you know is going to be executed on transgressors to understand that it is necessary for propping up the society you live in. Taking the notion of ‘extreme racist’ to denote one willing to use violence, I find it implausible that a segregated society like the Jim Crow South could exist without massive tolerance (and not a little fear) of the violence.

161

Josh Jasper 04.21.14 at 2:02 am

@150:

That was very good. A good explanation of where we are and where liberalism insists we must go. The notion that homosexuality is a sin must become a sin and anyone who fails to affirm that those people who believe homosexuality is a sin are sinners, must be utterly completely shamed and shunned from the public square.

I really don’t care what you teach in your church any more than I care if Rabbis consider me a bad Jew for eating bacon cheeseburgers (bacon blue cheese, please, with extra pickle).

I will not shame you in the square. I will not shame you anywhere. I do not give a good goddamn. Your church is yours I do not care.

Just keep it the feck out of my rights. Eich didn’t. That’s why people got upset. Sorry you didn’t get that. Try harder to keep up. You’ll look less foolish.

162

Palindrome 04.21.14 at 2:21 am

“[W]e should not want, under ‘proper conditions of society,’ the interference of the soldier, of the policeman, and of the hangman. Legislature, magistracy and armed force, are all of them but the offspring of improper conditions of society …”
-Karl Marx

It seems that Marx, at least, believed there could be no segregated society without Bull Connors to buttress them.

163

John Holbo 04.21.14 at 2:24 am

On to shah8.

Unfortunately, I find myself unable to get his first three paragraphs. “Dealing in the back and forth about the nature of hatred that Ervin has and Conner has evinces this sort of dialect.” I don’t know what ‘this sort of dialect’ refers to, or why I would be presumed to speak it.

Perhaps am I a fool not to see it, but I don’t.

Let me dispense some passive-aggressive literary criticism, before zeroing on on the final paragraph – which contains a challenge of sorts, which I think I get.

First. Dude. If you want people to take your mind seriously as a post-scarcity economy, when it comes to the having of literary clues, you must must include the ‘M’. It’s Iain M. Banks, if it’s culture novels. Iain Banks is that other shelf.

Second, if you are going be all “but there’s a universe of different implications flowing from word choice like that”, per your earlier comment – that is, if you really want to convince me there is a whole conceptual universe you are grokking, I am not, courtesy of your higher cognition and artistry, etc. – you really have to bring the slan pizzazz, when it comes to reading my mind and out-thinking me. As Megamind says: “Presentation!” Or, if that’s not your bag: subtlety. One or the other. Gotta be.

Let’s move on to the final paragraph.

“So let’s substitute that notion [utter lack of compassion] in Holbo’s formulation. So instead of asking whether Sam Ervin hates more than Bull Connor, why don’t we ask whether Ervin has more or less compassion for black people than Bull Connor, and then ask whether there could be a “moderate lack of compassion”.”

I don’t exactly get the point, since I don’t get the first three paragraphs. But I take it you are advancing a kind of hypothesis. You are hypothesizing: no. There will be no ‘moderate lack of compassion’. There will just be: utter lack of compassion on Ervin’s part, as on Connor’s.

Scratch an Ervin, expose an Azad? Is that it?

Working back you think my error is this. I see a lack of crude brutality in Ervin, compared to Bull Connor, and (perhaps because I haven’t read Culture novels or X-Men comics) I lack the sophistication to consider that maybe Ervin is just be a subtler breed of cruel, through and through?

If that’s it then, hmmmm, maybe we can play it as a game. (As an author of posts, I am often a bit pained by the frankly Azadian cruelty of the associated comment boxes. I, the author, so easily come off as over-earnest, even naive, even pathetic. Gosh, isn’t learning interesting? Gosh! I sound a bit plaintive. I hear it in my own voice. But, like Banks’ Gurgeh, I think I can descend from my irenic orbital of the mind to play the game, if the cause is just. And there’s a little Azad in all of us, I don’t deny it. So I will match comment box wits with you, shah8! We will see whose philosophy shows forth as more winning!)

My counter-hypothesis: Ervin was truly, moderately compassionate towards African-Americans, minorities, the downtrodden, the unfortunate. Not just in word but in actual deed. By ‘moderately compassionate’ I don’t mean I guess that he felt a fuzzy feeling, which spurred him to act. It’s an institutional hypothesis. His moderate compassion was socially adaptive: strong, yet tactically deployed. (I suspect shah8 may be neglecting the tactical dimension, having been mislead by the term ‘soft strategy’!) Ervin’s compassion was functional, as a carrot, within the carrot-stick framework of soft segregationist white supremacy. That means: the right sort of carrot placement; and not too many carrots. But real carrots.

Racism is about tribal self-definition through hierarchical self-location. This is my line. Compassion and/or hate towards one’s inferiors are aspects of that – tools for social construction, if you like. (Demolition being a kind of construction, after all.) They aren’t what racism IS. This is why I think it’s important not to think that racism is just hate, or cruelty, or a lack of compassion. Those are in the social toolkit, but they aren’t identical to what is built with the kit.

But back to the game. Shah8, if I can provide solid evidence that Ervin was highly – but really only tactically – compassionate, both in word and deed, will you take that as evidence that my view might have some merit, after all?

But wait! if it’s merely tactical compassion, to reinforce desired social hierarchy, is it real? I would say that racist cruelties tend to be real enough, in a felt sense, although they too are socially functional. Why not compassion?

Of course (this is the game!) I could be bluffing! I might be holding three aces. I might be holding junk. Or possibly I am just a complete idiot and don’t even know what my cards are worth. Only one way to find out!

164

William Timberman 04.21.14 at 2:24 am

If you took the Jim Crow South, raptured away all harshest sorts of racists and replaced them with much milder-mannered racists, you could still have a racist system.

In my experience of the South, growing up there during the last days of Jim Crow, it was abundantly clear that the social architecture rested on a foundation violence. It was omnipresent as a threat, even if, as a white child of middling status, I only occasionally got to see it applied. You could feel it, smell it, taste it — even in Aunt Pittypat’s drawing room. What you say here is probably true in theory, but I can’t imagine anything remotely like it replacing what I remember. The very dome of heaven would have collapsed around us.

165

Deadbyedon 04.21.14 at 2:28 am

It’s hard to celebrate true diversity at the same time you’re pretending there’s no real difference between people, but by golly you’re almost doing it.

Yes, multiculturalism cannot exist if the queers, blacks, fe-males, and other mutants keep demanding their day, as it were, in court. That makes heaps of sense, roy. Blacks aren’t black anymore if they’re allowed to marry white folk, or serve on juries, or something. Some real deep thoughts there, boy-o.

166

Deadbyedon 04.21.14 at 2:31 am

Everybody gets one!
Just for showing up!

Look! The gheys think they’re people! Silly mutants!

167

js. 04.21.14 at 2:34 am

I don’t know what ‘this sort of dialect’ refers to

Surely it’s a typo for ‘dialectic’? That actually makes sense in the context.

(Trying to work up a reply to @159 in the meantime…)

168

John Holbo 04.21.14 at 2:38 am

“What she seems to be pointing towards is that the fact that you can’t have a racist system without extreme racists.”

I don’t think this is right. I think a couple of wires are getting crossed.

Consider this, for starters. Can you have a system of bullying in a school with only mild bullying – and mild bullies. I think: yes. Can you have mild racism among students in a school without extreme racism in a school? Yes. Can you have mild forms of racial discrimination in a society without the threat of violence? Yes. Perhaps it is merely a matter of Jews finding that none of their applications to the country club are ever accepted, oddly enough. Or that they have a much harder time getting into Harvard. Violence need not be a part of it.

What wires are getting crossed? I think this. You can’t have a racist state without violence. But that’s just because being a state means being a kind of monopolist on legitimate violence. Any racist state is a site of racist violence – at least potentially. Any state fundamentally based on racism will be violent, in defense of racism. But there are lots of ways for racism to manifest without being the basis of state order.

In short: racist system without violence. Sure, why not? Racist state without violence? No. Jim Crow was racism as the basis for political order, so it couldn’t have been maintained without the threat of violence. But you could have had a milder system of racism in the South, counterfactually, without violence being an essential part of it. Just have some system of social norms, exclusions, associations. You obviously can’t push people to the wall, unless you are willing to use violence to do it. So, if you are not willing to use violence to do it, don’t push people to the wall. Just jostle them a little on the street, to show them you are slightly better than they are.

169

Peter T 04.21.14 at 2:50 am

“If you took the Jim Crow South, raptured away all harshest sorts of racists and replaced them with much milder-mannered racists, you could still have a racist system.”

If you…raptured away all the harshest sorts of classists and replaced them with much milder-mannered classists, you would have the systems by which a great many societies over quite long stretches of time have operated. History is not all COMPLETELY nasty.

And is the South still racist? Seems from outside to be so, even though Bull Connors are many fewer.

170

christian_h 04.21.14 at 3:41 am

John (168): I am not sure I agree entirely. Of course there can be racist structures without overt violence, as you say. But isn’t it the case that these are always in the last instance backed up by the threat of violence? Take Harvard or the country club not admitting Jews. This racism comes across as very polite and cultured – but in the end, what if someone insisted? What if a Jew didn’t admit they were Jewish and attended Harvard until found out? Then it seems to me the violent construct that is the state is appealed to and its violence is brought to bear to kick that person out. Or what if racism against blacks in Chicago manifests itself through higher interest rates for home loans – if someone affected by this racism were to refuse to pay the excess interest, the state and its capacity for violence would once again enter the picture (seizing their house).

I guess what I am trying to say is, racism is a structure of oppression and as such is always backed up by violence in the final instance, namely, when it is challenged.

171

rustypleb 04.21.14 at 3:44 am

Black voters are in the low 20’s as a percentage of registered voters in North Carolina. Maybe racism is an hierarchical tactic for controlling white voters.

172

js. 04.21.14 at 4:09 am

But you could have had a milder system of racism in the South, counterfactually, without violence being an essential part of it. Just have some system of social norms, exclusions, associations.

I think what christian_h says (@170) is right, but let me try this a different way. So let’s take this hypothesis of a “racist system” but not a racist state, and no violence to back up the racist system. Well, I think “racist system” is ambiguous here. The easiest way to conceptualize this sort of case, I think, is one where you have a class stratified system (where I mean “class” in the broadest possible sense of social classes), and the racism that exists within the system is incidental to it. That is, you could lose the racism without losing anything essential about how the class system (again, broadly defined) works in this society. It would be foolish to deny that some such society could exist, but I think one fairly obvious thing to say about such a society is that the prism of race, or of racism, wouldn’t give one much insight into it. At all. That comes along with the racism being incidental.

On the other hand, the more essential you want to make race to the workings of the society — in other words, the more explanatory power you want to grant the categories of race and racism with respect to the society in question — the harder it’s going to be to realistically make the case that racism in the given society is not backed and supported by the sanctioned violence of the state.

(168 genuinely clarifies your position for me, by the way. So no point responding to previous.)

173

js. 04.21.14 at 4:14 am

I would also like to wholeheartedly endorse StevenAttewell @101, which is sort of related to my point, even if I’m failing to make this clear.

174

John Holbo 04.21.14 at 4:15 am

“racism is a structure of oppression and as such is always backed up by violence in the final instance, namely, when it is challenged.”

I guess this is true, but only weakly, hence potentially confusingly.

The same could be said for bullying, after all. It is always a kind of violence, but only in a weak sense. We get into microaggression territory. If you want to say that all racism is, at a minimum, microaggression – ok. But if you want to say that all microaggression is violence – well, ok. But: only if you make clear that you are using ‘violence’ in this sense. If you say ‘racism necessarily rests on violence’ that causes people to think of lynchings, not slights and subtle social exclusions and such. If you intend for the latter to be instances, not counter-examples, you should be clear. That’s all.

175

John Holbo 04.21.14 at 4:30 am

“Take Harvard or the country club not admitting Jews. This racism comes across as very polite and cultured – but in the end, what if someone insisted? What if a Jew didn’t admit they were Jewish and attended Harvard until found out?”

The problem with this is it’s too weak. Literally any social relation can, potentially, turn violent, if someone gets upset about it. Someone can get violent about the norm that people smile when they greet each other. Weird things happen. That doesn’t mean that it’s helpful to define smiling when we meet as inherently violent. Having a social norm of excluding Jews from your country club, say, could be the sort of thing that it would be very unlikely anyone would get violent about. Exclusion is less costly, socially, than violence against exclusion would be beneficial, socially. Maybe they complain but never raise a fist to strike an actual blow. I call that: a non-violent, racist social order.

176

js. 04.21.14 at 4:47 am

Just to be clear, I’m talking about proper, lynching/firehoses-level violence when I talk about state-sanctioned violence @172.

177

John Holbo 04.21.14 at 5:08 am

“I’m talking about proper, lynching/firehoses-level violence when I talk about state-sanctioned violence”

Yes, although I just had a great idea for a dystopian novel! The Ministry of Microaggressions. A massive state agency devoted to enforcing society order, without outright violence, one slight at a time! Instead of a small number of people being agents, everyone – or nearly everyone – works for N.U.D.G.E., the Ministry of Microaggressions. ‘In the future, everyone will be a bully for 15 minutes!’ (I can’t think what N.U.D.G.E. stands for, however. There is a small prize, in terms of social status, to the commenter who most expertly unpacks that acronym.)

178

Bruce Baugh 04.21.14 at 5:43 am

National Unified Discrete Generatives Executive.

179

js. 04.21.14 at 5:45 am

No unnecessary dig goes escapin’?

180

GiT 04.21.14 at 6:01 am

the National Utility for the Direction of Grievous Emotions

181

christian_h 04.21.14 at 6:04 am

I have to take issue with the examples of either bullying or smiling. I am not saying racism can be violent. I am saying it is a structure necessarily backed by violence, usually the violence of the state. Without that violence, even if it remains an implicit threat much of the time because the oppressed do not challenge it, it would not be racism but merely the acting out of individuals’ prejudice. This is related to the non-existence of inverse racism, as well – there is no structure of oppression of white people by black people in the US, say, so if a black person refuses to sit next to me because I am white I would not classify this as racism.

(Or maybe your definition of violence is so restrictive it does not for example recognize keeping someone in prison as violence as long as no actual violence is acted out because the prisoner accepts their fate, or does not regard the implicit threat of physical harm as violence? )

182

christian_h 04.21.14 at 6:06 am

Argh dangling modifiers. The “it” the oppressed do not challenge refers to racist structures, not violence.

183

Aristodemus 04.21.14 at 6:29 am

adam.smith:

This is late to the party, but a reply to comment 52.

Henry and John disagree in the following way. Henry claims that anyone who opposes gay marriage is a bigot, even if they don’t express animosity in their opposition; this is why even neighborly opponents of same-sex marriage (see: Eich) can properly be called bigots. John doesn’t want to argue over the definition of the word bigot…except to say that he sees it as part of an attitude’s being bigoted that it expresses animus. No animus, no bigotry. Hard to see how there’s no disagreement there.

Moreover, the disagreement is deep. My grasp of John’s entire post is that it attempts to show that soft racism (Ervin) doesn’t deserve the same moral condemnation as hard racism (Bull Connor) precisely because the psychological structure of (some forms of) soft racism don’t involve an attitude of hatred toward the object of the racism, and it is this attitude of hatred that justifies our outright prohibition against hard racism in the first place. So it is for same-sex marriage and rights of LGBTs. My grasp of Henry’s post (and especially the vitriolic commentary that followed) is that it attempts to show exactly the opposite: for its entire point is that passive opponents of gay marriage can be called bigots.

Henry makes the disagreement pretty stark when he writes (he takes homophobia to be a form a bigotry):

“Saying that someone is homophobic is not necessarily to imply that they individually hate and fear gay people. It is to imply that they are prejudiced (whether because of principle, culture, or active detestation) against gay people in ways that lead them passively or actively to oppose gay people participating fully, with full rights, in public and private life.”

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John Holbo 04.21.14 at 6:34 am

“it does not for example recognize keeping someone in prison as violence as long as no actual violence is acted out because the prisoner accepts their fate, or does not regard the implicit threat of physical harm as violence? )”

Oh that’s all violence, not doubt!

“Without that violence, even if it remains an implicit threat much of the time because the oppressed do not challenge it, it would not be racism but merely the acting out of individuals’ prejudice.”

