Saturday, October 05, 2013

Sympathy For The Devil

This is why I've never been able to stand Kevin Drum.

Look: its basically the case that a well informed person can not understand the structure of modern American politics and the struggle between political factions in this country as other than a class war disguised and obscured by a race and gender war.  That's it in a nutshell. Ever since the founding of the country there has been a struggle between the workers--slave and free--for full rights to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" and all the things that are granted to full citizens.  Sometimes that struggle has been among the dispossessed themselves.  Women have struggled for the rights assigned to propertied white men. African descended and Native Americans and Chinese (and in some cases South Asians) have struggled for the same rights.  And now LGBTQ are struggling for the rights permitted to heteronormative people. What is standing in the way of the full extension of--oh, lets call them human rights?--to all citizens of the United States?  A retrograde, neo-confederate, authoritarian, christianist, obsession with keeping non whites, women, and sexually or socially ambiguous LGBTQ people in the place assigned to them prior to the Civil War. That's it. That's all she wrote.  And Kevin knows this as well as anyone else:

 It's obvious that race infuses a tremendous amount of American discourse. It affects our politics, our culture, and our history. Racial resentment is at the core of many common attitudes toward social welfare programs; our levels of taxation; and the current occupant of the White House. There's no way to write honestly about politics in America without acknowledging all this on a regular basis.
So what's the problem? Why can't we

 "write about, say, the racial obsessions displayed by Fox News (or Drudge or Rush Limbaugh), it's little more than a plain recitation of obvious facts, and liberals applaud. Ditto for posts about the self-described racial attitudes of tea partiers.?"  

Oh, we can't because its "counterproductive" because Kevin thinks that when he "[says] that these outlets are engaged in various levels of race-mongering," he is also "and by implication" always and necessarily also saying "that anyone who listens to them is condoning racism."

Well, he may be, but I'm not.  When I talk about race and American politics I'm not calling "anyone who listens" to Hate Radio, Limbaugh, or Fox News someone who is "condoning racism." Condoning is both too strong and too weak.  Maybe they are just bi-curious. Or maybe they are actively promoting the policies and interests that those media communities foster-- Maybe they are straight up racists and interested in creating and maintaining a racist society? If they are--if that's what they are there for like "I came for the tax cuts and stayed for the racism" what's wrong with calling a spade a spade? Kevin says its "counterproductive"--not that its not true, or not that its not historically relevant, but that its "counterproductive."

I'd challenge that--not that I don't agree with the first observation of the study he cites which is that:
“The experience of being perceived as racist loomed large in the mind of conservative fans (we interviewed),” they report. Every single conservative respondent raised the issue of being called racist, and did so without even being asked. (emphasis at the link).
“What makes accusations of racism so upsetting for respondents is that racism is socially stigmatized, but also that they feel powerless to defend themselves once the specter is raised,” the researchers add.

So: finding out that you might hold opinions that other people in your society don't hold makes people feel all squooky and sometimes, even, sad and upset.  Ok, sure, with the passage of time and the growth of a more egalitarian and non racist society it may well be that it is no longer socially acceptable to throw around the "N word" or pine publicly for the return of the Confederacy.  It may well be that people now have, or think they will have, the experience of being called out on the implications of their statements by people who are not white or by liberal white people.  But so what? I'm so very sorry that your retrograde racism causes you to be caused a retrograde racist.

 Kevin's point, of course, isn't that the Tea Party and Conservatives have a right to their undoubted racism--its that fear of being called out as racists, which they see as the "terrible word" of the modern age--is so staining, so stifling, that they would rather seek out situations, people, and news groups where they feel safe from the charge. So the researchers theorize that fear of a black planet and some accompanying ridicule leads to epistemic closure:
“We suspect that this heightened social risk increases the appeal of the safe political environs provided by outrage-based programs, and may partially explain the overwhelming conservative dominance of outrage-based political talk media.”
Kevin doesn't like this--this is the "counterproductive" part of his argument. He thinks that we could gently reduce the dominance of "outraged based political talk media" by making liberal and non white spaces "safe spaces" for conservatives to express their thoughts without fear of being accused of being racist. "We" with our indiscriminate use of the R word are driving innocent people into the harms of hate radio.  I think this is entirely backwards--they go where they are comfortable because people always go where they are comfortable. We aren't doing it to them. Moreover: there is nothing we can do about it. If we didn't exist as an existential threat with our leering and fleering and our low slung pants and our careless refusal to get jobs or whatever else they tell themselves over at Fox News they would have to invent us. Accusing "liberals" in general of forcing conservatives to congregate around the warm fire of Fox News's burning books is like accusing the Jews of being responsible for Germans buying Mein Kampf.

 I get Kevin's point--I understand that for some people it can be very, very, scary to find out that "common sense" viewpoints that they share with their neighbors and (they think) they share with their ancestors and other authority figures can be hurtful to other people and even result in social stigma.  But its absurd to think that people say racist, hurtful, things or enact racist/classist/corporatist policies because they are merely misunderstood and defensive because somewhere, someone, might disagree with them vehemently.

