Monthly Archives: July 2015

Name Calling

In our reading on censorship, we came across this epithet, “white privilege, patriarchal, slave trading colonizer” – or words to that effect. We distinctly remember that the European Colonization was inflected like that, to make a personal noun. That’s a lot of historical baggage rolled into one epithet, and we wondered what use it could possibly have in a serious policy debate.

When Jeremiah wants to call names, he has to be content with bourgeois and imperialist running dog. “Colonizer,” though – that’s strong. Someone might be advocating, say, welfare reform, and then you hit him with white privilege colonizer. Bam! Case closed.

Unfortunately, this epithet isn’t historically relevant. The only white privilege colonizers in America were the British, and our ancestors drove them out of the country – inventing modern democracy in the process. Our traditional ancestors, that is. Most Americans today are descended from other places, like Ireland, Italy, and India. Plenty of white privilege colonizers in Canada, though.

America, it bears repeating, was never a colonial power.

The British were the most ambitious colonizers in history (after the Han Chinese). The French colonized Indochina, leading, ultimately, to the Vietnam War. The Dutch colonized much of Africa, giving us apartheid. America, it bears repeating, was never a colonial power.

After the British, the biggest colonizers were the Spanish. They invaded all of Latin America, from Tierra del Fuego to San Francisco – except for Brazil, which was colonized by the Portuguese. The Spanish enslaved and annihilated not one, not two, but three advanced indigenous civilizations – at least as bad as what “we” did to the plains Indians.

This is great news. It opens up a whole new group of people we can call “white privilege colonizers.” Too bad racial politics doesn’t consider Latins to be white. This is a drawback with epithets that depend on events from the seventeenth century. Are Spaniards white?

arab-slave-trade

The lovely Mediterranean style of architecture in California, it should be noted, comes from the Arab invasion of Spain. The Arabs, you see, were also slave trading colonizers. Maybe our new epithet isn’t so strong. We’re going to stick with running dog. Maybe “patriarchal” running dog. That’ll shut up anyone who’s male, at least, unless he’s gay.

Seriously, though, this epithet business illustrates the logical weakness of Howard Zinn’s approach to history. You can’t just scrape together all the crimes ever committed in America and use them as an argument stopper. Colonialism is only relevant if someone is proposing to bring it back.

Oh, but it’s an ingrained cultural attitude, you say. Really? An American named O’Malley whose people came over during the potato famine – after being subjugated by the British – is now a colonizer? It must be contagious! We should round them up and put them in “cultural quarantine.”

In his freshman logic class, Jeremiah learned that if you are going to tabulate, say, “bad things done by nineteenth century Americans,” you also have to look at “good things done by nineteenth century Americans,” and – for historical context – “bad things done by nineteenth century non-Americans,” plus maybe bad and good things done by Americans and non-Americans in other periods.

The proper guide to policy choices in twenty-first century America is a well-rounded study of our history in its comparative context. Anything less is just name calling.

See also: Pope apologizes for Catholic Church’s crimes against indigenous peoples

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The Muslim Reformation

HirsiThe July issue of Foreign Affairs has back to back essays on the Muslim Reformation. The first is by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and the second is a rebuttal by William McCants of Brookings. This is a fine example of how Jeremiah is always telling you to form your own opinions.

If you read the New York Times, for example, they equip you with one (1) standard issue opinion, backed up by enough talking points to debate someone who has gotten his opinion from the Wall Street Journal. Foreign Affairs presents debates, like this one, with no guidance but your own.

Jeremiah has a lot of respect for Hirsi Ali, based on the personal risks she has taken to spread her message of Islam – which others call blasphemy.  Her essay was compelling, and resonated with our earlier report on this topic. The call for U.S. involvement, however, might not be a good idea. This brings us to the second essay.

McCants begins defensively, and his first few pages are a straw man attack on Hirsi Ali’s premises. She never suggests a fundamental problem with Islam, i.e., from Scripture. What she says is that terrorists are able to justify themselves as jihadis, and that it is the job of Islamic scholars to deny them cover.

We must not embellish things and say that Islam is a religion of compassion, peace and rose water, and that everything is fine – Ayad Jamal al-Din

Overall, Hirsi Ali has a better grasp of the situation and the desired outcome. She is also more honest in her use of language. McCants adheres to the weasel words of diplomacy, wherein a “violent extremist” is just a “religious conservative” gone bad. On the other hand, he is probably right about the pitfalls of America trying to influence a profound debate at the heart of Islam.

This is where a morality-based foreign policy pays off, bizarre as that may sound. On principle, America should demand freedom of speech for all participants in the debate – no fatwas, no intimidation – and we can make our other values known, too, like gender equality.

Hirsi Ali says we should stand up for the reformers, in our negotiations with allies and foes alike. It may not be constructive for us to take a side in this debate, but we do have a right to articulate our own values – a right, and an obligation.

See also: What Ayaan Hirsi Ali Doesn’t Get about Islam

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Of Sex and Shackles

Jeremiah was mortified to learn that Facebook offers more than 58 choices of gender identity. Many of them are duplicates! Worse, Facebook has added a freeform text field. This is a missed opportunity for Facebook and for social scientists, because we will not have clear categories to use for marketing and research.

Inventing your own freeform gender identity is part of the fun, but you cannot run, e.g., a dating site this way. Public institutions that need to collect gender information will probably follow Facebook’s lead – and give up. We wondered if it would be possible to categorize modern American gender identities and, if so, how many categories there are.

  • Biological gender – male or female. This may be of decreasing relevance to society, but it is still important for medical research.
  • Sexual preference – gay, straight, or bi. This one is tricky because it relies on the gender identification of your partner. Caitlyn and Candis are both trans female, so they’re lesbians.
  • Elective gender – male, female, or cis. When people say that being trans is different from being gay, what this means is – a different check box.
  • Gender role – masculine, feminine, or non-conforming. Many gay couples adhere to “traditional” gender roles, which is really odd because this is the most obsolescent aspect of gender identity.

Now that our lesbian pals can get hitched, Sue will be the “husband.” Why does a gay couple in the twenty-first century adopt roles from monochrome television? Who knows? Who is John Galt?

That works out to 54 choices, so maybe Facebook had it right after all. As enthusiastic as we are about the proliferation of gender choices, we can’t help but think this is an epic distraction from the ongoing curtailment of civil rights in America.

Everyone is so busy with this narcissistic sense of who they are in terms of sexual orientation or gender, and this intense gender consciousness, woman consciousness at the same time, and meanwhile…

Camille Paglia, herself a lesbian and a feminist, says that preoccupation with gender is a symptom of decadence. It is too easy to focus on things of immediate personal importance, and not notice what’s really going on the country. Chelsea Manning is trans, and she’s in prison.

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