I get off here. This just seems to me a really odd use of ‘racism’ – building in the whole state-sponsorship business, especially. You can use language how you like. But I just don’t see why we shouldn’t distinguish violent and non-violent racism, rather than defining the latter out of existence. Also, the weak can’t be racist against the strong? I can see why this isn’t an especially worrisome case. But why define it out of existence? (Aren’t you really defining ‘really worrisome types of racism’, rather than ‘racism’?)

Take that vile guy, Miller, who just shot up the retirement center. He’s weak. He’s got emphysema, I read. Jews in America are doing fine, on the whole, and they don’t have to deal with such threats of violence, not like in the past. (Knock on wood.) Miller was poor and miserable, frustrated, and now arrested and never going to walk free again. And none of the people he killed are even Jewish, so he turned out to be literally powerless to commit violence against Jews. But I am going to have zero patience for any arguments that he can’t have been racist, after all, because – when we place him in his rightful sociological pigeonhole – he a socially marginal type. He’s impotent when it comes to hurting those he hates.

If you really want to define ‘racism’ in such a way that it’s conceptually tied to state power and social dominance, fine. But I don’t see the motivation.

This sentence, however …

“The “it” the oppressed do not challenge refers to racist structures, not violence.”

… would make a great, totally baffling thing to wave on your sign at a rally!

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John Holbo 04.21.14 at 6:41 am

“My grasp of John’s entire post is that it attempts to show that soft racism (Ervin) doesn’t deserve the same moral condemnation as hard racism (Bull Connor) precisely because the psychological structure of (some forms of) soft racism don’t involve an attitude of hatred toward the object of the racism, and it is this attitude of hatred that justifies our outright prohibition against hard racism in the first place.”

I tried to be clear in the post that my actual attitude is very nearly the opposite of this. The important things to realize about Ervin are 1) he probably wasn’t a serious hater; 2) he inflicted way more systematic injustice and suffering on African-Americans than almost any hater could had done, or did. He did way more damage than Bull Connor, for example, who may actually have helped civil rights, overall, with all his bad optics. If you can think of a reason not to condemn Ervin, I’m willing to listen. But don’t look to my post for support!

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John Holbo 04.21.14 at 6:44 am

Just completing the thought. You quote Henry, allegedly saying something incompatible with my post: “Saying that someone is homophobic is not necessarily to imply that they individually hate and fear gay people. It is to imply that they are prejudiced (whether because of principle, culture, or active detestation) against gay people in ways that lead them passively or actively to oppose gay people participating fully, with full rights, in public and private life.””

Substitute in ‘racism’ for ‘homophobia’, make other appropriate changes, and you have a statement that is perfectly in line with my post. It’s practically my thesis statement about Ervin.

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Aristodemus 04.21.14 at 7:32 am

John:

First off, just to be clear: I never claimed that you claimed that Ervin did not deserve condemnation. I claimed that you claimed that Ervin and Conner don’t deserve the same condemnation. That seems to be a distinction with a difference.

Second, and more to the point, as you describe Ervin, he deserves more condemnation because he individually does more harm than Bull Conner does. Fine. But isn’t the point here that we ought to be making a more fine-grained moral distinction between the psychologies that motivate hard racism and soft racism in general–a distinction that the absolute social prohibition against racism prevents? In other words, Ervin is ‘worse’ than Connor as a matter of circumstance: Ervin simply had more power to ‘realize’ a better-but-still-bad set of attitudes towards blacks than Connor had.

So, I guess I now have little idea what your post attempts to ‘show’. In the first place, (1) you say that there’s an important difference between (call them) soft racists like Ervin and hard racists like Connor. Just now, you say (2) that your attitude is that the soft racist is worse than the hard racist. How can it be, then, (3) in the better logical interests of the same-sex marriage opponent to claim a link with the soft racist, if the soft racist is in fact worse than the hard racist?

I don’t think you actually affirm (2) in general, do you? It’s just in the case of Ervin? After all, immoral as Jim Crowe is, I’m inclined to think it was better than slavery.

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shah8 04.21.14 at 7:49 am

Oh man, being involved in this thread was amusing after all!

Anyways, will skip post 163 since I’m so obviously indecipherable…

Let’s look at post 168 a bit. Let’s ask what exists to differentiate a school with mild bullying and severe bullying. Might I say that this generally occurs because the school makes every effort to prevent (or not) things from going all Lord of the Flies? Perhaps severe bullying exists because of where those students come from–broken homes broken neighborhoods, or perhaps it’s prep kids with overbearing parents that’s got a shark-toothed lawyer on speed dial? Does the school society just anarchically organize into mild bullying because there isn’t any coercion or incentives by administration to engage in severe bullying? Given what we know about how hazing practices develop, probably not.

John Holbo, people have agency, and bullies tend to be cowards. If there was no institution of terror on minority groups/women/whatever, a black man on the street would be quite free to throw a punch at a white woman who insulted him. Black people would be free to own property in peace, and some would gain wealth–like Chinese in Indonesia or Hakka in China or Jews in the Hapsburg Europe. That doesn’t mean ethnic tensions do not happen, or that murderous ethnic riots do not occur.

However, these tensions are nothing compared to what it was like in the Americas. When there was slavery in the sugar isles, every white man was automatically part of the local militia who might be required to assist in alerting and putting down a slave rebellion. When slavery was abolished and law had to make pretexts for compelled labor anyways, systemic violence based on racial identification was used to keep the price of labor down. That was true in Jamaica, and it was true in Mississippi. More than that, the state, and the private organizations allied with the state, specifically compels white men and women to engage in passive exclusion, and recruits white men who wants a little extra “spice” in their lives for the rough stuff. And believe you me, the state engaged in considerable violence against any white people who violate those rules, even strangers that didn’t know the lay of the land–this tendency was probably the main way Jim Crow was at all restrained, because some Northern State gets furious when one of their white sons gets sentenced to some unsanitary logging camp and dies. The entire economic and social order of the Dixiecrat South twined between economic motives surrounding cheap labor and the ideation of white men reaping bounty from the natural world. With merely “mild” racism, however that’s supposed to work, the South would have collapsed economically and politically out of insufficient organizing force, and virtually all Southern elites were intensely aware of it, however they viewed their institutions. That goes for LeRoy Percy and it goes for Sam Ervin. Jim Crow fell, in large part because black people could flee to manufacturing jobs outside of the South in the thirties and fourties (not to mention that they *had* to flee from the consequences of being excluded from New Deal programs). Jim Crow also fell because the basic extraction industries became uneconomic no matter how cheap the labor was (and the boll weevil).

There was just not ever anything useful about a “moderate” conception of Sam Ervin’s sentiment, and because you prefer Sam Ervin’s self-assessment rather than the assessment of people victimized by the society he sat at the top of (aside of one black favored son mayor), you’ve been off to some cockamamie-landia creating these clever little internally consistent constructs that carry no weight. You also expect people to take this seriously. In a world full of violent people and violent societies who pretend that they aren’t as intractably violent as they are, and who are fully backed by state organs.

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shah8 04.21.14 at 8:37 am

I suppose in his follow up, John Holbo will claim that Don Corleone was a reasonable man, trapped in an unreasonable system, even though he is as responsible, surely, maybe even more, than the guy going around breaking legs. However, it behooves us to to think of whether “soft mafiaism” should be a concept attached to such a progressive icon of regressive institutions. After all, it’s entirely possible to have a crime ring full of Don Corleones, absent of all the messiness from the sex trade or bookies, or the aformentioned leg breaker! That illustrates the point that there can be a soft opposition against the meth cookers! Who needs those exploding labs, anyways?

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Belle Waring 04.21.14 at 9:08 am

I have to say that I may disagree about the possibility of a structurally mildly racist society existing without any recourse to violence against the excluded class. Isn’t there always going to be some coming down to brass tacks moment? What happens when your daughter wants to marry a Jew, and you realize that then she and your future grandchildren won’t be members of the Maidstone anymore? Won’t you (as hypothetical mildly racist dad) want to stop her from doing a thing that will ruin her life? I think nothing is more traditional here than a private talk with the young man involving your brother, your sons, and a number of shotguns. OK, one thing is more traditional: you can also beat the tar out of your daughter, which you may well have been doing the whole time, since, as a racist, you’re liable to be a bad person in other ways too.

Now, you may protest that as you’re only mildly racist you won’t do anything at all to dissuade the young lovers. But if not, then in only a generation or so, your mildly racist society will be completely dismantled by mixed marriages. What will your disapproval mean if it has no consequences? What will happen when enough sons and daughters of echt-WASPs have married Jews? I mean, you might still prevent them from joining the Maidstone Club, but if that’s literally the only racist content of your mildly racist society then I don’t think it merits the designation.

Or let’s say in your mildly racist society a black person sues because he was passed over for a promotion at the firehouse, because it’s a rule that the next rank up is only for white people. This is pretty mild exclusion, because you do let black men be firefighters, just not chiefs or their immediate junior firefighters. What happens? Either the government affirms that it’s acceptable to restrict some jobs to whites only, or not. If it does, then your racist society has got the might of The State on its side, even if all that’s happened was a politely argued civil suit, right? If not, how does your mildly racist society continue its mildly racist practice of only having white fire chiefs? Now the State intervenes on behalf of the black firefighters and forces you to change your policy, doesn’t it? Or let’s push it further: the government does nothing. It says “Salem’s firehouse policies are its own affair.” And now you keep on not promoting anyone, OK. How does that exclusionary system work? How is it that the white people can keep running the firehouse? Only one way: something bad is going to happen to the black firefighter that brought that suit. Really bad. Bad enough that everybody else is going to think thrice before they “stir up any trouble.” That’s the only way for it to work.

I can perfectly well imagine a large group of white people who are racist-sub-Erwin, who are not motivated by vicious hatred but by a feeling that things are as they should be, and people shouldn’t be up and changing everything, and so forth. What I can’t imagine is them successfully maintaining a systematically racist society. You’ve stipulatively given them one (a hand-me-down from Bull Connor, presumably)–I see it falling apart in about 10 seconds if the oppressive, omnipresent fear of unpunishable violence is removed. I can’t even begin to imagine them getting to one from scratch if you didn’t give it to them. I mean, it’s logically possible that such a society could exist, I guess, but only in a trivial way. This doesn’t vitiate your observations about the Skittles-like rainbow of racism we can taste–inside my mind–but I think it’s a fair point that Erwin can only wave placidly to us from atop the colorful float of moderate segregation if there are a fuckton of Bull Connors, both State-employees and free-lancers, running in hamster wheels under there to keep the thing moving along the parade route.

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Clay Shirky 04.21.14 at 10:18 am

Belle @190…:

I can perfectly well imagine a large group of white people who are racist-sub-Erwin, who are not motivated by vicious hatred but by a feeling that things are as they should be, and people shouldn’t be up and changing everything, and so forth. What I can’t imagine is them successfully maintaining a systematically racist society.

…could have footnoted Emil Durkheim on “social facts”:

Not only are these types of behavior and thinking external to the individual, but they are endued with a compelling and coercive power by virtue of which, whether he wishes it or not, they impose themselves upon him. Undoubtedly when I conform to them of my own free will, this coercion is not felt or felt hardly at all, since it is unnecessary. None the less it is intrinsically a characteristic of these facts; the proof of this is that it asserts itself as soon as I try to resist.

If I attempt to violate the rules of law they react against me so as to forestall my action, if there is still time. Alternatively, they annul it or make my action conform to the norm if it is already accomplished but capable of being reversed; or they cause me to pay the penalty for it if it is irreparable. If purely moral rules are at stake, the public conscience restricts any act which infringes them by the surveillance it exercises over the conduct of citizens and by the special punishments it has at its disposal.

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Belle Waring 04.21.14 at 10:51 am

OK, having just discussed this with John over dinner I mostly retract this disagreement; he really means to exclude everything we might reasonably think of as a racist State from discussion. So, it’s cheating to put all of North Carolina in here, and especially cheating to put the Jim Crow deep South. What we disagree about is the type of thing that constitutes racism, partly. He’s imagining mild exclusion rather than soft segregation, I think. So, not the system Erwin actually supported in real life, but something like what the Maidstone Club employed in real life until like 10 years ago, namely they don’t let any Jews in (there are three Jewish members now, but it was a big deal.) So, an imaginary society in which people are mildly racist, exercise freedom of association in an unpleasant way to further their racist aims, but don’t make life difficult enough for the oppressed class that they would really be moved to take action against it. Not an actually existing or previously existing society in which — very obviously — State violence was the backstop of the racist social structure.

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Belle Waring 04.21.14 at 10:52 am

Clay Shirky: the Durkheim quote could go the other way too — social norms can be self-enforcing without the policeman standing by. And speaking of social norms, stop being such a dick, shah8.

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Neville Morley 04.21.14 at 10:56 am

Apologies (again) for dragging in the Romans again, but BW’s post in conjunction with john c. halasz’ earlier comments sparked a passing thought…

The Roman Empire was, considered over its total span of many centuries, remarkably peaceful with very few rebellions against Roman rule; this is why people like Michael Doyle take it as a model for imperial success, talking of the ‘Augustan threshold’ of incorporating conquered subjects into the polity and so forth. We have numerous representatives of those conquered subjects hymning the empire for its role in bringing peace, order, civilization etc.

Do we take this at face value? Not wise – and to be fair, it was a Roman author who put into the mouth of a barbarian character the great criticism that “they make a desolation and call it peace”. The Romans’ capacity for violence is well established, against anyone they define as an enemy and especially – with the exception of their Italian former allies in the Social War – anyone who rebels against their rule. If you step out of line, they’ll come down on you like a ton of bricks; most people therefore keep quiet and do what’s expected of them, while those that don’t – the Jews in the first century, most obviously – get made an example of.

The Roman state was pretty minimal, the Roman army was thinly stretched, mostly along the frontiers and/or protecting the emperor against potential rivals. Peace was maintained not through constant oppression and control but through the constant threat of retribution – not necessarily immediate violence, but the sense that sooner or later you would be made to pay. In the absence of any sort of police force, we may assume the same about internal social order: don’t mess with the elite, because they have people who will make you sorry, and the run they system of justice to which you would appeal against this.

In such a system, BW’s hypothetical mildly racist dad doesn’t even need to threaten violence or even himself contemplate it; it is implicit in the private chat with the unsuitable young man even in the absence of hefty male relatives and shotguns. Roman fathers, one suspects, wouldn’t have any problem with overt threats, but a more squeamish modern father might be able to convince himself of his repudiation of such things and nevertheless benefit from them. Which may well be the same thing that Durkheim is getting at…

Re Roman population figures #156: all to be taken with barrels of salt, and personally I incline to the lower end of the spectrum of possibilities, but 50-60 million for population of empire at its height seems plausible – in which case, 17 million for the empire in mid-C2 BCE also seems plausible. No idea about the basis for estimates of Carthage casualties, but it was a rich region; Caesar said to have taken a million slaves in his Gallic campaigns, larger area but less developed.

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Neville Morley 04.21.14 at 10:58 am

Oh dear. “…they run the system of justice…” And that lot was written on the basis of BW’s first post (#190), not the next two.

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Belle Waring 04.21.14 at 11:13 am

194 Neville Morley: The grave-markers of Roman aristocrats even from the Republican era often contain lists of treasures pillaged from various newly conquered places, and obviously the Empire was yet more rapacious. I agree there was less rebellion than there might have been and have often wondered about it. Threat of brutal clampdown or hitting of the sweet spot between onerous taxation and provision of useful services…?

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Neville Morley 04.21.14 at 11:21 am

Good at recruiting local elites as collaborators; the latter retain if not reinforce their position in society, and gain possibility of sharing in rewards of imperialism, provided they keep the peace, collect the taxes and accept the loss of independence – with threat of brutal clampdown if they step out of line. Services provided are pretty minimal, but the taxation isn’t especially onerous. Overall the system works well – Palestine is the big exception, partly because Romans pick the wrong people as collaborators – until things start getting wobbly in the third century, and local elites find themselves getting squeezed.

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John Holbo 04.21.14 at 11:24 am

I’m back! Belle and I sorted our differences over dinner, as one may do. They turn out to be largely terminological. I’ll make a comment about that. But first!

Shah8, you’ve shifted from stuff I can’t understand to plain falsehoods! It’s a new look, but I’m not sure it’s … you.

“There was just not ever anything useful about a “moderate” conception of Sam Ervin’s sentiment.”

First, put ‘moderate’ in the right place. I’m not claiming my conception of Ervin is moderate (although I would like to think it is reasonable). I was characterizing Ervin’s racism as moderate – i.e. it is an example of the so-called Soft Southern Strategy. If you think you know that there never was such a thing, make your argument. I’ve made mine. If there is a problem with it, you should be able to say what it is. (And take out ‘sentiment’, for pity’s sake. I think I’ve made clear enough that I’m not talking just about the man’s warm feelings.)