They say what they say because they believe it--and they pursue the policies they pursue at the local and national level politically because they affirmatively want those policies. If they prefer to preserve plausible deniability by, for example, remaining ignorant of the history of those policies or ignorant of the results of those policies as the conservatives who cut off food stamps and who closed the government are demonstrating right now it can't be our place to make that easier. And, in any event, it won't affect things. Water seeks its own level and vultures seek carrion. You can't prevent people from lying to themselves or engaging in magical thinking.

The whole discussion over at Kevin's reminds me of his ineradicable inability to get outside his own skin as a tall, lantern jawed, heterosexual white male. For example he swallows without choking the biggest absurdity in the study he cites: that what conservatives get from liberals (sarcasm? accusations of racism) is orders of magnitude worse than what "liberals" get from conservatives.  According to the study that Kevin cites the worst that liberals have to fear in this world is a little teasing or insulting, while conservatives experience some kind of social soul fright at being called a racist.  Yes, the researchers say "In conversation with conservatives, liberals risk being called naive or willfully blind to potential threats—not very pleasant labels, but not especially damaging ones, either."  Liberal here must be a gloss merely for white male upper class heterosexual person because I can assure the researchers that Hispanic, female, gay, black, native American and other non conforming non conservative people's come in for a hell of a lot worse than "not very pleasant labels" in their discussions with conservatives or in seeing themselves represented on conservative media.  How did that reality vanish from the discussion? 

We can no more make the world a safe place for people to express hatespeech or historical ignorance than we can make a non-smoking ward in the hospital a safe place for smokers. The right of the smoker to kill himself does not extend to the pollution of the space around him or the invasion of other people's lungs with second hand smoke.  The conservatives that Kevin is worrying about are on the wrong side of history and they suspect it but they aren't willing to do the honest work of getting on the right side. So fuck 'em. They have left themselves prey to talk radio because its comfortable for them. Its not something liberals can fix even if we tiptoe around their feelings and don't call them out on their actions and their political party's destructive behavior.


White Hat said...

1000% behind you on this Aimai.

In my occasional discussions with dittoheads and the like, nothing animates them as much as the implication that they are racist. They leap to their own defense, usually quite loudly, with little or no provocation. I was surprised the first couple of times this happened, but not anymore.

I do believe that many dittoheads really don't carry any personal animus toward other races. In their minds, that means they're not racists.

They do, however, tolerate or even actively support racist speech and policies. Regardless of their personal feelings, that's support for racism.

Racial intolerance doesn't deserve politeness, from anyone.

Yeah, fuck 'em.

aimai said...

On this matter I tend to believe "Honi soit qui mal y pense" which can be read "shame to those who think shame" but also, in another light, that the one whose thoughts are shameful tends to feel shame. I don't think that everyone who listens to rush or watchs Fox is a Racist in some existential sense. I actually don't even really think its useful to think about human beings in such a binary manner. But I think its incumbent upon people to be resopnsible for what they watch and what they believe and what they learn about the world around them. If people can't be buggered to ask themselves why and how we as a country can't have universal health care, or good free public education, then I just don't even care whether their feelings are hurt when I call them idiots. As for accusations of Racism--the truth is that liberals mostly talk about the consequences of actions and not about the totality of the person. I don't really think its useful to call people out *as* racists--I usually just try to explain to them why the policies they advocate are hurtful, destructive, counterproductive, or historically grounded in racial division.

Ten Bears said...

I certainly upset some people the other day when I pointed out that their calling the Affordable Care Act "Obamacare" is in fact racist. One of them an Oreo. Sometimes I think they are so conditioned they don't even know.

Of course nothing unites the haters, Jew, "Christian", Muslim and Mormon alike, than an Atheist.

No fear.

White Hat said...

Thanks for the followup. My feelings on the matter track with yours.

If I had to come up with a bumper sticker slogan for my personal feelings, though, it's this:

Racism is intolerable.

Drum's suggestion that lefties politely try not to mention the stink in the room? That's a no go here. It's' only slightly less supportive of Limbaugh, etc., than the passivity of a quiet dittohead.

Whetstone said...

What makes accusations of racism so upsetting for respondents is that racism is socially stigmatized, but also that they feel powerless to defend themselves once the specter is raised

Well isn't that ironic.

I can tell you where this milquetoast bullshit got us: decades of unadulterated Southern Strategy and the credulous treatment of every mouthbreathing dogwhistle as based in the sacred abstract realms of Principle. It got us Ronnie Reagan in Philadelphia, Mississippi.

So they're driven to Limbaugh and Fox and whatever? Good. Better that than we stop calling it for what it is and watch it seep back into every "respectable" outlet.

Examinator said...

