Provocations

By Daniel A. Kaufman

The behavior of some of us on the political left lately makes me wonder whether we are trying to erase all the demographic advantages that should be leading us to electoral and legislative success for the foreseeable future.  Indeed, some of what we have been doing is so stupid and aggravating that it’s almost as if we want to hand the upcoming election to Donald Trump.  Echoes of freaky McGovernites and the Spiro Agnew set seem impossible to ignore.

The problem is between those who have embraced a deranged form of multiculturalism, “Social Justice Warriors,” and health, safety, and environmental nuts, on one side, and those whose concern is with traditional liberal interests and priorities, on the other.  Two examples of recent exchanges I’ve had may illustrate what I am talking about, and I fear that if I have too many more like them, I may pull the Trump lever myself, in a moment of blind, splenetic rage. If one could just give some of these people a good kicking, it might defuse the tension, but with that being impossible today, voting for a foul-mouthed dick like Trump may be the only thing that offers any satisfaction, crude and temporary as it may be.  Indeed, I find myself increasingly inclined to think that this is much if not most of The Donald’s appeal – sticking it to self-righteous jerks. Chalk it up as another casualty of the Empire of Nice. (1)

a
Mad as Hell and Not Going to Take it Anymore!

Bindi Brouhaha

Religion Dispatches, an online, religion-focused magazine, published by UC Annenberg, recently posted an article on a new “hashtag movement” called #Reclaim the Bindi!  (2)  Apparently, some hippieish white chicks and pop stars have been wearing Bindis – and Saris and other Eastern garb – which excited the ever excitable Social Justice Warrior crowd into collectively shrieking “Racism!” and “Cultural Appropriation!” and starting #Reclaim the Bindi! which, perhaps in the grip of some hallucination, they think is the same as actually doing something.

Unfortunately, the more one tries to figure out what all the outrage is supposed to be about, the less sense it actually makes.  When people used to make fun of Indians wearing Bindis, calling them “dot-heads” and the like, it was obviously bad.  But now that sexy hippies and top-tier celebrities have started wearing them – when the thing actually has become popular — it’s also supposed to be bad.  And not just bad.  Hashtag worthy.  Callout worthy.  In the discussion thread that followed the article, a commenter compared my skepticism about #Reclaim the Bindi! to being a racist and a homophobe and calling people “faggots” and “retards” and worse.  When I said that I was a longstanding liberal and unequivocally support same-sex marriage, civil rights, prison reform, ending the drug war, and the like — she told me that she “doubted it.”

Despite having read a number of articles on the subject, I still have no idea what’s supposed to be wrong with cultural appropriation.  Every culture does it and always has done it.  And with the open, global communications we have today? Every minute, every day, we can see what people around the world are wearing, listening to, watching, reading and the like.  How could this not have an influence?  How could it not lead to a widespread syncretism?  One of the saner commenters in the discussion pointed out that suits and ties are Western and asked whether we should tell people in Japan or China — or India — that they shouldn’t wear them, because it’s “cultural appropriation.”  Of course, no one in his right mind would ever say any such thing.  This stuff only goes one way.  It’s about whichever community is lucky enough to be one of the checklist-people-of-the-month (which can change at any time, so don’t get too comfortable), and the purpose of the movement and all the “campaigns” is to signal to others that one is right with the current checklist. At bottom, it’s not about policy or legislation or even persuasion, but about identifying who “we” (the good people) are and who “they” (the bad people) are.  Sort of like peeing on the floor or spraying musk out of your rear end, and exactly the kind of thing that thinking – and liberal — people should not be about.

b
Selena Gomez with Bindi

 Encounter with an Anti-Smoking Hysteric

Recently, I was in New York for a few days, helping out my mother, while my father was away on business.  I was fortunate enough to be able to steal a half-day to spend with my dear friend and co-founder of The Electric Agora, Dan Tippens, something that I only get to do a handful of times a year.

We crammed as many activities as we could into the short period of time that we had, and one of them included walking from the Upper West Side, across Central Park, to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  It was a lovely day and along the way, we decided to sit on an empty park bench and have a nice smoke, the two of us sharing an enthusiasm for high-quality, hand-rolled tobacco.  We don’t do it very often, but really enjoy it when we do.

Not two minutes after we had lit up, a small, sixtyish man approached us, literally shaking with rage.  He didn’t so much speak as splutter.

“Did you know that it is illegal to smoke in the park?”

“You mean, here?  Outside?!”

“Outside, in the park.  You’re allowed to smoke outside, on the benches that border the park.”

“Uh… didn’t know that.  Thanks for the information.”

“I hope you’ll heed it.”

The man stalked off, and we made our way to the indicated bench, which was just a few yards away from where we had been sitting before, and began to analyze the encounter.  What could the point of such behavior possibly be?  It couldn’t be that the man feared for his health – for one thing, we were out in the open air, and for another, he had just been walking down a city street, inhaling the carbon monoxide from the scores upon scores of cars and trucks that were passing by at every moment.  It couldn’t be that he objected to the odor of our smoke (for the same reason). Could he be some law-and-order type, who felt it was his duty as a patriotic American to bring law breakers to justice?  We doubted it – his disheveled but expensive corduroys and tweeds and nebbishy demeanor, when combined with the fact that we were on the Upper West side, just screamed “liberal, wealthy Manhattanite,” and regardless, who chases people down like that, when there’s nothing at stake?  I mean, it’s also illegal to drive 40 in a 30, but no one follows violators to the parking lot and accosts them for breaking the law.