“because you prefer Sam Ervin’s self-assessment rather than the assessment of people victimized by the society he sat at the top of (aside of one black favored son mayor)”

I’ve made perfectly clear that I believe Sam Ervin suffered from massive self-delusion, where his racism was concerned. He did not think of himself as a racist who inflicted massive, unjust suffering on his fellow citizens, on account of their race. But that’s obviously what he was. The puzzle about him is, in a sense, understanding how that sort of severe confabulation is even possible. Given that I say this, over and over – doesn’t it get boring? – that I don’t trust Sam Ervin’s self-assessment, how could your reading comprehension fall to such a level that you fail to see I’m saying the opposite? (Far be it from me to underestimate the human capacity for creative self-deception, but you are pushing it with this one.)

“you’ve been off to some cockamamie-landia creating these clever little internally consistent constructs that carry no weight.”

Is your objection simply that my hypotheticals are hypothetical? Why does that mean they carry no weight?

“You also expect people to take this seriously.”

Well, no. Honestly I’ve been around the comment box too many times to expect that. But, all the same, you should take it seriously. It is serious. If you think it is not serious, you should make an argument rather than bluffing.

“In a world full of violent people and violent societies who pretend that they aren’t as intractably violent as they are, and who are fully backed by state organs.”

You think I’m denying that the world is full of violent people who pretend they aren’t as violent as they are? Why would I pretend that? Can you provide any examples of me doing this odd thing?

Shah8 rattles off stock list of well-known truths about how horrible Jim Crow was. Truths that are true! But why would I not know this, or wish to deny it?

Let’s return to that incomprehensible comment of yours (151). You threw down the gauntlet. Could there be a half-compassionate racist? I accepted the challenge (163).

(Perhaps there are more things in heaven and North Carolina than are dreamed of in your X-Men comics, Horatio?)

Let me simply paste in the terms of my acceptance of your challenge from above. I think I can provide evidence for the following, whereas you are sure no possible world contains such a chimera as thus:

“Ervin was truly, moderately compassionate towards African-Americans, minorities, the downtrodden, the unfortunate. Not just in word but in actual deed. By ‘moderately compassionate’ I don’t mean I guess that he felt a fuzzy feeling, which spurred him to act. It’s an institutional hypothesis. His moderate compassion was socially adaptive: strong, yet tactically deployed. (I suspect shah8 may be neglecting the tactical dimension, having been mislead by the term ‘soft strategy’!) Ervin’s compassion was functional, as a carrot, within the carrot-stick framework of soft segregationist white supremacy. That means: the right sort of carrot placement; and not too many carrots. But real carrots.”

In short, It was important to his self-conception that he wanted to do good for African-Americans. But his instinct was to do good only insofar as it cemented, rather than undermined, the existing hierarchy, and the overall framework of white supremacy. He wanted a system that was, obviously, very bad for African-Americans, to be a system that was very good for them. Without ceasing to be the system it was.

Strange, yes. But I think it’s kind of interesting, and important for the analysis of racism, that people can think this self-serving way.

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Main Street Muse 04.21.14 at 11:57 am

From Belle @ 192: “So, it’s cheating to put all of North Carolina in here, and especially cheating to put the Jim Crow deep South.”

I now have no idea what this discussion is about. John selected an NC example of a soft racist who lived during the Jim Crow era to illustrate a point about racism. But now that’s cheating to look at NC and Jim Crow South?

I find I agree with Christian_H @ 170. The Dan Ryan expressway in Chicago is an example of racism transformed into public works – Richard J. Daley built a massive, 14-lane expressway through the south side of the city – location was determined in a way that cut a massive barrier between Daley’s white Bridgeport neighborhood and the blacks. http://bit.ly/1i8oso7

But I also want to note that, at least in Chicago, racism – though most focused on segregating blacks from whites – included hatreds that were a reflection of pre-WWI Europe – ALL the breeds hated all the other breeds – Italians, Germans, Irish, Bohemian, etc. were deeply suspicious of “the other.” There was a time when it was almost unthinkable for an Italian guy to marry an Irish girl (and they were both the same religion.) What was WWI but racial tribalism gone amok?

Re “that vile guy, Miller…” – FWIW – he was a KKK leader in NC, prior to shooting up the Jewish center.

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Cranky Observer 04.21.14 at 11:57 am

= = =
P2: Opposition to same-sex marriage is complex.

“One thing I’ve noticed in this debate is how unfamiliar proponents of stigma are with thoughtful orthodox Christians — that is to say, they haven’t interacted with them personally, critiqued the best version of their arguments, or even been exposed to the most sophisticated version of their reasoning, which I find to be obviously earnest, if ultimately unpersuasive.”
= = =

If one starts out with 1=2, well…

Cranky

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John Holbo 04.21.14 at 12:10 pm

Shah8 dispensed with – unless he wants to accept my acceptance of his challenge! – let me turn to my largely terminological dispute with my lovely wife.

We both agree that the country club might manage to keep people out, and that arrangement might be socially stable without violence. We both agree that the state can’t be racist without potential violence, so there’s no such thing as state-sponsored Jim Crow without the violence baked in. There’s a third sort of thing where basically you have self-perpetuating social norms. They aren’t backed by the state, per se, but nothing in the workings of the state interferes with their operation. Perhaps there are strong protections for property and free association and so forth that allow for the expression in-group loyalty/out-group hostility.

We are richer and we own most of the businesses and we have a solid (democratic!) lock on the town council and other relevant levers of civic power. We are star-bellies and we are clannish and we don’t like those who don’t have stars down thar. This is very inconvenient to those who lack stars. They have fewer opportunities. All this is due to in-group/out-group animus. Now, so long as the star-bellies don’t push it, this could go on for a long time. Quite possibly those without stars don’t regard it as a great injustice, merely a small one. Compare this to, say, moving to (modern) Rome, and finding that native Romans are very clannish – they are! I could live in Rome for 30 years, learn to speak Italian, and I wouldn’t be a Roman. (Belle and I had our honeymoon in Rome. We undertook some anthropological study together. The Romans are quite insular.) I couldn’t really ‘break into’ Roman society. But I wouldn’t regard this as a titanic injustice, because I don’t have a framework in which a Holbo being refused acceptance to Roman society is part of a big narrative of social injustice. Those who lacked stars on their bellies might, comparably, lack a sense that their outsider status was cosmically awful as all that – so long as the stars didn’t push their backs to the wall. Obviously if you give people no alternative, they fight back (I’m not advocating non-star complacence. I’m saying a self-perpetuating social norm of star-belly dominance seems potentially stable, without any need for state violence to crack non-star-belly heads. It could work.)

Another example: imagine that a big family runs the town. If you are an Amberson, the town is your oyster. Otherwise, you are less lucky. This might lead to violence against Ambersons. But it might just bump along like that for a long time, very unequally. Either option is quite imaginable.

Now just imagine that Amberson is the name of a racial group, rather than a family. Or that star-belly is a racial designation, rather than some random Seuss thing (which was, of course, an allegory for race, so your imagination shouldn’t have to work too hard)

All I’m saying is that these sorts of self-reinforcing social norms could well be about race, and they could be relatively stable, and they wouldn’t be backed by any special level of state-sponsored violence. There needn’t be a law on the books that it is a special crime to attack an Amberson, or that Ambersons have special rights. It’s just that Ambersons have certain advantages, including the advantage of being able to confer advantages, and these they confer on Ambersons. This is privilege as path-dependence or hegemony.

Maybe it boils down to this: it seems like racism would really piss people off. Hence, the only way to make it the norm would be threatening the pissed off people with violence. But you can have a low enough degree of pissing people off that they aren’t moved to violence. Not everything that annoys you is worth starting a fight about.

Which brings me to my disagreement with my wife. She is kind of disinclined to call these lowgrade case ‘racism’. We agree about what is possible and not, sociologically, but not about whether to call certain relatively low-key forms of unequal privilege – even if race-based – racism.

One final point. A natural model for a relatively mild sort of racism is hegemony rather than hate. A small group holds its superior position by dispensing selective favors, downwards. Patronage. This sort of system is a carrot-stick system. Group X wants to dominate group Y, but group Y is big. Option A: have a crazy amount of violent power, such that a small group, like X, can do this awful thing. Option B: co-opt a portion of group Y with offers of limited privilege. This arrangement is not likely to be violence-free. It could be more violent than Option A, but it could also aim at disincentivizing violence, by extending just enough privilege, in tactical ways, such that there’s never a critical mass for revolt; in which case group X will self-conceive, not as haters of the inferior Y’s, but as benevolent uplifters of the Y-ish race! And, in way, this lie will become its own half-compassionate half-truth.

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Barry 04.21.14 at 12:41 pm

John Holbo: “Barry, I take it you think it has simply failed to occur to me that Sam Ervin might have been a liar, rather than self-deceived. In this you are quite mistaken: I have duly considered both options and have opted for self-deceived as the more likely of the two, based on the evidence. So tell me: why do you think the other option is more likely? Is it just that you don’t believe that someone could exhibit as much cognitive dissonance as I attribute to Sam Ervin. Or is it that specific facts about Sam Ervin’s career suggest to you a different interpretation than I offer?”

I expect that he lied to himself and lied to others, as well. My point was that you seemed to be taking somebody’s public (and highly self-justifying) statements as true, with no proof.

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AcademicLurker 04.21.14 at 1:37 pm

I’m a bit puzzled about what the end point of these thought experiments is supposed to be. The justification appears to be “to better understand racism”, but the hypotheticals we are now entertaining – systems of more or less benign racism that are not backed up by implicit and explicit threats of extreme violence – bear no resemblance to anything like racist institutions as they either historically or currently exist in the modern western world.

Having drifted so far from the real world, what sort of insight into the reality of racism can we expect to gain? Of course hypotheticals can be helpful for understanding but it doesn’t follow that every hypothetical is helpful.

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John Holbo 04.21.14 at 1:47 pm

Muse: “John selected an NC example of a soft racist who lived during the Jim Crow era to illustrate a point about racism. But now that’s cheating to look at NC and Jim Crow South?”

It’s not cheating, Muse. Look all you want. The source of the problem, I think, was that you suggested – way upthread – that we should think about what would happen if all the Bull Connors were, as it were, raptured away, and replaced with Sam Ervins. I shouldn’t have taken you up on the invitation to imagine that because it just introduced too much hypothetical unclarity about what we are talking about. I was saying: possible! Other people said: impossible! But we weren’t thinking about the same thing.

Barry: “My point was that you seemed to be taking somebody’s public (and highly self-justifying) statements as true, with no proof.”

Whose statements? Not Ervin’s, I take it. He never admitted to suffering severe severe false-consciousness. Are you accusing his biographer?

What statements are you talking about? I am preparing to argue on the basis of what Ervin did and said, as an elected official, which is public record. (I’m obviously not just going to take Ervin’s word for the state of his immortal soul. Gimme some credit for an ounce of skepticism. Geeze.) But I obviously haven’t done that YET. Forgive me for stalling, but I was sort of curious whether I could get shah8 on the record as declaring that he didn’t believe any such thing could happen in the multiverse. Then I would present the evidence. It’s nothing so special. But people are sure it’s impossible. That’s why I wrote the post.

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John Holbo 04.21.14 at 1:50 pm

“Having drifted so far from the real world, what sort of insight into the reality of racism can we expect to gain?”

I have now duly repented my unwise acceptance of Muse’s suggestion (I think it was Muse) to imagine, as it were, the Rapture of the Bulls. That was unclear. Let all future discussion proceed on some solider sociological basis. So that people can tell if they are even disagreeing.

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John Holbo 04.21.14 at 1:58 pm

Programming note: having done my bit to clog the thread with words, I am taking a day or so off to get something done. But you are encouraged to keep talking and saying I’m wrong if you think so.

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William Timberman 04.21.14 at 2:03 pm

I think AcademicLurker has a point. Perhaps you can posit a relatively benign social discrimination based on race, breeding, yellow or purple or ermine-trimmed clothes, ownership of the means of production, or whatever else you want to suppose could exist, and could even bumble along for years untroubled by the dim memory of the violence which established it in the first place, but only, I think, in theory. Once anyone, anywhere had sat down in his drafty garret and penned a Déclaration universelle des droits de l’homme, the history we know would claim precedence over the theory you fancy.

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Main Street Muse 04.21.14 at 2:04 pm

“… was that you suggested – way upthread – that we should think about what would happen if all the Bull Connors were, as it were, raptured away, and replaced with Sam Ervins. “

I never suggested that we “rapture away all the Bull Connors.” I said that Sam Ervin and Bull Connor were two sides of the same coin. I was looking at the reality of Jim Crow South, even as it existed in a “benevolent” Jim Crow state like North Carolina. Sam’s hierarchy of power was not possible without Bull Connor’s violence. Or whoever passed for Bull Connor in NC at the time.

I am not an academic and do not fly into realms of the hypothetical, alas…

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Clay Shirky 04.21.14 at 2:14 pm

Belle @193: Durkheim does indeed imagine social norms without the policeman; later in the same passage, he introduces the notion of trying to get along in French society without speaking French. What he denies is the existence of a social fact that is also free of coercion, because under those circumstances, any social pattern is just happenstance, and subject to all sorts of drift, especially if some of the people affected by the pattern don’t like it.

It seems to me that rather than trying to imagine the difference between mild and severe racism, you could just put the coercion required for maintenance on a spectrum. Bull Connor-style attacks came late in the century between the Civil War and Civil Rights act — the period prior to WWII was far more oppressive in many ways, but the mechanism were more subdued, precisely because they were wide-spread.

To bring homophobic bigotry into the argument (because hey, why not?) the demand to restrict marriage rights to same-sex couples didn’t soften from a constitutional amendment to a mere law to extra-legal social agreement. It went in exactly the opposite direction, where laws were only added when it looked like hating gays tout court might become socially unacceptable, and constitutional amendments were only attempted when it looked like majoritarian politics might start favoring teh gays.

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William Timberman 04.21.14 at 2:21 pm

@207: …and such an arrangement might even bumble along…which had established it in the first place…

Sigh…. Lost in the forest of mine own dependent clauses yet again.

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John Holbo 04.21.14 at 2:24 pm

OK, one more comment and I’m off (this needs saying since I have been unfair to Muse):

Muse: “I never suggested that we “rapture away all the Bull Connors.””

I didn’t mean to suggest you were engaging in flights of counterfactual fancy, Muse. Sorry for having written that comment in a way that suggested that.

What you wrote was, for the record: “How can Ervin’s racial hierarchy be supported without Bull Connor’s violence? It cannot. They are married – irrevocably, without the possibility of a divorce.” And I unwisely – let the charge of unwisdom fall on me! – responded that I thought we could hypothetically envision a softer version of segregationism (Jim Crow lite-lite-lite-lite) that would be a self-perpetuating social norm not necessarily based on the constant threat of violence. The problem was: I wasn’t explicit about what I took to be too obvious to need mentioning. This is radically unlike any existing thing. The point was not to say that this was the actual North Carolina model or anything like that.

And js. wrote: “you seem committed to the claim that you can have Sam Ervin without Bull Connor.” I foolishly said yes to this, because – again – I was just thinking about the abstract possibility of self-perpetuating social norms, which I take to be rather important for figuring out how racism can, potentially function. But then people imagined I was radically misdescribing actual North Carolina, or that I was fantastically ignorant about Jim Crow generally, and down it went.

As I said: I suggest people be clearer about what they are talking about – including myself! – so that we can all disagree only about things we actually disagree about. Certainly we will still find enough of those.

Except I don’t have to worry for the time being because I’m going off. See you all tomorrow.

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Clay Shirky 04.21.14 at 3:07 pm

John @211:

Not to uncork the Latourvian-sized can of sociological complication*, but this…

I was just thinking about the abstract possibility of self-perpetuating social norms, which I take to be rather important for figuring out how racism can, potentially function

…is too passive a construction to bear the weight you ask it to bear.

There is nst as a “self-perpetuating social norm”, for the same reason, as Latour likes to point out, that you can never find the office in which bureaucracy is produced. If you want to understand how racism is constructed and maintained (define it how you may), you are going to have to look at what norms the people in the system perpetuate.

And if some people in the system get the short end of that system’s stick, such as (to pull an example at random) black people in the United States, what sorts of things are other people perpetuating to keep that short-end-y bit in place?