Aimai and fellow travellers of life,

First let me note that I seem to be regarded here and particularly (but not exclusively) by Aimai as the enemy or just plain dumb.
I'm not convinced that my clumsy/ inept prose is fully understood much less my views.
So I'll say it again. I am a partially disabled 'half breed' child the product of a date rape adopted by of a raging great “proud white son of the South” (white trash). He was both an alcoholic and a PTSD sufferer veteran of the Infamous Burma railway in WW2. I was raised in PNG educated in Australia and in Sth Carolina I was raised between cultures. Born in Aust I had dual citizenship. Left school at 16 but returned in my late 20's and now I'm uni educated. I have travelled extensively for business as an exec in a corporation. I've spent years as a volunteer crisis intervention counsellor and political and community campaigner for HUMAN Rights.
I've been discriminated by both sides of the race and the class debate, I've been attacked bashed, Shot at, stabbed with a junkie’s needle the list goes on, all I might add in interests of being a crisis intervention counsellor.
FYI Aimai I've been pack raped in the, street for no other reason than I had long hair and dressed fashionably at the time (1970). And yes the police were less than helpful, Believing me to be a 'faggot' given the way I was dressed. Yes because of my mixed ancestry they were VERY RELUCANT to investigate, (counselling me that it wouldn't be in my long term interests) and wouldn't even take me to the ER.

All this would be irrelevant if it weren't for the fact that many of these topics are pontificated on by some here from positions of extremes and any variation from either extreme is fodder for ….being accused as the other or simply insultingly dismissed as merely shtick!
BTW I don't preach merely try to examine both sides nor do I assume my views are any more certainly not less that ANYONE else's
Oh yes I don't believe either party has a lock on worthwhile thought/idea's. Also clearly I tend to think well left of centre but deny strenuously that I am a liberal ( either the rest of the world's or US version) or supporter of tribal distinction. ( be that male tribe, GOP, DEMs, etc.) other than Human. Likewise I fail to see how trading one prejudice for another is advancement.

Let me be clear: I don't agree with the Conclusions or the spin/justification of what is clearly not acceptable by the author quoted.

Examinator said...

Part 2
Then again I have to agree with the 'counter productiveness' of the attitude of those who wave around disgust, contempt for the person who they are attempting to convince (negotiate with).
Does this mean that I agree or sanction All their attitudes (that's both naïve and presumptuous).
Think of it this way... in one incident I was called into a home because the daughter (13)was threatening (had taken pills)suicide. Dad came home and threatened with a riffle both me and the other counsellor ( middle age woman).
We knew by then that the daughter was being sexually abused by the father. What I didn't do was tell him I thought that his parental care was lower than a snail's haemorrhoids. Rather I played to what was left of his view of his parental care.... she needed medical help and as a caring father he should allow the ambulance coming to take her to hospital. He did and the when the police arrived He was crying into the coffee we made him as he told us of his problems as a PTSD suffering vet and recent sole parent.
What he had done to that girl was unacceptable. But the goal wasn't my disgust rather the girl's well being.
Secondary was to get the father into help.... it wasn't up to me to play moral policeman, judge or jury.

The keys here Objectives, Cause and effect analysis, and context. Absolutes are clearly BS.
Calling my adopted father a racist and useless Alcoholic is a bit like referring to patients in a hospital as the appendices in room 23 or the knife wound in room 46... is wrong people are more that their failures/shortcomings or illnesses.
Long live reason
Life doesn't suck it just is.

Victor said...

"I came for the tax cuts and stayed for the racism" - what's wrong with calling a spade a spade?

You, aimai, by using the work "spade," proved that you're the real racist!

aimai said...

I know! Now I'm so offended and frightened that I'm going to retreat to my Fox news bat cave.

Ten Bears said...

Reminds me of an old joke: when the young nun complained the head of her order about the workmen's language and was admonished that that they're just hard-working dog-fearing men who call a spade a spade replied "no they don't, they call it a Fucking Shovel!

I too, Ex, know a bit about being a breed (I prefer Metis), discriminated against by both the white dogs and the Noble Savages. Been rat-pack beat-up (though never beatin), my hair cut; shot by a gook (VC, Charlie, the NVA), tear-gassed, stomped on by a cop horse, bean-bagged, water canoned... imprisoned. On the Internet nobody knows you're a dog. Aimai has the keys to the house, if she dissapproved of your comments they would read "removed by administrator". You are not Dennis or his posse of braindead daughter-fuckers.

It easy to misread something, as I did something White Hat wrote about a few days ago. Clarification on both of our parts on turn led to an even better conversation.

Ten Bears said...

No fear.

gmoke said...

"According to the study that Kevin cites the worst that liberals have to fear in this world is a little teasing or insulting, while conservatives experience some kind of social soul fright at being called a racist."

My experience does not match this conclusion. I have been threatened verbally and physically by Tea Party people. My opinion is that some of the Rightwing has little or no compunction about perpetrating violence against those who disagree with them. A sliver, I hope, of the Rightwing is proudly eliminationist - they are chomping at the bit to kill all the "libtards."

Any person who does not treat the possibility of Rightwing violence as credible is a fool.