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November 2008

Melanin Revisited

In a recent post on the neglected fallout of affirmative action, I wrote:

The justifications for PC racial discrimination have never been entirely convincing or morally palatable. Treating people not as individuals but as generic representatives of some designated victim group is condescending and unfair, and seems likely to perpetuate racial hang-ups and give license to opportunist role-play.

Stephen Hicks outlines some common arguments on the subject and notes their essential distinctions:

The argument for racial affirmative action usually begins by observing that blacks as a group suffered severe oppression at the hands of whites as a group. Since that was unjust, obviously, and since it is a principle of justice that whenever one party harms another, the harmed party is owed compensation by the harming party, we can make the argument that whites as a group owe compensation to blacks as a group. Those opposed to affirmative action will respond by arguing that the proposed “compensation” is unjust to the current generation. Affirmative action would make an individual of the current generation, a white who never owned slaves, compensate a black who never was a slave.

And so what we have here, on both sides of the arguments, are two pairs of competing principles. One pair is highlighted by the following question: Should we treat individuals as members of a group or should we treat them as individuals? Do we talk about blacks as a group versus whites as a group? Or do we look at the individuals who are involved? Advocates of affirmative action argue that individual blacks and whites should be treated as members of the racial groups to which they belong, while opponents of affirmative action argue that we should treat individuals, whether black or white, as individuals regardless of the colour of their skin. In short, we have the conflict between collectivism and individualism. […]

This seems a good point to ask which of the above sounds less bigoted and insulting. Less racist, if you will.

Advocates of affirmative action rely upon a principle of social determinism that says, “This generation’s status is a result of what occurred in the previous generation; its members are constructed by that previous generation’s circumstances.” The other side of the argument emphasizes individual volition: individuals have the power to choose which social influences they will accept. The second pair of competing principles follows: Do individuals most need to be made equal in assets and opportunities, or do they most need liberty to make of their lives what they will?

Some peddlers of grievance, among them Shakti Butler, Joseph Harker and Peggy McIntosh, have redefined racism as “prejudice + power” and argue that racism is something only members of the “dominant group” can indulge in. The “dominant group” is, of course, understood to be Caucasian, though one might wonder how this addresses overtly racist assaults committed by people with dark skin or the realities of power in other parts of the world – Zimbabwe, for instance. The formulation of “prejudice + power” is, it seems to me, disingenuous and absurd, and wilfully so. Consider, for instance, the following personal experience:

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Secret Identities

Variety magazine recently announced the next project by former Marvel supremo Stan Lee: a cable TV drama about the travails of a gay superhero. As yet untitled, the hour-long programme is based on the novel Hero by Perry Moore, in which a novice crime fighter must contend with parental expectations, serial killers and his own sexual identity. Bearing in mind Lee’s previous efforts include the hypnotically awful reality show Who Wants to Be a Superhero?, expectations are no doubt high.

Homosexuality as a comic book plot device is hardly new, of course. Michael Chabon’s novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, published in 2000, incorporated gay themes and symbolism, and, in September 2002, DC’s Green Lantern series swapped the familiar space opera for unrequited lust and a case of earthbound queer bashing. Given the superhero’s universe has always been populated by dashing young men with improbable physiques and vacuum-tight costumes, one might consider such storylines a little overdue. What seems surprising isn’t the exploration of homosexuality as a prominent narrative, but the fact that such stories took so long to surface in a mainstream comic. Although comic book creators have on the whole remained silent on the subject, the fetishistic symbolism of the costumed hero has long been registered elsewhere.

In 1954, New York psychiatrist Dr Fredric Wertham published Seduction of the Innocent, an apocalyptic assertion that comic books were morally corrosive to impressionable young minds and the primary cause of juvenile delinquency. Hysterical in tone and often bizarre, the book claimed comic publishers were using the medium to teach children how to steal, enabling them to buy more comics. Wertham famously suggested that Batman and Robin were obviously having a homosexual relationship and were therefore in need of “readjustment therapy”. Wertham also developed elaborate theories regarding Wonder Woman and her equally obvious leanings toward bondage and lesbianism. At the time, few people thought to comment on the good doctor’s apparent conviction that comic book heroes were somehow not only real, but also having paranormal sex lives beyond the printed page.