And I take your proposition to be that if there is enough false consciousness to distribute not just to the oppressed but to the oppressors, you can imagine a system that keeps people in their place without any plausible threat of violence backstopping the system, a sort of fiat currency of oppression without the gold standard of burning crosses and snarling dogs to back it up, even in theory.

I doubt, on both theoretical and historical terms, that you can support this argument, but in light of your plea that people be clearer about what we are talking about, is that at least a framing of your belief that doesn’t rely on the spooky action at a distance of self-perpetuating norms?

* Yes yes I know I was just quoting Durkheim, Latour’s mortal enemy. As Whitman said, “I contain multitudes. Sue me.”

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Lee A. Arnold 04.21.14 at 3:22 pm

I think we have to explain how it is that things change, when the system doesn’t change: when the structure of power, the relations of production, are the same before and after.

I was struck by how much the Durkheim quote is echoed in many comments I have read and heard from anti-gay people (some of whom have now moved on, to become anti-gay “marriage” people. I asked, what if the gays called it “garriage”, it only rhymes? No deal.). They don’t want to be subjected to it; it will become “intrinsically a characteristic” [Durkheim] of the society they run into everyday; they will be “infringed” upon. They fear for what is under their skin. And they fear for their kids.

Never mind that the kids don’t care, ten to one. And THAT is what is changing things: time, and sometimes, maybe for some people, revelation. But the structure of government and economic power didn’t change first, and doesn’t always have to change afterward: it was the agents, up and down the ladders, who began to turn.

I also think it is important to look at this in regard to inequality (I just started reading Piketty’s big book). Because, by contrast, inequality IS the nature of the structure, and I think that may make it different than racism, sexism and homophobia. Unlike racism and sexism (let’s just lump homophobia in there, for the moment), inequality looks to be baked into the structure: it may be inalienable from any arrangement of innovation+mass production. So I think it may be important to consider that the impellers of the agents of the crimes may be logically, vastly different in the two cases (i.e. racism/sexism vs. inequality).

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Ronan(rf) 04.21.14 at 3:58 pm

Well, in terms of the role of self-perpetuating social norms and violence in maintaining discriminatory socio economic systems, what would all of this say about the Jews (or Roma) in Europe (pre 20th century) or the position of ‘Untouchables’ in the Indian caste system ? Obviously both are extremely complex, contingent realities, and violence figures centrally in maintaining both (I assume.. explicit and implicit, centralised and decentralised? etc) but .. (okay I have nothing more to add)

Relatedly, I haven’t read the lit (as they say) on slavery in North America, but this was an interesting (if verbiagey) review

https://nplusonemag.com/issue-17/reviews/slave-capitalism/

of Walter Johnsons new book which compared the ‘Genovese school’ of how slavery functioned (by this review, though it’s simplified, through paternalism and with less recourse to violence) and what the new histiography says (where violence is central.)

This might all be irrelvant, I accept.

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shah8 04.21.14 at 4:44 pm

Belle Waring, I don’t find these ruminations benign. Dickitrude ensues.

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js. 04.21.14 at 6:10 pm

Holbo @205:

Let all future discussion proceed on some solider sociological basis.

Yes, good!

Holbo @211:

I was just thinking about the abstract possibility of self-perpetuating social norms, which I take to be rather important for figuring out how racism can, potentially function.

This is radically unlike any existing thing.

Umm…

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js. 04.21.14 at 6:13 pm

A tiny bit more substantively, I don’t see how anything you’ve said since manages to respond to Academic Lurker @203, or for that matter what I said @172.

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ISOK 04.21.14 at 8:11 pm

I think a helpful addition to the thought experiment John is recreating here is to assume for a moment that the tendency towards racist thought is universal — a default condition of humanity, even among practicing (aspiring?) non-racists.

In this framing it is inadequate to define a non-racist as someone who simply never forms racist thoughts (since you would be — mostly correctly, I believe — assuming this type of person out of existence). Rather, an aspiring non-racist must actively engage, reform and reject racist thought in perpetuity, anywhere it arises, including from within him/herself and especially as it evolves into newer, less familiar forms in the future.

From here, I think it is quite easy to see why the Erwin / Friedersdorf line of thinking requires special attention. The key point is that folks in the E / F camp already have rejected racism, albeit on their own inadequate terms. Having taken this first step, they are searching for a resting place, an equilibrium state where they can comfortably reside as a bonafide non-racist in perpetuity, absent any further changes that they currently view as uncomfortable. But of course no such place exists.

At the same time, within the aspiring non-racist crowd, measuring the degree of one’s non-racism vs. that of others loses its utility — i.e., today’s tolerance is tomorrow’s bigotry, or perhaps more applicable here, yesterday’s tolerance is today’s bigotry.

And so we arrive at a view of anti-racism that — helpfully, in my opinion — requires momentum. Milestones are meaningless from (but not before) the moment they are achieved. And the distinctions between the views of Erwin and Bull Connor, between Erwin and Freidersdorf, can be properly understood as critical to engage precisely because they are far too attractive to those seeking that illusive and illusory equilibrium state.

Thanks,
ISOK

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John Holbo 04.21.14 at 11:41 pm

“is that at least a framing of your belief that doesn’t rely on the spooky action at a distance of self-perpetuating norms?”

I’m still not here, but then again I am. A joke, some helpful suggestions, and be off again.

In the heart of N.U.D.G.E. there is an office (but this will be denied if you ask.) In the office – The Office of Quantum Racism – there is a box. In the box is a Bull (Connor, to be exact). But no one knows whether he is alive or dead. Radioactive source. Poison. (You know the drill.) In a strange way, Bull is both alive and dead. Until someone looks. That is why no one looks. In a strange way, the whole system of N.U.D.G.E. is powered by a core of uncertainty as to whether Bull is alive or dead.

Just for the record: I disavow all belief (let alone knowledge) of the Office of Quantum Racism! When I spoke, indefinitely, about whether there could be self-perpetuating norms of racism – by which I meant: norms that do not necessarily depend for their force and stability on the threat of state violence – I did not mean for my indefinite description ectoplasmically to infect the subject matter in a spooky way! I don’t think we need something like quantum uncertainty to imagine a case in which we may or may not have a Bull Connor, powering a social norm!

I know you don’t think I believe in Quantum Racism, Clay. I’m just enjoying my fantasy of N.U.D.G.E. over coffee.

“Umm…”

I think what js. is saying is that my non-reality based hypotheticals, in the thread’s past, seem inconsistent with my urging that we be more reality based, in the thread’s future. This is not hypocrisy or inconsistency but self-improvement. I’m resolving to do better. There is nothing wrong with hypotheticals, even extreme ones. But they need to be clear. Mixing up arguments about what was actual, historically, with arguments about what is socially possible, in the abstract, so that people aren’t totally clear, moment by moment, which is being discussed, invites confusion.

The post is about one guy, Sam Ervin, but the idea is to use his case as an occasion to reflect more broadly on the real range of sociological possibility, where racism is concerned. I think this is a sensible way to approach the subject. Still, it can be unclear, moment by moment, whether we are still standing on on the springboard of the historical case, or whether we have already bounced off into more abstract, logical space.

Shah8: “I don’t find these ruminations benign.” It’s quite clear you think I could only write the post out of bad motives. Or, at the very least, that thinking this way can only do harm. But I think, if you think about it, you will find that I am not defending or excusing racism, or sweeping the horrors of Jim Crow out of sight or any of that. Thus, what’s the harm? (There may be intellectual error, of course. But why the moral horror at what I say?)

“The key point is that folks in the E / F camp already have rejected racism, albeit on their own inadequate terms. Having taken this first step, they are searching for a resting place, an equilibrium state where they can comfortably reside as a bonafide non-racist in perpetuity, absent any further changes that they currently view as uncomfortable. But of course no such place exists.”

Yes, that’s pretty good. I’ll buy that.

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Lee A. Arnold 04.22.14 at 12:25 am

the New Underling Directive for General Expropriations

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SamChevre 04.22.14 at 1:18 am

Something bad is going to happen to the black firefighter that brought that suit. Really bad. Bad enough that everybody else is going to think thrice before they “stir up any trouble.”

But that something may be completely non-violent (as it was in my understanding[1] for my grandparents.) After they married (he was a second-generation Jew of Hungarian descent, she a very WASP NY WASP), no one would hire him. For anything. Anywhere in NYC. So they moved to Panama, where my father was born. Completely non-violent, but the point was made quite effectively.

I’m not happy with the idea that hierarchy/paternalism implies hate. I don’t hate my children; I AM convinced that they’d manage to kill themselves, either by wandering into traffic or falling off something, if I didn’t enforce boundaries like “don’t go out to the major street at the end of the block.” And the fact that I can set and enforce those boundaries is a function of hierarchy.

1)Neither of them talked about it much–this is pieced together from bits and may be wrong in some details.

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John Holbo 04.22.14 at 1:45 am

OK, I’m doing a lousy job of keeping myself away, but let me at least try to confine myself to cleaning up mess. js. wants to know what I think about his 172, which says (among other things):

“That is, you could lose the racism without losing anything essential about how the class system (again, broadly defined) works in this society. It would be foolish to deny that some such society could exist, but I think one fairly obvious thing to say about such a society is that the prism of race, or of racism, wouldn’t give one much insight into it. At all. That comes along with the racism being incidental.”

What js. sees as a problem with my analysis is, from my point of view, a potential result of the analysis: there may be cases of racism in which the racism is, as it were, incidental. That sounds silly. How can racism be incidental to itself? The way to put it, so it doesn’t sound absurd, is like this: we may find a case in which there is racism, but what you really need to understand, to understand what is going on in the society, is something that is – not deeper, necessarily – but not so clearly needing to express itself as racism, per se.

js. is sensing that, in any case in which my hypothetical conditions for mostly non-violent stable norms are met (we are being VERY hypothetical here!) we may want to say it is something else, besides racism, that is doing the pushing. (This was also Belle’s reaction, when I discussed these cases with her. She kept wanting to say: I wouldn’t really call that racism, but class or inequality, privilege, or family ties, or guanxi, or something.)

I think the thing to say is that, in a sense – and rather obviously – ALL cases of racism are such cases. Cases in which, in a sense, racism is inessential. Because racism is, in a sense, just one manifestation of the more general human impulse to tribalism. Racism is a tool for making us into an US (and them into a THEM). Racism is adaptive. It has a function (if it weren’t for bad uses, some tools wouldn’t have any uses at all!) I doubt anyone will deny this. But one consequence of thinking this way – racism is a tool – is that it makes racism incidental, insofar as maybe you could have settled on a different tool. (Not that people pick their societies, rather than inheriting them. You know what I mean.)

So, to conclude: js. says that maybe the prism of racism wouldn’t provide insight into such cases. I am suggesting that maybe the solution is not to drop the prism of racism, in those cases, but to adopt a slightly different prism of racism, in all cases. See it a bit differently than we are inclined to, in all cases, in light of its obviously incidental character, in some cases.

This sounds crazy, applied to, say, the antebellum South. How could racism be incidental to THAT? In one sense, it couldn’t be incidental. You can’t have brutal, race-based slavery as the whole basis for your society without racism, to prop it up. But in another sense, it makes perfect sense to say: it’s incidental. How so? Well, what is the common denominator of the antebellum South and industrial England, in that period? One way to put it would be this: a rich elite, exploiting a oppressed mass, making themselves richer and more elite. Suppose someone objected: but there’s a fundamental difference! In one case we have an elite ideology of urban industrialism, free markets and capitalism, in the other case an elite ideology of agrarian feudalism and racism! These are opposite ideologies. Yes, but no. They have very different content (and that is quite morally important.) But they have rather similar social functions. They have been settled on, by these respective elites, for similar reasons. Namely, they justify the elites continuing to be elites. These ideologies provide identity.

Am I just a Marxist, then? No, I don’t expect all analysis of racism will dissolve into class struggle. But I think it will all turn out to be tribalism.

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Peter T 04.22.14 at 1:47 am

Thinking, as recommended, sociologically. First, I think it helps to be clear about what kind of violence applies here. Any code of behaviour among social animals will have some element of violent enforcement (puppies nipping each other, !Kung communally clubbing repeat offenders to death…). Hobbes and all that. Also, many societies organise so as to violently extract resources from the neighbours, without being systematically violent internally. What the Romans did to the (Carthaginians/Greeks/Gauls…) was aided by a relatively low level of internal systemic violence. What happened to Spartacus may be more to the point. Jim Crow and similar are violent in a particular way.

Race as conceived in the South also has some features that are a bit different from most other systems of discrimination. Unlike, say, religious discrimination, it cannot be “escaped” through conversion. Unlike discrimination based on descent, it does not blur through time and the urge to miscegenate: some can boast of 16 quarterings, very few of 32, and 64 is almost guaranteed to turn up someone embarrassing. The “one drop” rule, combined the tie between skin colour and social position blocked the operation of normal processes of assimilation and attenuation.

Had Sam Ervin been offered some future where ordinary mixing and inheritance had so blurred the distinction of colour that it was barely relevant to social position – even if the hierarchy of NC had been preserved – my feeling is that he would have rejected it. His political life was devoted to averting such a future. Which meant that the Bull Connors were an inescapable part of his system. They were the engine powering the system against contrary tides.

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shah8 04.22.14 at 2:09 am

Oh, geez, no.

For the last time, I’ve always understood what you were saying. I never thought you were defending anyone’s racism, nor have I ever thought you were valorizing Sam Ervin. Moreover, I had *always* connected it to the discussion about people “moderately against gay marriage” and moderation like that. My problem was that you plainly do not understand what you ultimately were writing about, because you effectively never accepted the sheer inescapability of racist structure as far as individuals are concerned. Your extended postulation, in effect could never, ever, actually happen in the real world, because your point that there is a material meaningfulness in the distinction between the mindset of Ervin and Connor elides the nature of what they are immersed in. Put in the severe landscape of what American history might mean to black people, there is no little sense of dancing in the minefield. So if you’re going to go dancing in the minefield, what are you going there for? From my perspective, a sense of being an intellectual shock jock, of the sort that might think it’s fun to defang and declaw a tiger and take it for a walk in the park on a leash. “Hey, it can’t bite anybody, isn’t it cool?” While everyone just sees a really big tiger, who presumably can overpower it’s silly handler no matter.

It’s not as if I don’t go, “well, um….What Would Eric Foner Say About This?” Walter Johnson? Douglass A Blackmon? And that’s just the white people who would know. What about goodies but oldies black people like Baldwin, and people now like TNC or Jamelle Bouie? What do you think the noise would be if you made this a comparison between one Nazi work camp commander who went out of his way to preserve labor (and campaigned on his “thoughtfulness”) until the end of the war versus another who just worked the Jews to death. Or anything else like that? Of course I went all in hot shot, because this one is easy–like I said at the very beginning, this is not really a novel argument. Not using it as a shell game to absolve people or to get the target person or group to engage with the system (with futility) might be novel, since they are the classic motivations, but I’ve seen something like this many times, and in a diversity of lights.

Again, not an especially benign sort of argument, and I do think well enough of you that I’d expect better. Won’t stop me from reading and enjoying any of your other work–This sort of thing is just a hazard, sometimes, of reading what white people think. Brush it off and move on. However, in the meantime, make plenty of squeaks.

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John Holbo 04.22.14 at 2:25 am

Shah8: “My problem was that you plainly do not understand what you ultimately were writing about, because you effectively never accepted the sheer inescapability of racist structure as far as individuals are concerned.”

I think we’ll just have to agree to disagree – completely – about even the most basic features of what my post says. There is literally almost no overlap between the set of things you are sure I’ve said, and the set of things I think I’ve said. From my point of view, my post is literally premised on Ervin’s obvious inability to escape the racist structure in which he lived and thrived. I don’t know why you think my post is premised on the opposite of that. You aren’t inclined to say. Like I said before: you can keep it as a secret.

“What do you think the noise would be if you made this a comparison between one Nazi work camp commander who went out of his way to preserve labor (and campaigned on his “thoughtfulness”) until the end of the war versus another who just worked the Jews to death.”

Probably somewhat analogous to the noise heard over Eichmann in Jerusalem.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eichmann_in_Jerusalem#Controversy

I know you think I’m immune to the lure of literary sophistication; but, believe it or not, I really liked – well, insofar as it disturbed me and was horrifying – “The Kindly Ones”

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Kindly_Ones_%28Littell_novel%29

I think it’s a great novel. But it positively outraged some readers for its portrait of a Nazi, involved in administration of the Final Solution, who was teetering between the two psychological poles you consider. The novel is really an extended attempt to imagine what that sort of madness could be like, from the inside.

