On racism, SJWs, and the attempted control of language

There is a story that the Buddha was lecturing, and a man mocked him, insulting everything he said.  Finally, the Buddha paused.  “Excuse me, my friend,” he said.  “If I offered you a present, and you declined to accept it, to whom then does the present belong?”

“To you” the man said smugly.

“Precisely. And if you offer me insult, and I decline to accept it, to whom then does the abuse belong?”

And the man was speechless.

####

I don’t respect shifting language for political purposes.  It feels like Orwell’s  “Newthink” to me.  Very close to what NLP refers to as “slight of mouth” patterns.    Here’s a pair of examples, one from the Right, one from the Left.   

  1. Social Justice Warrior.  Look at those words, and the only thing it could mean denotatively is someone willing to fight, and die, and change the world to achieve an idea of equality and justice.  Literally, I can think of nothing I’d be more honored to be considered, and nothing that more accurately describes the human beings I respect most in all the world. The attempt to demonize it is nothing more than a linguistic mind control.

2) Racism.    The primary definition of this term is, simply, the differential attribution of worth or capacity based upon race or ethnicity.  Nice, neutral definition–anyone can have that, (probably most of us have a little of it)  it is global and pervasive and would seem to arise from tribalism and the tendency of children to think their mommy is prettier, their daddy stronger.   But over the last twenty years, academics have shifted that to be “perception of differential capacity based upon race or ethnicity PLUS the power to enforce your decisions and leverage your attitudes”.   That’s another interesting “slight of mouth” pattern, because it leads to the attitude that disadvantaged groups “cannot be racist.”   Since all of our cultural vitriol is directed at this term, it is an interesting “escape hatch”: WE can say whatever we want, YOU have to shut the @#$$ up.  

I don’t buy either of these.  I’ve been attacked by both sides for disagreeing with them, and that’s fine by me.   So I state clearly, for the record: I think the term “Social Justice Warrior”, denotatively, is one of the finest things a human being can be. Want to use a different, connotative definition?  You are welcome to do so, and in so doing, allow us to examine your values, politics and thought patterns.

I think “racism” is a perception, a judgement about human beings, separate from whether that perception is correct, and separate from the actions you take once you’ve come to that conclusion.   I disagree that there are major differences between whites and blacks (for instance) morally or mentally, and believe that in almost all cases those who believe there are are being self-serving.  That immeasurable human evil has flowed from those beliefs.  The great Octavia Butler believed that the most dangerous quality of human beings is

  1. our hierarchical thinking.
  2. Our tendency to place ourselves higher on that hierarchy than others.

Further,  almost everyone changes that definition so that THEY “aren’t racist.”   THEY don’t burn crosses on lawns, use “The N-word.”   They have black friends, or have dated/married a woman of the group in question.  CAN’T be racists.  Can’t possibly have an attitude about the AVERAGE member of the other group, or any sense that whites would have survived slavery and its aftermath with greater ease.   

And on the other side, why,  they can believe blacks are mentally, morally or athletically superior genetically…but they aren’t racist because they are members of a group with lesser power.

O.K.  That’s all fine.   If that’s the way you make sense of the world, and it works for you, I’m happy. Let me know how that works out.    I’ll probably never accept either position, and if that bothers you, you may call me whatever you want, or think whatever you wish.

But come Christmas morning, that box will be under YOUR tree, not mine.     Have fun.

Namaste

Steve

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2 comments

  1. There was a post on huffington post entitled, “I, Racist”, and I took exception in the comments over the conflation of Racism and Bigotry.

    “It’s a very good article- with one notable exception. And it is quite notable, in that many similar articles and arguments make the same mistake. And until we get past it, no one will want to own it, and we will continue to have a great divide.

    To be racist is to truly believe deep down that one race is inferior/superior to another based purely and totally on genetic differences. After many studies, this is an abhorrent stance to take to most people. This the unreasoning response to the charge.

    Being bigoted is a subconscious and subtle thing, that is not chosen, but rather instinctual, created by the mores and structure of the society that one is a part of. It is not particularly reprehensible- except when one denies that such biases exist and therefore it becomes a conscious decision to ignore fact, and ignore the environment that it creates, and the disadvantages conferred by it.

    It is a subtle, but powerful and very real difference that I wish people would grasp. One is very unlikely to change the mind of a true racial supremacist without a truly defining moment. However, it is much easier to reverse the ignorance that leads to prejudice and bias and combat it with knowledge of the situation and change instinct.”

    I think if we stopped conflating the terms, it would really help dialog on the issue.

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    1. I think we are in the process of defining the terms more clearly. If that process is successful, useful conversations can come out ot it. I personally object the conflation of “racism” with “institutional racism” and find that a “slight-of-mouth” pattern used to manipulate political arguments: “we can’t be racist because we have no power” etc.

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