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Friday Ephemera

Interactive mirror. // Flea circus contraptions. // If Photoshop were real. // Bacon apple pie. (h/t, Maggie’s Farm) // The healing power of bacon. (h/t, Franklin) // Bioluminescent shrimp spit. // Must wash hands. // Sleeveface. (h/t, Peter Risdon) // Your very own levitation wand. // Sarugaku, Tokyo’s micro shopping mall. // Amusement parks of North Korea: “The Wheel of Death is notorious for ejecting riders.” (h/t, Coudal) // Michael Portillo on Ayn Rand. // Theodore Dalrymple on social pathology2345. // Google Earth: Ancient Rome. // Early Star Wars storyboards. // Zoom into distant galaxies. // Tales to Astonish. Monsters, heroes, strange goings-on. // Second Watchmen trailer*. // Handsome spiders. // Alan King: Survived by his Wife. (1987) (h/t, Cookslaw) // And, via The Thin Man, it’s Mr Elvis Aaron Presley


Mixtape (3)

Busy today much of this week, but here’s a third helping of ditties from the ephemera archives

Joe Thompson: Sticky Fingers. (2000)

The Ink Spots: Your Feet’s Too Big. (1935)

Marlene Dietrich: You Go to My Head. (1938) 

The Skatalites: James Bond Theme. (1967)

Screamin’ Jay Hawkins: I Put a Spell on You. (1956)

Johnny Cash: Personal Jesus. (2003)

Herbie Hancock: Triangle. (1963)

Louis Armstrong: High Society. (1956) 

Ethel Waters: Stormy Weather. (1933)

Shawn Lee and his Ping Pong Orchestra: Cha Love. (2005) 

The bar is now open.

Friday Ephemera

Plane loses wing, defies physics. (h/t, AC1) // Spacecraft force field inches closer. // Space elevator, maybe. // Monsters vs Aliens. // Sunspots and the Dow. (h/t, Maggie’s Farm) // Astronaut ice-cream. // Fibreglass igloo. You want one and you know it. // Crystal speakers. // Bacon flash drives. // Bacon lampshade. It’s a versatile product. // Chessboxing revisited. // Matchbooks of yore. (h/t, Coudal) // World’s most powerful wind tunnel. // Diffusion spectrum imagery of the brain. // Physical Loops. // Japanese gardens. (h/t, Stephen Hicks) // Sculpting with sugar cubes. // The headquarters of the Basque Health Department. // A gallery of American signs. // Creepy automata. // And, via The Thin Man, it’s Mr Lalo Schifrin

Melanin, etc

If I can borrow from The Onion… 

It just goes to show you that, in this country, a black man still can’t catch a break.

Whatever the political preferences of readers, this is a moment in history, and questions come to mind. With the first black president soon to take office in the most powerful nation on Earth, where does that leave calls for affirmative action? Is it still possible to defend policies that extend privilege on the basis of pigmentation rather than character and talent? Will “colour-blind” attitudes, which echo the sentiments of Martin Luther King Jr, still be denounced as “racist” and “rightwing” – and as an attack on civil rights, rather than an affirmation of them? What of racially segregated student orientations conducted in the name of “diversity”? Will Professor Noel Ignatiev continue to insist that “whiteness is a form of racial oppression” and should therefore be “abolished”? Will students still be told that “the term [racist] applies to all white people (i.e., people of European descent) living in the United States”?

And I wonder what Obama’s election, and much of what it symbolises, says about William Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn’s forthcoming book, Race Course Against White Supremacy, the premise of which is that,

White supremacy has been the dominant political system in the United States since its earliest days - and that it is still very much with us.

Will it be as insightful as earlier efforts by this “veteran political activist”?