It doesn’t have Magneto in it, but you might give it a try.

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Main Street Muse 04.22.14 at 2:26 am

“The “one drop” rule, combined the tie between skin colour and social position blocked the operation of normal processes of assimilation and attenuation.”

And why was this one-drop rule needed? The incidence of rape was quite high on the plantation – white men raping black women. (T Jefferson being one; the only slaves freed upon his death were related to Sally Hemings, who was herself the product of rape – Jefferson’s father-in-law was Sally’s father; her mother was one of his slaves, which made Sally the half-sister of Jefferson’s wife. Sordid. Too sordid!)

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js. 04.22.14 at 3:04 am

Re Holbo @222, first a minor point:

That sounds silly. How can racism be incidental to itself?

Actually, I didn’t say anything silly or absurd. If you go back to 172, in the sentence prior to where your quote starts, I’m quite clearly claiming that in the kind of society in question, racism would be incidental to the system of class stratification within that society. The later “racism being incidental” is supposed to pick up on that. It’s not the absurd claim that the racism would be incidental to itself. Anyway, on to a more substantive point:

Because racism is, in a sense, just one manifestation of the more general human impulse to tribalism. … I doubt anyone will deny this.

Well, I for one deny it. (Tho maybe you mean that no one will deny what goes in place of the ellipsis?) I don’t think that racism is a species or manifestation or whatever of tribalism. I think racism is a species of institutionally implemented oppression of a social group; its differentiating feature is that the social group in question — the oppressed group — is identified by certain phenotypic characteristics.

And this isn’t an utterly minor point. Earlier, you’d suggested that you wanted to hold on to an institutionalist conception of racism; I really don’t see how this can cohere with a racism-is-at-bottom-tribalism account. Here’s what seems like one obvious problem: if it’s really just about tribalism, then black people (in the US) can be just as racist against white people as white people against black people! I mean, why not? Can’t black people be just as tribalist as white people? But this doesn’t look anything like an institutionalist conception of racism — at least as I understand it, and I don’t think my understanding here is terribly idiosyncratic.

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js. 04.22.14 at 3:13 am

Ok, one more somewhat minor point.

Holbo @219

I think what js. is saying is that my non-reality based hypotheticals, in the thread’s past, seem inconsistent with my urging that we be more reality based, in the thread’s future. This is not hypocrisy or inconsistency but self-improvement.

I certainly wasn’t indicting you with hypocrisy, and neither really with inconsistency. The problem, as I see it, is that the “self-improvement” is going in the wrong direction, so to speak. Earlier there was confusion, and on all ends — I think we agree on this. But your clarifications (which have undoubtedly been helpful) have, umm, made clear that you’re interested in a somewhat extraordinary-seeming hypothetical scenario that as you yourself put it is “radically unlike anything existing”. I’m just having a bit of trouble seeing how this is helping you with the “solider sociological basis”.

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John Holbo 04.22.14 at 3:40 am

js. “Actually, I didn’t say anything silly or absurd.”

I wasn’t intending to accuse you of that, js. I was trying to explain how your position, which could be glossed in an absurd way, actually makes perfect. The problem, it turns out, is that my sympathetic reconstruction of what you said was mistaken. It turns out that you do disagree with something I thought you would agree with:

“I don’t think that racism is a species or manifestation or whatever of tribalism. I think racism is a species of institutionally implemented oppression of a social group;”

Aha! Now we are getting somewhere.

I would say: it’s a species of tribalism, very typically leveraged for oppressive purposes, as you say. But here we really start to see the cleavage between your concept and mine (and I think a lot of other people are probably with you on this one). I want to make the tribalism the essential feature, so that I’m open to non-oppressive forms of racism. Racism can be ‘yay us!’ relatively more than ‘boo you!’ Furthermore, the racial Other doesn’t need to be oppressed in order for it to be the sounding board, off which we hear racial ‘Us’. There’s a huge moral hazard of oppression, naturally, where racism is concerned. I’m not trying to rehabilitate racism as perfectly safe-if-used-correctly ‘up-with-us’ cheerleaderism. I just think it’s interesting to think about, together, the class of racial us-and-them cases that involve oppression; the class of such cases that involve just assymetrical microaggressions, at worst; and the class of such cases that may involve not even that – perhaps because there is an equal balance of power between mutually despising groups, or an inability to project power, such that neither race is in a position to oppress, systematically.

Whose concept of racism is right? I don’t think there’s a right answer. It turns out you have one concept, I have a different one. We could argue about which is analytically superior. But I think we should agree that the concepts might each have their uses. The thing we need to avoid is acting like we are arguing about who’s right about X, when we are literally talking about different X’s. You’ve built Y into X, conceptually, so I sound insane to you when I talk about X without Y. But I just haven’t built Y right into my X. So I’m not so obviously insane, I submit.

“I’m just having a bit of trouble seeing how this is helping you with the “solider sociological basis”.”

Well, I was revisiting the thread’s airier, speculative past – your comment 172 – at your invitation. (That’s the danger with invitations! People may accept them!) But I agree that we could do with more sociology, less speculation, to advance the discussion, going forward. I should just write a post, next week, telling people more about the facts about Ervin’s career, what he did and didn’t do. How he justified himself, publicly at least. And folks can make what they will of the facts on the ground, or at least a curated selection of them.

My plan to NOT spend more time in this thread is failing. I have other work to do. If you see me back in the next 18 hours, you should laugh at me as a moral weakling.

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shah8 04.22.14 at 3:57 am

Cosign with js on the major point of 227. That was why I used the idea of Nazi camp commanders. In the police state South, racism was not tribalism. It was an organizing ideology that intrinsically incorporated control of the State in its themes.

I deny it too.

A few quotes from the original post and responses:

“Bigotry is an inherently negative attitude. But racism is, essentially, just a hierarchical notion. It really has nothing inherent to do with hate. Bigotry says someone is bad. Racism says ‘I am better’. Which implies someone is worse. But it doesn’t necessarily dwell on it, darkly, let alone violently. Racism can walk on the sunny side of the street, in its mind.

Ervin does not seem to be bubbling over with race hate, in an emotional sense. This is why he felt that charges of racism, against him, were unjust. A racist is a bigot is consumed with hate. Ervin looked in his heart, saw no bubbling hate, per se, for the black man. He exonerated himself on that charge, and felt anger at his unjust accusers for calling him racist.

What he felt was love of hierarchy and order and preservation of social status.”

–The conclusions do not follow from correct premises. We’ve gone over this segment before.

Then:
“Pulling it all together: animosity towards blacks – wishing them ill, for ill’s sake – is not the center of the picture. What is important is that good things for blacks should flow down from a morally and socially hierarchical peak, inhabited by the likes of Ervin. There is also an intense just world hypothesis-grade refusal to admit anything really bad could be happening, and have happened.”

–the very union of the US was dependent on the dehumanization of blacks. And dehumanization is…fundamentally wishing them ill, for ill’s sake. Just because a just world hypothesis is used to exculpate the annihilation of the black self, of black families, etc, doesn’t mean that the 3/5 thing and everything that flows from it is not about what it is.

How about:
“This is common sense, but we’re on the internet, so let me add the thing I shouldn’t need to: I’m not saying that I know, for a certain metaphysical truth, that Sam Ervin’s heart was as pure as the driven snow, when it came to being free from the least little bit of racial animus. I assume the contrary, since I am not insane. Nevertheless, if you took his primary motive, in resisting civil rights, to be race hatred – i.e. bigotry – I think you would be mistaken. His racism wasn’t a felt emotion of hate but a blinkered vision of the social good. A will to ‘I am better’, not a will to ‘you are worse’.”

–just like Bush being able to peer into Putin’s eyes and see a good soul, right?

The issue here is that you fundamentally reject the idea that “moderate racism” couldn’t exist:
“And speaking of saying things that should be obvious: the overall moral of this Ervin story isn’t about same-sex marriage, obviously. The point is: moderate racism is an important psychological/sociological category, to which we are semi-blinded by our (rightful!) exclusion of moderate racism as defensible moral position. The importance of thinking about moderate racism is mostly this: there are more Sam Ervins around today than Bull Connors. As society becomes less tolerant of racism, racism involves more double-thinking. No one exceeded Ervin at that! But when we think about racism we think: Bull Connor and dogs and firehoses.”

–nobody I know is actually blinded by “exclusion of moderate racism as defensible moral position”. People tend to have this idea that racism is inherently immoderate. People can have racist thoughts, yes, but a person like that is not a “moderate racist”. People can have a racist ideology, yes, but that means that a person is racist. Of course, there are different sorts of racist ideologies, but none of them are “moderate”, because, again, racism is inherently immoderate. There’s no sort of Overton Window thing going on here, and both Ervin and Conner followed the same ideology.

Look, I understand. I mean, when I was a kid in college, I said some of the worst stuff on CEDA debate email forums, giggling about how clever I was with my wording or whatever. Stuff I wish I never said, because they hurt people I care about unknowingly. That sort of behavior though, has always been attractive to excessively clever people. So dude, as a person that’s been there before, seriously, you’re just hanging on to a few specious meanings that don’t mean what they mean. Conflating racism with hierarchy? Tribalism? Something something primordial Not-Racism?

please

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js. 04.22.14 at 4:01 am

Whose concept of racism is right? I don’t think there’s a right answer. … But I think we should agree that the concepts might each have their uses.

I would actually dispute the political usefulness of the way you’re thinking of racism (and I might later!), but the last comment is very helpful. Cheers.

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John Holbo 04.22.14 at 4:08 am

OK, I’m a moral weakling.

“You’re interested in a somewhat extraordinary-seeming hypothetical scenario that as you yourself put it is “radically unlike anything existing”.”

Yes, but not extraordinary-seeming because it’s Cloud Cuckoo-Land. It’s a there we couldn’t have gotten to from here, not a there we can’t imagine being a possibly stable social arrangement for 5 minutes.

I do want to resist the charge that, any any point, I’ve flown off to Cloud Cuckoo-Land. I don’t think I have. It only seems like that because you thought I thought I was describing North Carolina, I think.

Now. Trying to be morally strong. Do other work.

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John Holbo 04.22.14 at 4:08 am

js.’s and my comments crossed. I’m out.

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John Holbo 04.22.14 at 4:19 am

Shah8, did you ever see “The Limey”? Funny film. The DEA agent is grilling our hero, who has a funny grin on his face.

DEA agent: “There’s one thing I don’t understand. The thing I don’t understand is every motherfuckin’ word that’s coming out of your mouth.”

You and I are in the situation, but – unlike the DEA agent – I have finally come around to the conclusion that you aren’t just trolling me, which is what I thought before. So I apologize for some of my snark. But you and I will just have to agree to disagree about one thing: namely, what I said in the post, and afterwards, in this thread. The one thing we disagree about is what I said. Not the truth of it, because we never got to that. Just what it was.

May we both have happy lives, on that curiously bifurcated basis.

And now, in my abject moral weakness – but feeling like maybe I cleared the air a little – I’m off.

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rwschnetler 04.22.14 at 4:23 am

I agree with John Holbo that one fundamental characteristic of racism is hierarchy, and not hate. Contempt yes, but not hate. To hate, you have to engage and think and rationalise, especially if you are Christian, because how does ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’ reconcile with racism? Easy, you don’t, you classify him/her as a lower being.

The National Party in South Africa understood this well and used this to their advantage in 1948.

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shah8 04.22.14 at 5:12 am

Then as a last point, allow me to plead with you to ask yourself: “How would a black public intellectual I know react to this post?” Could be someone you know. Could be someone famous, like Gates or West.

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Clay Shirky 04.22.14 at 1:00 pm

John @222:

In the office – The Office of Quantum Racism – there is a box. In the box is a Bull (Connor, to be exact). But no one knows whether he is alive or dead. Radioactive source. Poison. (You know the drill.) In a strange way, Bull is both alive and dead. Until someone looks. That is why no one looks. In a strange way, the whole system of N.U.D.G.E. is powered by a core of uncertainty as to whether Bull is alive or dead.

Loopy as this is, I think it says something about what it is you and I disagree on.

So let me first say that I do believe that there are periods where the OQR and the box are in operation. I would say Tehran in 1979, Leipzig in 1989, and Tunis in 2010 were all situations where the box, when opened, held a dead oppressor, while in Prague in 1968, Beijing in 1989, and Manama in 2011 their box held an oppressor who was very much alive, and heavily armed.

Where we disagree is whether we think any such thing could ever constitute a ‘system’, in the sense of an ongoing state of affairs.

From my point of view, there is not always a box, which is to say there is not always a hidden but real question as to whether violence is still in scope for maintaining a particular kind of oppression. Such a question, almost by definition, arises only at unstable times.

It was possible to imagine, in Prague in 1968, that the Soviets simply didn’t have it in them to crush a resistance movement so far into their periphery. This was wrong. It was possible to imagine, in Leipzig in 1989, that the Soviets simply didn’t have it in them to crush a resistance movement so far into their periphery. This was right.
(As an aside, this account of the Soviet non-intervention as quid pro quo for Western loans after the prices of oil and wheat both moves against USSR market positions is fascinating. http://www.aei.org/issue/foreign-and-defense-policy/regional/europe/the-soviet-collapse/)

So from my point of view, the situation where a discriminated-against population could reasonably wonder, if they sought to reverse their discriminated-against position, whether the forces arrayed against them could muster the necessary violence is so unstable that such situations usually collapse to one of the box’s two states. The Muslim Brotherhood’s box held only a dead oppressor in 2013 (because they couldn’t have gotten enough soldiers to open fire on the occupants of Tahrir even if they’d wanted to) while Bloomberg’s box box held a live one in Zucotti Park.

So your OQR and variants are themselves short-lived phenomena, I think. I have a hard time imagining an oppressed population not knowing if there was to be violence or not, and not at least testing the waters. And once that testing starts, the actual answer — violence or no violence — moves the system to such a different state that the box is not just opened for all to see, but the OQR goes out of business for a while.

Let me also say, by way of addendum, that ISOK @218 is one of the most insightful comments I have ever read here, and this in particular…

And so we arrive at a view of anti-racism that — helpfully, in my opinion — requires momentum. Milestones are meaningless from (but not before) the moment they are achieved. And the distinctions between the views of Erwin and Bull Connor, between Erwin and Freidersdorf, can be properly understood as critical to engage precisely because they are far too attractive to those seeking that illusive and illusory equilibrium state.

…strikes me as profound.

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John Holbo 04.22.14 at 3:07 pm

“Loopy as this is, I think it says something about what it is you and I disagree on.”

Ha! That’s what you think. After I invented the Office of Quantum Racism, to emphasize that I wasn’t saying something silly, I had the same thought you did: it kind of actually works this way, doesn’t it?

“And the distinctions between the views of Erwin and Bull Connor, between Erwin and Freidersdorf, can be properly understood as critical to engage precisely because they are far too attractive to those seeking that illusive and illusory equilibrium state.”

I do like ISOK’s comment. It’s in line with stuff I’m planning to write in my follow-up (so I hope other people like it, too.)

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Ronan(rf) 04.22.14 at 4:55 pm

The obvious thing about repression as a tool for countering opposition, though, is that it can work in different ways. We can choose cases to make it look like ‘repression and the threat/use of violence’ worked in quelling dissent, or we can choose cases showing that it escalated protests and dissent. (There are of course also other outcomes)

The case of Tehran in 1979, afaik, isn’t that they opened the box and found a dead oppressor but that they opened the box and found that the tactics which had been used, and worked, before (moving between sticks and carrots) no longer worked. Why that is I don’t know, but Charles Kurzman’s arguments are pretty interesting on it. (Specifically ‘The Unthinking Revolution’)
(In Tunisia, afaict, the importance lay in getting support from specific domestic institutions (unions, mosques etc). In the US South I’d assume the most important factor was changes in how the federal government perceived Jim Crow) So it’s not only what’s in the box, but why what’s in the box no longer works, so to speak.
(I would say this agrees with the above, more or less, but it’s all become very cryptic)

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christian_h 04.22.14 at 6:11 pm

From me also, re John’s 229.: Aha! Because I also do not agree with John’s operative definition of racism – as I wrote seemingly a long time ago in 170, “racism [I should add now, in my understanding] is a structure of oppression”.

I certainly do agree that understanding the differences between the Bull Connors and the Erwins is worth the debate, but I do fear I also agree a little bit with shah8 that John’s definition of racism isn’t completely harmless – let me try (and likely fail) to explain why and how:

I think that John would agree that his definition – like the one many of us use – identifies racism as a social phenomenon, not an individual behaviour. (Right?) And yet its allowance of, say, “reverse racism” (or more generally, forms of micro-aggression motivated by what John identifies as tribalism) undermine this understanding. After all there really is no social structure of exclusion or domination of white people in the US – so any “reverse racism” would amount only to a sum of individually exclusionary or hateful behaviours. [John’s example of the shooting in KC does not challenge this argument, I’d assert, because while there is not currently a social structure of exclusion or domination of Jewish people in the US, historically there was such a structure.] This to me is dangerous, since it opens the door to the “everyone does it, it’s only natural to be tribal” defense of racism. (Ironically, since John in fact seems to intend to challenge precisely this kind of excuse making of the moderate racist.)

Relatedly, the identification of racism as a form of tribalism also undermines another to me crucial understanding: that race itself is a concept constructed by racism. Because in my understanding this is not how the concept of tribe is (or was when the tribe was still a meaningful sociological or political category) constructed. The “modern” equivalent of the tribe would be the nation – an artificial community for sure but often historically justified as the modern expression of a tribe or confederation thereof. Race on the other hand is a purely modern (as in , started with the transatlantic slave trade) concept I’d think, as modern as racism.

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Clay Shirky 04.22.14 at 8:06 pm

Ronan @239:

You are right about the Tehrani situation in 1979 being more complex than just “open the box, dead opressor” — what happened was an escalating series of ‘dictator’s dilemma’ moments, where, if the Shah and his forces did nothing, they saw the protest escalate, and if they did something, the evidence that they were murderous thugs did more to enrage the public than the threat of violence did to scare them.

The event that seems to have sealed the deal was gunmen opening fire on a protesting crowd — the Shah seems to have concluded that, having killed dozens of his own citizens, he had to quickly stabilize the situation, because another massacre and he was through. The drawing back of his forces from a willingness to kill civilians, though, also sealed his fate.

This dilemma also describes Tunis and Cairo, in the ‘overthrow’ outcome, and Budapest and Prague, in its ‘incumbents win’ outcome. The recent first-hand accounts of the Maidan suggest that the moment where Yanukovych lost was when desperate protesters, about to be forced out of the square, advanced under fire, crossing something like a hundred meters of open space while the police were shooting.

So yeah, given the possibility of mutual escalation and de-escalation, the question isn’t as Schrodinger as all that (but remember, quantum uncertainty wasn’t my metaphor.)

What I think John has right with his metaphor is that there really are periods where neither oppressor nor oppressed know how far each side is willing to go, with violence or any form of organized resistance, and that this isn’t just a matter of hidden preferences, it really is a matter of uncertainty.

What I think John has wrong is believing that such periods of uncertainty can be frequent, long-lasting or stable, especially as regards race in the US.

Sometimes he seems to want to be able to reason from actual cases like Ervin, and sometimes he wants to engage in the kind of speculation that makes trolleyology look like empirical research. Hard to know with him; as a good Platonist, he always puts the heresy right there in the text…

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someguy88 04.22.14 at 8:08 pm

Anderson,

Where did I express any opposition to civil rights for gays?

Josh Jasper,

That is very generous of you. You will allow people to express whatever opinions they want behind closed doors. You just won’t tolerate any contrary public opinions regarding those things you feel are rights. Quite liberal of you.

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shah8 04.22.14 at 8:37 pm

christian_h, since you mentioned me, I’ll say a couple of things.

1) What I’m really squeaking at is the construction that racism is some kind of shadow of hierarchy, such that you can examine it, reason with it, or manipulate it by addressing the underlying hierarchy. A lot of speeches have been made, letters written, fistfights fought, etc, to reject this construct. It turns up all the time, like a bad penny, because it’s an attractive one that offers false understanding. People involved in civil rights have had to beat this back, over, and over, and over. I wouldn’t think I was doing right by people who spoke for me, if I didn’t speak against this. While the bigotry==race, or that specifically and currently active hate must be involved wrt either bigotry or race is a common fallacy, it’s not the insidious one.

2) When arguing the separation of bigotry and racism, I would suggest the obvious. Northerners and Southerners were both more or less equally bigoted against ex-slaves. If they were equally bigoted, and bigotry==racism, how did the Federal objection to Southern practices of bigotry manage to exclude Northern practices? Because the South is conquered territory and we non-Southerners holds them in contempt as country bumpkins lacking urbane manners and practicing antique methods of hatreds? Or was it the system…

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Josh Jasper 04.22.14 at 9:19 pm

someguy88

JFC, RFC. I don’t care at all what you *SAY* in the public square. It’s when you take your money and find propositions designed to limit equality that I care about.

You think Eich was fired because of what he said. He wasn’t. His company was put under public scrutiny because he funded a bigoted law. If you fund bigoted laws, you should expect the people your bigotry offends to take offense, and refuse to do business with you.

You seem to want a world in which you live consequence free, but no one else does. Quite conservative of you.

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someguy88 04.22.14 at 10:04 pm

Josh Jasper,

You are making a meaningless distinction.

If he had merely expressed public opposition to the law instead of actively contributing money he would still have been fired and you would still approve. It probably would have happened sooner. By just contributing someone had to take the time and hunt down the information.

No people will not refuse to do business with the ‘bigots’. They will force the ‘bigots’ to do business with them.

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Josh Jasper 04.23.14 at 1:27 am

someguy88 So basically you’re telling me that I’m a liar? Ok. Well, that’s one way for you to “win” here. Just assume that people think what you want them to think in order to prove a point, even if they say otherwise.

Best of luck in awarding yourself first prize at everything ever. I’m done with you.

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John Holbo 04.23.14 at 1:35 am

“This to me is dangerous, since it opens the door to the “everyone does it, it’s only natural to be tribal” defense of racism. (Ironically, since John in fact seems to intend to challenge precisely this kind of excuse making of the moderate racist.)”

Well, I don’t think my argument is likely to make things any worse than they already are in the ‘it’s natural’ or ‘we all do it’ departments. We already have common sense, plus scientific stuff like implicit attitude tests, to tell us that racism is widespread, despite the strict social taboo on the stuff. The only sense in which racism is natural is this: it’s not surprising that monkeys like us invented racism. Our tribal minds, always doing their us vs. them thing, easily bend this way. This is perfectly consistent with the modern ideology of race being a modern thing. There are lots of strictly modern things that also suit our monkey natures to a T. Note that saying that something is natural, in this sense, doesn’t mean it’s inevitable or even common. Lots of natural things only happen when an exquisitely rare set of circumstances bring them about, after all.

“Relatedly, the identification of racism as a form of tribalism also undermines another to me crucial understanding: that race itself is a concept constructed by racism.”

Well, no. That part is definitely ok. The notion that race is a concept constructed by racism does not imply my view, per se. That is, just being a social constructivist about race does not commit you to my view. But it’s pretty hard to imagine any other view than social constructivism being correct, if my view is correct. Why? Basically because markers of tribal identity always have something arbitrary about them.

Shah8, I reiterate my sincere, complete bafflement – but now without snarky malice, since I have become convinced that you are not a troll. You just seem to me to be commenting from twin-earth, where things are similar enough that you might miss the differences at first, but there turn out to be huge differences as well. Leading to excitement.

Specifically: there is the set of things I think I’ve said in the post and subsequent comments, and the set of things you think I’ve said. The overlap between these two sets is about a fingernail’s worth. If it helps, I am happy go on the record as saying that all the things you say I say would be wrong to say. But I really must insist: I didn’t say them. I don’t know why you think I am saying these things (since you won’t say.) So I can’t, as it were, trace the thread of your misreading (so it seems to me) back to the point where you went wrong. Another possibility is that, in writing the post, and through all the ensuing comments, I have unknowingly engaged in a kind of automatic writing. Possibly, like Jack Torrence, typing ‘All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy,’ over and over – without consciously realizing that this doesn’t amount to getting his novel done – I will at some later date, cease to be possessed by whatever evil spirit has possessed me. I will reread this post, realize I did say the things Shah8 said I said. If so, I will be highly embarrassed. The evil spirit made me do it, I will say! But in the meantime all I can say is: I just. Don’t. See. What. It. Has. To. Do. With. Me.

At very great risk to myself, since I obviously do not want to be associated, personally, in any way, with the stuff Shah8 says I say, I pick up the alleged core my position – which is a thing that I swear I have never seen before in my life! “What I’m really squeaking at is the construction that racism is some kind of shadow of hierarchy, such that you can examine it, reason with it, or manipulate it by addressing the underlying hierarchy.”

From the bare fact that I identify racism as hierarchical, it follows that I must believe this thing. For this shadow thing is what hierarchy must be, Shah8 assumes I think. (I take it.)

As I understand it, this is the single craziest view of the nature of hierarchy ever devised. If X is hierarchical, that means that X is the shadow of a hierarchy, Y, behind it, such that, for every such X, you can just route around X, and deal straight with Y.

Let’s pick an example to illustrate what this view implies. The IBM corporation is hierarchical. (I’m not familiar with the organizational structure of IBM, but I’m betting it isn’t an anarchist commune. I think I’m safe with this premise.) This means, per the view, that IBM, itself, is just a ‘shadow’ cast by some kind of hierarchy behind it, which is IBM’s hierarchy – a separate entity not just notionally distinct from IBM itself, but distinguishable from it in practice. So if you want to challenge the hierarchy at IBM, what you do is walk around IBM – route around it cleanly – and just address yourself to its hierarchy.

I have great difficulty imagining what this is even supposed to mean.

Shah8 goes on to say that this view, which he attributes to me, is a very common and pernicious view, which he thinks is very important to fight. “It turns up all the time, like a bad penny, because it’s an attractive one that offers false understanding. People involved in civil rights have had to beat this back, over, and over, and over.”

On twin-earth, maybe, but not on my planet. If there have ever been fistfights over this before, as Shah8 suggests, it can only have been between medieval scholastics, with too much time on their hands, who have gotten their backs up about some realism vs. nominalism thing. If the ball is round, does that mean there is an entity, its roundness, that is a separate entity from the ball itself? Could you bounce the roundness, without bouncing the ball, using just the form of bounciness itself? And connecting this with real civil rights struggles seems to me like asking: how many angels can engage in real struggle for civil rights on the head of a pin.

I just don’t see what it has to do with my post, or anything I have said in comments. And I don’t understand the rest of Shah8’s comment, after the alleged fistfights break out. So I just can’t engage your ideas, Shah8. I’m sorry. I just don’t get where you are coming from. I’m sorry you think I am saying such horrible stuff. I don’t know what to do about it.

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js. 04.23.14 at 1:41 am

Re Holbo:

So, christian_h has pretty much already said what I wanted to say (@240), but I’m going to say it anyway.

The thing is, the conception you appear to have ended up with — racism-is-at-bottom-tribalism/everyone’s a racist (cf. ISOK: “the tendency toward racist thought is universal”, in a comment which you appear to endorse @238) — this position is I think borderline offensive, and I think shah8’s point @236 about how plausible such a position would seem if one were black or brown is really worth considering. (It also doesn’t seem to me a particularly novel conception — it seems Hollywood-safe for example.)

Hmm. That maybe comes off a good bit harsher than I’d planned. Let me try this in a different way. Waaaaay upthread you said you wanted to identify the conceptual core of racism with hierarchy, and I’d suggested this seems plausible to me. Properly understood, it still seems plausible to me, in good part because the notion of hierarchy includes within it the notion of an asymmetric power relation. Now you’re evidently giving this up (cf. the mention @229 of cases where there’s “an equal balance of power between mutually despising groups” as falling under the category of racism).

One basic disagreement then is that I (and some others) want to limit the category of racism to cases with asymmetric power relations; you (and others) want racism to straddle both such cases and cases where such asymmetry is missing. Why? What do you gain from this (esp. when considering what you lose)?

Whatever problems may exist with my characterization of racism (cf. 227), it has the virtue of providing a framework for explaining how white people oppressed and oppress black people (and brown people, etc.) in the US (and other places). Your conception of racism, on the other hand, would seem to have the decidedly more dubious advantage of providing a framework for showing how black people can be the real racists! This is clearly not what you want — so why go this route?

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js. 04.23.14 at 1:41 am

Whoops. Crossed with Holbo.

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christian_h 04.23.14 at 1:55 am

Hmmm John (247) now I feel you misunderstood me (meaning I did not express myself clearly). My contention was not merely that race is socially constructed – if this was my claim then yes of course just about any position but that of the biological racist agrees. My contention was that racism is prior to race in a way that tribalism is not, IMHO, prior to the concept of tribe. In my understanding, race was constructed as an explanatory concept to explain why, when slavery within Europe was now (post Middle Ages) a bad thing, the transatlantic slave trade was nevertheless justified in natural law.

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John Holbo 04.23.14 at 1:58 am

“Whatever problems may exist with my characterization of racism (cf. 227), it has the virtue of providing a framework for explaining how white people oppressed and oppress black people (and brown people, etc.) in the US (and other places).”

But my framework does not lack this capacity. I’m perfectly capable of explaining everything you can explain. I’m not denying any of the known facts. My view doesn’t make them appear mysterious, does it?

“Your conception of racism, on the other hand, would seem to have the decidedly more dubious advantage of providing a framework for showing how black people can be the real racists!”

I can feel a bit of sympathy on this front, but not enough to agree. Here’s how I think about it: you shouldn’t distort your thinking, trying to second-guess what the people who are always going to yell ‘black people are the real racists’ are going to yell. They are going to yell ‘black people are the real racists’. No force on earth is going to stop their resentful feelings from expressing in this way. Your framework won’t stop them. Suppose you define ‘racism’ so that they can’t possibly be right, as you want to. Will they then say: oh, I guess we were wrong. No, they will say you only invented your evil definition of ‘racism’ out of an evil, racist desire to keep the white man down. Your definition will be gasoline on the fire of their racist resentment persecution complex. I don’t say that’s a problem with your definition. Every possible thing that any of us could say about ‘racism’ will be fuel on the fire of their racist resentment persecution complex, by the time they are done with it. That’s just the way of the world.

In short, you can’t analyze ‘racism’ as if your audience is crazy people. You just have assume you are addressing reasonable people who will be swayed by reasonable arguments, because you want your view to be justified. Validly supported. Persuasion is another ball game. It would be nice if valid justifications were always persuasive to the people who most need persuading. Sad, fallen old world we live in.

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js. 04.23.14 at 1:59 am

What I’m really squeaking at is the construction that racism is some kind of shadow of hierarchy, such that you can examine it, reason with it, or manipulate it by addressing the underlying hierarchy.

I think shah8 is just objecting to a kind of reduction of racism to hierarchy whereby it’s bled of its specifically racist comment. Think of the crude Marxist saying something like, “Race is a distraction, it’s all just class!”, and then think of a more abstract version of this that replaces “class” with “hierarchy” but essentially takes the same attitude towards the specific racist content. That sort of thing.

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js. 04.23.14 at 2:01 am

Gah! First sentence of 252 should read “…bled of its specifically racist content.”

254

js. 04.23.14 at 2:16 am

But my framework does not lack this capacity. I’m perfectly capable of explaining everything you can explain. I’m not denying any of the known facts. My view doesn’t make them appear mysterious, does it?

It’s true that your framework doesn’t lack this capacity (and I didn’t say that it did — sorry if I seemed to imply it). But it does make the oppression incidental to the racism: you could lose the oppression and still have the racism. So while your conception may not make the relevant facts mysterious, it makes their explanation secondary, or conceptually derivative, or some such. I’m not saying you couldn’t have some such concept like this — let’s call it [backwards-r]acism — I just don’t see its usefulness because when I’m thinking or talking about racism, it’s because of an interest in social oppression. Otherwise, this thing we call racism needn’t occupy our minds so much, politically at least.

And so also, I’m not building in a notion of oppression into my conception of racism to ward off Teh Crazies — I’m doing it because in my own thinking, it’s the conception I find to be politically and socially useful. And I’m certainly not seeing what I’m missing by holding on to it.

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GiT 04.23.14 at 2:33 am

When people see you building your definition of racism to discount any race based animus except that expressed by whites or against the relatively less powerful, expressly for your own political purposes, many of them are going to think you’re being something of a sophist, to put it mildly.

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John Holbo 04.23.14 at 2:35 am

“race was constructed as an explanatory concept to explain why, when slavery within Europe was now (post Middle Ages) a bad thing, the transatlantic slave trade was nevertheless justified in natural law.”

How is this inconsistent with my view?