Update via the comments:

The justifications for PC racial discrimination have never been entirely convincing or morally palatable. Treating people not as individuals but as generic representatives of some designated victim group is condescending and unfair, and seems likely to perpetuate racial hang-ups and give license to opportunist role-play. Unsurprisingly, the negative fallout of such policies has all too often been ignored by those who favour them. See, for instance, this article by Heather MacDonald:

In 2004, a groundbreaking study of affirmative action in law schools blew away every rationale for racial double standards ever put forth. UCLA law professor Richard Sander found that law schools that admit black students with lower GPAs and Law School Admissions Test scores than their nonblack peers - almost all law schools, in other words - actually lowered those students’ chances of passing the bar. Because of the ‘mismatch’ between their academic preparedness and the academic sophistication of the school that has bootstrapped them in, the preference beneficiaries learn less of what they need to pass the bar than they would in a school that matched their capabilities. Far from increasing the supply of black lawyers, affirmative action actually decreases the diversity of the bar.

And this, by Gail Herriot:

It didn't seem to matter that… students admitted with lower academic credentials would end up incurring heavy debt but never graduate.

Both of the articles are worth reading in full. And note how proponents of “diversity” often reacted to contrary data with glib dismissal or disingenuous boilerplate. I’m therefore inclined to wonder how much reality it will take to alter the convictions of people who seem quite proud of their fashionable prejudice and are willing to lie about how well that prejudice works. As Heather MacDonald argues in the piece above:

Yet for the [racial] preference lobby, a failing diversity student is better than no diversity student — because the game is not about the students but about the self-image of the institution that so beneficently extends its largesse to them. 

(h/t, sk60)


Further to our discussion on redistribution, the following reader’s comment, left at Protein Wisdom, caught my eye. It’s a sort of mouth-and-trousers thing. 

As a business owner who employs 30 people, I have resigned myself to the fact that Barack Obama will probably be our next President, and that my taxes and carbon fees… will go up in a big way. To compensate for these increases, I figure that the customer will have to see an increase in my costs to them of about 20%. So connect economic ankle to shin, shin to knee, knee to thigh, and I will have to lay off roughly 8 of my employees in my forced tithe to “The One.” This really, really bothers me. I believe we are family here and I wasn’t sure how to choose who will get to stay and who will have to go.

So, I strolled through the parking lot this morning and found 8 Obama bumper stickers on my employees’ cars. These folks will be the first to be laid off.


Answers on a postcard, please.

Like Weeds

A couple of weeks ago, while noting another example of academic attitude correction, I wrote:

I’m inclined to wonder exactly how egregious and pervasive this phenomenon has to be before concern becomes legitimate. After all, if you want to propagate tendentious ideology and make it seem normative, respectable and self-evidently true, insinuating that ideology into schools and universities would be a pretty good way to do it. “Debate” can then be had on what is most likely an unequal footing, thus arriving at the approved conclusions with a minimum of informed and realistic opposition. If faculty and students are obliged to regurgitate that ideology and perhaps internalise it, while mouthing fuzzwords like “social justice,” all the better. Is it enough to bemoan certain socio-political trends or bias in areas of the media if one doesn’t also address the place where many of these things originate? And are we supposed to believe that the ideologues who push for such measures are going to get tired and desist of their own volition, and then politely roll back the idiocy they’ve been so keen to put in place?

Regarding that last question, the good people at FIRE have revisited last year’s Delaware indoctrination saga (discussed here) and provided an answer of sorts

First, lest we forget, here’s a reminder of what was being shoehorned into soft student brains:

The University of Delaware’s Office of Residence Life… used mandatory activities to coerce students to change their thoughts, values, attitudes, beliefs and habits to conform to a highly specified social, environmental, and political agenda… We were first alerted to the situation in October 2007, when a parent wrote us about the coercive activities his son was experiencing in the University of Delaware (UD) dorms. His son described the first set of activities as,

ugly, hateful and extremely divisive. It forced the students to act out the worst possible racial stereotypes and was replete with left-wing ideological commentary and gratuitous slurs… The teachers handed out an array of propaganda materials to support this seminar. However, at the close of the session, they insisted on collecting all the materials so that the students could not take it with them.

We heard similar reports from two UD professors, Jan Blits and Linda Gottfredson… Anything deemed remotely “oppressive” by anyone was to be stamped out, and resident assistants were being taught that “[a] racist is one who is both privileged and socialized on the basis of race by a white supremacist (racist) system. The term applies to all white people (i.e., people of European descent) living in the United States, regardless of class, gender, religion, culture or sexuality.”

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