OK, let me be a bit more proactive in my response. I recently read David Brion Davis, “Inhuman Bondage: The Rise and Fall of Slavery In The New World”, a very well-regarded book on the subject. He takes your view (I take it). Or rather, since he is an extremely prominent scholar – and to my knowledge you are not (no offense!) – you take the view he takes. But what he says is, I take it, consistent with what I say. I’m almost inclined to say: what he says is inconsistent with the denial of what I say. A quote:

THE WORD “RACISM” was apparently not used in America until 1936, but the reality to which the word refers loomed like a fatal and contagious disease in the eyes of free African Americans one hundred years earlier. For black abolitionists like Theodore S. Wright, such racial prejudice was the central evil to be overcome, even more than slavery. A Presbyterian minister in New York City, a graduate of Princeton Seminary, and a founding member of the American Anti-Slavery Society, Wright was physically assaulted by a Southern student when he visited his alma mater in September 1836. The attacker who seized and kicked him yelled, “Out with the nigger— out with the nigger.” The next month, at the annual meeting of the New York State Anti-Slavery Society, Wright defended a resolution that equated such prejudice with “the very spirit of slavery”: “This is serious business, sir,” Wright proclaimed. “The prejudice which exists against the colored man, the freeman, is like the atmosphere everywhere felt by him.” Though it was true, Wright acknowledged, that the “free” colored men of the North were not whipped nor “liable to have their wives and infants torn from them[,] . . . [s] ir, still we are slaves— everywhere we feel the chain galling us. . . . This spirit [of prejudice] is withering all our hopes, and oft times causes the colored parent as he looks upon his child, to wish he had never been born.” Wright suggested that if whites understood what we now term racism as well as they understood slavery, he would not need to explain the subtle difference. As things were, “this influence cuts us off from every thing; it follows us up from childhood to manhood; it excludes us from all stations of profit, usefulness and honor; takes away from us all motive for pressing forward in enterprises, useful and important to the world and to ourselves.” 1 Historians and social scientists still debate definitions of racism, and since we will be considering some ancient forms of “proto-racism,” there can be no doubt that Wright was describing a form of racism “fully developed.”

Davis, David Brion (2006-02-22). Inhuman Bondage: The Rise and Fall of Slavery in the New World (pp. 48-49). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.

A comment box is not not the place to write a history, but his point is that ‘racism’ – the word – is very new. Surprisingly so. Sam Ervin, the man, was born before the word ‘racism’. Weird. But, of course, phenomenon the word refers to is much older.

In a sense, just as racism (the modern thing) precedes ‘racism’ (the modern word), proto-racism (a very ancient thing) can precede even the concept of race (the modern thing). This is squishy stuff, but the basic point is this. (Pardon me for raising the specter of the glory that was ancient Rome again, at the risk of sending us all off the beam into arguments about aquaducts and the invasion of Gaul and the destruction of Carthage. Elephants! Elephants through the alps! Keep your eye on the ball, people!)

It is important to recognize the distinctiveness of modern slavery, the distinctively modern ideology of race. But it is also important to see that there are points of strong analogy – even continuity – with slavery in the ancient world, which had tribalism but lacked the specific form of tribalism later enshrined via the modern ideology of race.

To see the analogy, you need to back out of modern race ideology, without backing all the way out of tribalism, because that would be too far. (This is, of course, oversimple.) Basically, both perspectives are valuable: modern racism is distinctive. Modern racism is continuous with ancient stuff, which therefore can be fairly described as proto-racism (looking backwards). If I seem like I am saying only the latter, and not admitting any distinctiveness to modern racism, I’m not. We need to be able to shift between comparison and contrast, seeing both.

Let’s read a bit further in Brion:

“But why, we must ask, did slavery and prejudice become linked to a particular people, to dark-skinned descendants of Africans? Did antiblack racism lead to the choice of African slaves to supply the immense demand for physical labor in the New World, or was such racism the consequence of long-term interaction with black slaves, as some historians have claimed?”

Davis, David Brion (2006-02-22). Inhuman Bondage: The Rise and Fall of Slavery in the New World (p. 49). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.

There’s your question! What is Brion’s answer? That it’s complicated, as you would expect.

“The ultimate choice of black Africans and the related evolution of anti-black racism were not the results of a simple linear progression of events. Since a chronological narrative cannot capture the complexity of the subject, this chapter will consider such seemingly unrelated issues as the fairly universal stereotypes of slaves and peasants; color symbolism; the significance of Islamic and then Christian geographic expansion and conflict; changing interpretations of the biblical “Curse of Ham” (really Canaan), connections between Spanish fears of having their blood “contaminated” by intermixture with Jewish converts and then by blacks, and, briefly, some telling examples of “scientific” racism in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.”

Davis, David Brion (2006-02-22). Inhuman Bondage: The Rise and Fall of Slavery in the New World (p. 50). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.

Now, why do I want to semi-boil this down to tribalism? Well, let’s just start with the first item on Brion’s list “fairly universal stereotypes of slaves and peasants”. What does that have to do with hierarchical tribalism (that bee in Holbo’s bonnet). Here’s Brion:

“various historians have shown that from antiquity onward, slaves have been subjected to certain common stereotypes regardless of race, ethnicity, or time period. Since most slaves have been foreigners, part of this degrading vision arose from xenophobia and a fairly universal contempt that self-defined “superior” chiefdoms or states have shown toward neighbors seen as “inferior.” In both the ancient and medieval worlds, there was a strong inclination to equate slaves with ugliness and dark skin, wholly apart from the reality of their appearance. Thus various interpreters over the ages claimed that the biblical Joseph, sold by his brothers to slave traders, did not “look like a slave,” since he was so handsome and light-skinned.”

Davis, David Brion (2006-02-22). Inhuman Bondage: The Rise and Fall of Slavery in the New World (p. 50). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.

Not tribalism, pure and simple, but you see why I’m emphasizing the persistent hierarchical us-vs-themness. Alright, what about color symbolism? Surely there is a contingent relation between color symbolism dark = slave, and tribalism, per se. Obviously so. And yet:

“In the second and first millennia B.C.E., the North Chinese tended to view even the South Chinese as barbarians, to say nothing of the dark-skinned “wild tribes” farther south and west. Much later on, in the T’ang Dynasty (618– 907 C.E.), the Chinese had no compunction about enslaving Koreans, Turks, Persians, and Indonesians and thought that enslavement was especially appropriate for the “black” barbarians of the southern islands, whose supposed inferiority was proved by their nakedness and primitive customs. 6 In ancient India, slavery was initially linked with dark-skinned Dravidian people conquered by Aryan invaders from the north. And from at least as early as the fifth century B.C.E., many Greek writers dehumanized non-Greeks as “barbarians” (without any relation to color) and argued that enslavement should be limited to these supposedly inferior peoples. 7 Yet even when slaves and slavelike serfs belonged to the same ethnic group as their masters, as in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Russia, they were said to be intrinsically lazy, childlike, licentious, and incapable of life without authoritative direction. Some Russian noblemen reinvented a supposedly separate historical origin of Russian serfs and even claimed that they had black bones! The historian Paul Freedman has also shown that in medieval western Europe, serfs and peasants were commonly depicted as subhuman and even “black,” as a result of their constant exposure to the sun, soil, and manure. But because peasants were an indispensable, food-producing majority of the population, writers often balanced the serfs’ or rustics’ alleged filth, stupidity, and bestiality with occasional tributes to their piety, simplicity, and closeness to God.”

Davis, David Brion (2006-02-22). Inhuman Bondage: The Rise and Fall of Slavery in the New World (pp. 50-51). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.

The point obviously isn’t to posit an innate idea that black people are slaves. But there’s a pattern. And, given a prior, tribalist tendency to regard black-as-bad, at least in Europe, it is hardly a coincidence that Africans were ripe targets for the invention of the modern racism. This is simplification, as Brion is introducing his ideas briefly in what turns out to be a very long book.

The point (sorry, this has been so long in coming):

I don’t see why it is illogical to analyze racism as modern twist in the ancient braid of human tribalism. I think I am actually following respected scholars in doing so.

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John Holbo 04.23.14 at 2:41 am

“I just don’t see its usefulness because when I’m thinking or talking about racism, it’s because of an interest in social oppression. Otherwise, this thing we call racism needn’t occupy our minds so much, politically at least.”

This I don’t understand at all. Racism has actually caused – and continues to cause – massive oppression. You seem to be saying: but that would only be interesting to study if racism NECESSARILY caused this. I fail to see why actuality – vs. conceptual necessity – is not enough to make us take an interest in what’s happening. No one looks at the history of modern slavery and says: ‘yeah, but is racism like this in all possible world, or just in our world? Because if it’s just our world, I’m bored.’

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js. 04.23.14 at 2:45 am

When people see you building your definition of racism to discount any race based animus except that expressed by whites or against the relatively less powerful, expressly for your own political purposes, many of them are going to think you’re being something of a sophist, to put it mildly.

Sorry, is this directed towards me? I actually laid out a proper genus-differentia characterization of what I take racism to be, up above. Here (from 227):

I think racism is a species of institutionally implemented oppression of a social group; its differentiating feature is that the social group in question — the oppressed group — is identified by certain phenotypic characteristics.

This — obviously — doesn’t commit me to the insane claim that only white people can be racist, in this or any other possible world. But it does commit me to thinking of racism as a species of institutional oppression. I admit this, happily. Now, this sophistry because?

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js. 04.23.14 at 3:17 am

John,

A serious question: what do you think sexism is? And do you think it can exist where there’s “an equal balance of power between mutually despising groups, or an inability to project power”? Ok, two questions. And I do mean them non-rhetorically.

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GiT 04.23.14 at 3:50 am

I guess I just think your definition is bad. Racism isn’t always and everywhere institutionally implemented oppression. Racism can be non-institutional and non-oppressive. At least, that’s what I would think ordinary use of the word racism suggests. Trying to jigger the definition such that non-oppressive non-institutional animus about nominally hereditary phenotypic characteristics is not a variety of racism is the sophistry. What else would you call such animus? Most people would call it racism. Go ahead and deny people the use of the word. You’ll still have non-institutional animus based on nominally hereditary phenotype. I’d say it makes more sense to just say you’re strictly concerned with institutional racism, rather than try to redefine racism as only institutional.

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js. 04.23.14 at 4:43 am

Trying to jigger the definition such that non-oppressive non-institutional animus about nominally hereditary phenotypic characteristics is not a variety of racism is the sophistry.

I get that you think it’s a bad characterization; I still don’t get why you think it’s sophistical.

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js. 04.23.14 at 4:46 am

Holbo @256:

Note, though, that those quotes are at least (if not more!) supportive of oppression-is-inherent-to-racism position than your racism-is-at-bottom-tribalism position.

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John Holbo 04.23.14 at 4:46 am

“what do you think sexism is?”

That’s a question to which I have no ready answer. But I will offer one, out of politeness, off-the-cuff, with the caveat: if I change my mind, I’ll retract.

We have to struggle with good old sex vs. gender. Let me try to stave that off by talking in an inadequate way, about ladies and guys.

Sexism is what you get when the guys don’t think/won’t acknowledge that the ladies are as good as them/as deserving of status/power/privilege as them. This circumstance is due to: because the universe! Which, for obscure reasons, apparently prefers that guys should get the power, or else has arranged it so guys are just naturally better at wielding power/privilege appropriately. That’s how the universe likes it, so that’s how the universe built guys and ladies. If this sounds about right to you: congratulations, yur sexist!

A-ha! you say. But could we reverse roles? So the ladies are the sexists and the poor guys are their victims? Eh. Let’s first back up and think about why this sounds weird.

There’s something odd about saying that there was sexism in the ancient world. Or even the 19th Century. It’s anachronistic. Not that it’s wrong. In a sense nothing could be more obviously true than: the ancient world was sexist. It just sounds funny: like imagining one cave man killing another and saying ‘that cave man is denying the other man his civil rights.’ It sounds odd to talk about sexism before people had reached a certain at least limited consensus that it’s a thing, and it’s wrong. ‘Sexism’ is almost a proper noun, to describe our own history, in which the guys have been the dominant ones and the ladies not so much. And ‘sexism’ is, even more narrowly, a term for tensions that arise at a late stage in our history, when traditional notions of hierarchy are colliding with demands for equality.

So these are all reasons why saying ‘could the ladies be sexists against the guys?’ sounds funny. But could it happen, even if it would sound funny? (‘Sexism’ isn’t actually a proper noun. It’s an abstract noun, whose sense should range over possible worlds.)

Sure, why not? It’s Themyscira twin-earth. Where the amazons keep the guys in line. Call it ‘sexism’. But don’t be a pain in the ass about it. Don’t use this usage to throw dust in everyone’s eyes about what OUR world is like. That’s all I ask. For maximum semantic comfort, in applying ‘sexism’ to this new realm, Themyscira is a place where guys have been fighting for their equality, and the amazons, who are sexists, go around insisting: ‘We’re not sexist against men. It’s just that Athena made them to do the dishes. Look at those big hands! They are perfect for dish towels!’ Two centuries ago there was a Themysciran male, Larry Wollestonecraft, who wrote stuff. Then, in the 19th Century, Jane Stuart Mill wrote an important text, with her husband …

Right. Moving right along.

Could you have sexism with “an equal balance of power between mutually despising groups, or an inability to project power”? That is, the ladies and the guys are both sexist against each other, simultaneously.

Sexism can never be tribalism in quite the way that racism is. Guys can go off into the woods and beat bongos in honor of their manliness. They can build mancaves in their basements. On Themyscira, I imagine grumpy amazons go off and play bullets and bracelets in the woods and pen sullen blog posts about the good old days when women were women, and they didn’t have to do housework. But relations between the guys and the ladies are – on earth and Themyscira twin-earth – for biological reasons, going to tend to develop along different lines than relations between, say, neighboring tribes. This means that when relations between tribes are sour, in a racist way, the results look a bit different than when relations between the sexes are sour, in a sexist way. The us vs. them of sexism is not going to be Usyscira vs. Themyscira, you might say.

That said: we proceed with the thought-experiment. (And my promises of sociological realism are long ago out the window, but js. asked,.) All I need is a Babylonian trickster god. This Babylonian trickster god takes all the amazon women from Themyscira and teleports them to earth, where they replace our earth women (who are sent to what I can only imagine will be a happy life on Themyscira, where all the men will be glad to meet them.) Meanwhile, back on earth, things get funny. The world must be peopled (as Shakespeare’s comic hero says) but I imagine our Babylonian trickster god will be enjoying a good laugh. Pass the popcorn!

Everyone agrees that sexism is bad (lets suppose). The earth men all insist they are totally not sexists (even though they totally are, duh! A lot of them.) The newly arrived Themysciran women also insist that they are totally not sexists (they just think Athena thinks a man’s place is in the kitchen!) I imagine that the blogs, the op-ed page, FOX news and society generally, will look pretty odd for the next few generations. But people will fall in love, get married, fight about the housework. I would describe the scene thusly: two sexist groups, but an equal balance of power, and an inability to project power.

For example, both sides will argue they were here, on this planet FIRST, and it was totally the other sex that got teleported here by the Babylonian trickster gods.

How’s that for sociology?

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John Holbo 04.23.14 at 4:58 am

“oppression-is-inherent-to-racism position than your racism-is-at-bottom-tribalism position.”

Racism and oppression of course have a natural tendency to go together. It is obvious why racism causes oppression, and why oppression breeds racism. But proto-racism is often not oppressive, per se. And I want to emphasize that racism is related to proto-racism, among other things. I would prefer a cluster of concepts: racism, slavery, tribalism, hierarchy, oppression. Racism is in the tribalism circle, and in the hierarchy circle, and it substantially overlaps, but does not perfectly overlap, the oppression circle. Just as slavery overlaps with racism, but not perfectly. And on and on.

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js. 04.23.14 at 5:16 am

How’s that for sociology?

Well, it’s something pretty awesome! Seriously, (a) I wasn’t expecting such a detailed answer, and (b) oddly enough, it’s helping clarify the logic of your position quite a bit — for a while, your position was sounding like Crash*, now it’s sounding much better.

I’m much less on board with 264, but I should probably let it rest.

*Not the awesome Cronenberg film, obviously.

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John Holbo 04.23.14 at 5:42 am

Glad to be of literary service, js. I should note – for the record – that the point of 264 has almost nothing to do with the original post (which we’ve almost forgotten now.) Sam Ervin is a curious case, but not because he’s a non-oppressive racist. He was a thoroughly oppressive racist, tip to toe. He just wanted to oppress with a carrot-stick mix, yet he thought of himself as a carrot-guy, not a stick-guy – which was a lie. He also hid behind the Constitution. I was going to spend this week writing about that, but instead I’ve invented N.U.D.G.E., Quantum Racism, twin-earth Themyscira and engaged in a mutual incomprehension staring contest with Shah8. It’s a nice question whether I have spent my week entirely wisely. But bits of it were colorful.

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shah8 04.23.14 at 5:59 am

Again, John Holbo, I deny that there is a real world materiality for liminal racism. Even as a metaphysics, there is real struggle to grasp the ontological basis of the idea.

Language might play tricks on you, but the belief in white supremacy, as practiced by Ervin and Connor is far closer to Italian Fascism or Vedic concepts of caste. It is not xenophobia, and it is not tribalism. It is, to puncture and whisk your web, not a means to sort who is what. Racism is not hierarchy being expressed in a curious American accent. All culture that spans some land out there quickly places some group as the Omega. Bigotry is involved, yes, but that is not racism, however much we might carelessly use the term in place of bigotry. Racism and ideologies like it are a means towards determining the status of the people who espouses it, as opposed to the people who do not (even if they are the same “tribe”. Black people, untouchables, gypsies, we got nuttin’ to do with how things play out with our agency, because we ain’t at the table at all.

Sam Ervin cares about race and is a white supremacist specifically because he feels that the systematic abuse and exploitation of black people helps his standing among “his whites” and among other white elites nationwide. Because it enhances the status of North Carolina (well, its elite class) among the States. All else he says is a cover for how it really is. That sense is ideological, and not practical, because ever since the days of Nathaniel Bacon’s momentary glory, the power of populist totalitarianism gave the South far more domestic political power than otherwise would occur. Neither Ervin nor Connor could meaningfully moderate without putting a whole lotta bread and status at risk. Sam Ervin and his political descendants today have kept the nurturing of white solidarity foremost in their priorities as they pursue aims that would not past political muster otherwise, even in a white male only democracy. Grok the difference?

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shah8 04.23.14 at 6:09 am

Yeah, no carrots. Maybe the picture of one, for the benefit of those outside Southern society. Any carrots, like, oh, The New Deal for black people in the thirties, would have substantially upset his base. You see him on TVin the sixties and seventies, doing his avuncular best, even as media permeated the world and spotlighted the peculiar system that made Sam Ervin. Spotlighted the tension between American ideals and threatened Pax Americana in the process. The formal system outlived its usefulness and the rest of American elites escorted it off the premises before jetting off to Accra to sign a mining concession. Even still, took thirty more years before North Carolina stopped sterilizing minority women. Something Ervin had to have approved informally.

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John Holbo 04.23.14 at 6:39 am

This is a little better, Shah8. If you really want to pursue this, let’s take it line by line. Because I must admit I’m still having problems.

“I deny that there is a real world materiality for liminal racism. Even as a metaphysics, there is real struggle to grasp the ontological basis of the idea.”

I take it you take the so-called Soft Southern Strategy for ‘moderate’ segregationism to be an alleged instance of what you call ‘liminal racism’.

If that is so, I take it you are saying, more generally, that you have an ontological proof, in pocket, that the biography of Sam Ervin is false, as a point of basic metaphysics. You haven’t read the biography, but you don’t need to, because of your grasp of ontology. The thing this biography says existed, in the person of Sam Ervin, is a stone-cold contradiction so strange the universe would have exploded. The universe didn’t explode. QED the biography is false.

When you read the passages I quoted from the biography, in the post, you know they have to be false because it’s all just (P & – P).

Is that it? Roughly?

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John Holbo 04.23.14 at 7:18 am

“Yeah, no carrots. Maybe the picture of one, for the benefit of those outside Southern society. Any carrots, like, oh, The New Deal for black people in the thirties, would have substantially upset his base.”

I realize you may think (must think?) the biography is a priori false, but perhaps we can lay some empirical bets, on the side (even if they don’t dislodge the main metaphysical concern for you – which I’m waiting to hear about). My bet is obviously going to be this: no New Deal, not because black people can’t have carrots, but because we can’t have carrots coming to them from the federal government. That’s a disaster, not because good things are a disaster, per se, but because it makes it impossible for the local, state-level elite to dispense patronage selectively. You can’t have anyone else dangling a carrot out front, or you can’t steer any more. ‘Our’ blacks aren’t our blacks anymore if the New Deal helps them, and that they should cease to be ‘ours’ is the prime concern.

Your bet will be: no New Deal, and all the dogs and firehoses you can eat, thank you very much.

So if it turns out that Sam Ervin favored mostly small, but always strictly local positive measures, to alleviate discontent, and thereby make white supremacy and ‘soft’ segregation more hegemonic, you will be refuted. This is the thing you regard as metaphysically impossible, correct?

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Peter T 04.23.14 at 11:55 am

Jacob Black Michaud’s anthropological classic Feuding Societies would seem relevant here. One point he makes is that outbreaks of fighting in such societies don’t so much have a cause as reflect differing assessments by the parties on whether the current distribution of goodies matches the current distribution of power. It is a check on the contents of the box. A long-lasting distribution of power based on racial differences is hard to achieve – normal processes of assimilation see to that (see Rome, which eventually had Arab, Gallic and Punic emperors). So Sam Ervin’s world was unsustainable without frequent recourse to violence.

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Ze Kraggash 04.23.14 at 1:42 pm

“A long-lasting distribution of power based on racial differences is hard to achieve – normal processes of assimilation see to that (see Rome, which eventually had Arab, Gallic and Punic emperors). So Sam Ervin’s world was unsustainable without frequent recourse to violence.”

The way I read it, he wasn’t a proponent of “distribution of power based on racial differences”, but only of cultural segregation: separate churches, schools, social organizations. It may be naive, but it doesn’t imply a desire for race-based distribution of power.

In reality, the minorities themselves often resits assimilation and try to maintain a segregated cultural existence. I don’t think they associate it with lowering their share of power in general. I suppose they balance the disadvantages caused by cultural separation against the benefits of close cooperation inside the community.

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John Holbo 04.23.14 at 3:00 pm

“It may be naive, but it doesn’t imply a desire for race-based distribution of power. “

If we’re talking Sam Ervin there, then there is no question that he was part of the white supremacy power structure. They were about separate-but-equal, but only since they had to be, publicly; and insofar as that was de jure in some way that kept de facto separate-but-unequal in place.

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reason 04.23.14 at 3:26 pm

John,
having brushed with Ze Kraggash on another thread, I’ve come to the conclusion that he is a professional (loosely speaking) stirrer, and monumentally insincere. If you take what he says litterally then it is clear than he, not Sam Ervin, is the naive one.

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Ze Kraggash 04.23.14 at 3:41 pm

“If we’re talking Sam Ervin there, then there is no question that he was part of the white supremacy power structure.”

You quoted Ervin in the post, presumably to provide some insights into his thinking. Of course the man was a politician and part of the power structure, so of course his words don’t really mean anything. But we are playing the game pretending that they do express his philosophy. And so vetoing an interpretation by saying that it can’t be correct because he was just another southern white Jim Crow era politician is unfair, nicht wahr?

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Niall McAuley 04.23.14 at 4:33 pm

I’m assuming Ze Kraggash is a nom-de-someone-recently-banned-from-the-site-under-another-alias.

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John Holbo 04.23.14 at 4:51 pm

My apologies, Ze, you are having a bad day at the gaming table. I was playing the game of ‘speak truth’, not ‘let’s pretend’. Thus, I vetoed your interpretation on the grounds that it was – this is the sort of thing reading a biography can do for you! – false. If you don’t believe me: read the book yourself. It may seem ‘unfair’, as you quaintly put it, that I would take advantage of my knowledge to win a point like that. But that’s the game, I’m afraid.

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Ze Kraggash 04.23.14 at 5:12 pm

No worries John. I did not realize the whole book had to be examined. In that case, I’m not qualified to play and will never be. Apologies for the interruption.

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Jim Buck 04.23.14 at 5:51 pm

There’s something odd about saying that there was sexism in the ancient world. Or even the 19th Century. It’s anachronistic. Not that it’s wrong. In a sense nothing could be more obviously true than: the ancient world was sexist.

Patriarchy anyone? An invention of antiquity?

Any road, another great thread! I learnt what a good ol’ boy Senator Sam was– didn’t hate nigras nearly as much as he might have done. Why! If the Erwins had stayed this side of the ocean he could have turned into a Tory national treasure—making speeches in the House of Lords about how it’s fine for darkies to refer to themselves as British–if they born here; but calling themselves English? That’s swamping things a tad too far. And Anita Bryant? She complex too! Happy to live and let live nowadays– just don’t want be there to catch the bouquet.

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soru 04.23.14 at 9:43 pm

institutionally implemented oppression of a social group … identified by certain phenotypic characteristics

I get that you think it’s a bad characterization; I still don’t get why you think it’s sophistical.

Personally, I’d tend toward the view that that definition of racism could well be sophistry.

In the context it was meant, it more or less gives the right answer, or at least avoids some common fallacies. And it uses abstract, universal terms that sound like they would be context-independant.

Problem is, if you take it outside that context, to some country other than the USA, or some century other than the 21st, it’s really not much of a guide to what would, or should, be called racism. Irish or Muslim aren’t really identifiable phenotypes, and two-sided racial violence like that hapenning in the South Sudan right now isn’t really one group institutionally oppressing another.

Which suggests to me a definition adopted not with the goal of being usefully true, but of avoiding the issue.

But maybe I am wrong and it’s just bad…

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John Holbo 04.24.14 at 1:55 am

Jim Buck points out that patriarchy is an old concept. He is quite correct. But I don’t think the concept of sexism is exactly the same as the concept of patriarchy, although of course they are related.

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Main Street Muse 04.24.14 at 2:12 am

John @281 – So rules of primogeniture are not sexist?

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John Holbo 04.24.14 at 2:26 am

” So rules of primogeniture are not sexist?”

I refer to my comment, upthread:

“There’s something odd about saying that there was sexism in the ancient world. Or even the 19th Century. It’s anachronistic. Not that it’s wrong. In a sense nothing could be more obviously true than: the ancient world was sexist. It just sounds funny: like imagining one cave man killing another and saying ‘that cave man is denying the other man his civil rights.'”

To me, ‘that’s sexist!’ is something you say to someone who has the concept of sexism. Saying ‘that’s sexist!’, about primogeniture, to someone who has the concept primogeniture, but not the concept sexism, just seems a bit odd. Not that saying odd things is wrong! Just odd. Just sayin.

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js. 04.24.14 at 2:42 am

I’m assuming Ze Kraggash is a nom-de-someone-recently-banned-from-the-site-under-another-alias.

Of course! I hadn’t thought of it, but it’s almost certainly true, isn’t it? Dude certainly knows how to pick a ‘nym.

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JW Mason 04.24.14 at 3:23 am

Oh, of course! I consider myself a seasoned abb1-spotter, but somehow I completely missed this one.

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Jim Buck 04.24.14 at 3:36 am

Irish or Muslim aren’t really identifiable phenotypes

The Victorian yellow press depicted the Irish as low-browed, pugnacious-jawed, ape-like creatures. Contemporary racists are pleased to find for Muslims an iconic forerunner in back-issues of Der Sturmer. So maybe stereotype is more useful here than phenotype?

Perhaps there’s a fraternal twin Earth where pinkness is denigrated because the pig is the sole surviving close relative of homo-sapiens ? Hit movie of 1967, on that twin Earth, may have been”Planet of the Pigs”.

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The Temporary Name 04.24.14 at 4:13 am

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The Temporary Name 04.24.14 at 4:14 am

Oh wait, no, I blew that one. Abb1 it is.

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Main Street Muse 04.24.14 at 2:54 pm

“There’s something odd about saying that there was sexism in the ancient world. Or even the 19th Century. It’s anachronistic. Not that it’s wrong. In a sense nothing could be more obviously true than: the ancient world was sexist. It just sounds funny: like imagining one cave man killing another and saying ‘that cave man is denying the other man his civil rights.”

First, I didn’t realize murder was the denial of civil rights, even in new millennial America. Who says this?!

Second, sounds like patriarchal oppression of women is centuries old, but not sexism, as that is an invention of the 20th century. To me, a linguistic quibble….

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Thornton Hall 04.24.14 at 6:09 pm

Chait explains what he meant when he said what he said:
http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2014/04/cliven-bundy-shockingly-turns-out-to-be-racist.html

To his discredit, Tuccille summarized my point as follows: “No need for debate, it’s all about internalized racism.” This is the precise opposite of my argument, which held that while conservatism and racism may be historically, sociologically, and psychologically inseparable, it is absolutely necessary to debate conservative ideas on their own terms. (Self-quote: “And yet — as vital as this revelation may be for understanding conservatism, it still should not be used to dismiss the beliefs of individual conservatives. Individual arguments need and deserve to be assessed on their own terms, not as the visible tip of a submerged agenda; ideas can’t be defined solely by their past associations and uses. ” Seriously, somebody tell me how I could have made this point more explicitly.)

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Jim Buck 04.24.14 at 7:16 pm

I didn’t realize murder was the denial of civil rights, even in new millennial America. Who says this?!

Back in Sam Erwin’s heyday when civil rights activists got done in, by local complex characters, it was nigh impossible to persuade a jury to act disinterestedly. The Federal government eventually stepped into that rotten situation and pursued violation of civil rights charges against the accused. Governments don’t kill, people do.

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JanieM 04.24.14 at 9:40 pm

I didn’t realize murder was the denial of civil rights, even in new millennial America. Who says this?!

A la Jim Buck’s comment, an example here.

First and last couple of paragraphs from that article, for which no year is given (it’s from a newspaper’s archives):

Federal corrections authorities have denied parole for a man convicted of the racially motivated killing of jazz musician Steve Harvey in 1980.

Harvey, a 27-year-old saxophonist, died in November 1980 after being beaten with a baseball bat at Penn Valley Park.

A Jackson County jury acquitted Bledsoe of first-degree murder the next year. After a community outcry, federal authorities brought civil rights charges and then persuaded a Jefferson City jury that Bledsoe, who was white, had violated Harvey’s right to use the park simply because he was an African-American.

It’s difficult to google for examples, since various combinations of the words “murder,” “denial,” and “civil rights” bring up so much that isn’t directly to this particular point. But I’m sure some of the lawyers who hang around here could elaborate.

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JanieM 04.24.14 at 9:42 pm

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Main Street Muse 04.24.14 at 11:36 pm

Jim Buck & Janie M – thanks for the followup. This has escaped me somehow. Very depressing to know that in the age of Reagan and Clinton, civil rights cases were needed to bring murderers to justice.

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John Holbo 04.25.14 at 12:42 am

“Second, sounds like patriarchal oppression of women is centuries old, but not sexism, as that is an invention of the 20th century.”

Nope, sexism is very old – just like I said. And I’m sticking to that line.

Here’s what may be confusing you about my usage preference, Muse. ‘Sexism’, unlike ‘primogeniture’ or ‘patriarchy’ has the wrongness semantically baked in. No one has ever said: sexism is great! (Well, they have said that, ok. But it’s like ‘murder for fun and profit’. It’s a kind of black joke.) By contrast, people have had the concepts of primogeniture and patriarchy and affirmed them positively, as part of their moral or political order.

Suppose I say: ‘Wow, those Salem witch trials were sexist.’ Is that true? It can hardly fail to be. But it’s odd to say that. It gets the emphasis wrong. It seems to imply, wrongly, that if we could only get Cotton Mather to see that he is treating women unequally, he would stop. Saying the Salem witch trials was sexist makes me sound like I think the good Puritans of Salem were good children of the Enlightenment who were, like all such good children, trying to treat everyone with equal respect, etc. But their good foot slipped up with the whole witches thing.

That is, saying they were sexists makes me sound like an idiot.

Some people in this thread may say that there’s nothing odd in Holbo sounding like an idiot, so why quibble about sounding like an idiot in this one case. But I try, I really do.

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Jame 04.25.14 at 5:44 pm

This sums things up quite perfectly:
“Howard Lee, the first African American to be elected mayor in North Carolina in the twentieth century, explained: “Blacks tended to be rejected in the South as a race, as a whole, but accepted individually, and I always found that if that kind of system could continue then the power brokers could decide who would have certain privileges and who would not. . . . And it would be those privileges that would still give them a certain amount of power.””

A key component of racism is power. You can’t have racism without it. And the moderates, whether in the case of racism or sam-sex marriage want to have the privilege and power to choose what’s “right.”

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