The more we talked it over, the more we were forced to conclude that the man simply wanted to spoil our smoke.  He hated smoking, hated smokers, and just relished the chance to chase us off, even if what we were doing had no effect on him whatsoever.  His petty little gang had won this war and they were going to rule over their turf, which in this case meant the entire city, including the outdoors.

As we came around the front of the museum I noticed a number of people huddled in doorways and alcoves, at the edges of the building, smoking.  Who were they?  Museum guards.  Parking attendants.  Janitors.  Cooks.  All the people who actually work in the Met.  Lower class.  Blue collar.  Exactly the people whose interests liberal, Upper West Side, Bernie! types so loudly claim to care so much about.  It made me sick.  And it made me want to bash Mr. Upper West Side’s fucking face in … and vote for Donald Trump.

c
No Smoking in the Park (Defaced)

Just yesterday, when listening to NPR, I heard a political analyst remark that Trump’s path to the White House will be paved with the votes of Reagan Democrats – the largely white, blue-collar, labor-oriented, centrist Democrats, who, feeling alienated by the post-1960’s identity-politics driven Democratic Party, crossed over and voted for Ronald Reagan, against Jimmy Carter.  (They might as well be called “Nixon Democrats,” as the loss of them also contributed to George McGovern’s disastrous loss to Richard Nixon, a decade earlier.)  And I think the analyst was right.  If a coalition of hippies, feminists, and black activists wasn’t enough to win a presidential election, back in the early 1970’s, how could anyone in their right mind think a coalition of vegans, health-obsessives, and Social Justice Warriors are going to win one in 2016?  The point isn’t just that there simply aren’t enough of these sorts of people to win – and never will be – or that the entire country has shifted to the right since the 1980’s, making their brand of leftism even more far out than the 70’s version, but that they are so obnoxious and irritating and confrontational that it is difficult for more moderate liberals to form any sort of coalition with them.

Perhaps with a skin as thick as the armor on a tank and the patience of a saint, one could put up with the incessant language corrections and health and safety admonitions.  Maybe, with the forgiveness of Jesus, one would turn the other cheek to being told constantly that one is transphobic or insufficiently trans-friendly or excessively cis-gender normative or whatever the hell it is this week.  But how many people are like this?  I’m certainly not.  And if Mr. Upper-West Side’s anti-smoking histrionics made me want to vote for Trump, just to spite him, how likely is it that some harmless young woman sporting a Bindi is going to put up with being screamed at for being “racist” and “culturally appropriating” or that some assembly line worker with a nudie calendar in his locker is going to tolerate being accused of “misogyny” and “contributing to the rape culture,” just so that we can all come together to vote for Hillary Clinton?

Not very likely.  Which is why I think Trump could win.  And if he does, it will be our own damned fault.

Notes

  1. http://theelectricagora.com/2015/12/21/report-from-the-empire-of-nice/
  2. http://religiondispatches.org/the-bindi-isnt-indie/

64 comments

  1. This is spot on. What I find both comical and sad this election cycle is all the Beltway pundits and the chattering classes aghast that many of the the hoi-polloi (and any number of others who aren’t) are sick and tired of being exploited and lied to and lectured at relentlessly. That Trump is a surprise at all is what is surprising.

  2. Again I have to ask – how many people were actually involved in this?

    I recall the brouhaha about the “puppy room”, with many people talking of this as though it was the end of civilisation.

    But when I went to check the facts, I find that the debate which had stirred up controversy was “packed”. And there were about 24 people in the puppy room altogether.

    24.

    So, instead of the good news story, the packed lecture theatre of people who had come to hear both sides, and to listen to views which were different from their own, we get the bad news story about a mere 24 people who would rather go to the puppy room.

    So I always want to know if I am hearing about the puppy room, and not hearing about the packed lecture theatre.

    As I often point out, there are 300 million active twitter users in any given month. You can get onto the internet for about $40 and it is not difficult. So you get people from all walks of life from all over the world on Twitter.

    One thousandth of one percent of them you would get a Twitter mob of about 3,000. Most of these twitter mobs that people complain about are much smaller than that.

    So were the so-called social justice warriors “collectively” “shrieking”? Or were less than one thousandth part of 1 percent of the active twitter users at the time typing a few words onto their computer/pad/phone/ipod?

    And the majorty of the population, left right or otherwise? Indifferent.

    1. These are impressions, Robin, snapshots that I think are representative of broader trends. It is not meant to be taken entirely straight.

  3. I quite agree with the background idea feeding some of this; that ‘coastal elite’ opinion has a sheer contempt for middle american ‘white trash’, as they would put it (a recent Salon piece exemplified this perfectly). I also think the politics of shame and social stigma (that is fundamental to right-on slacktivism) is at its core anti-democratic, it is not a desire to win hearts and minds with argument but a fleeting seizure of power through social coercion which is almost guaranteed to result in precisely the kinds of backlash that one witnesses (I should flag up that such easy analysis inevitably misses a crucial economic component and in my mind the vast opposition to a more re-distributional tax system also leads to inevitable upheavals of the social order). Having said all that, I find even the tongue-in-cheek references to violence and Trump support a bit much for me. Setting my house on fire because my mother has annoyed me seems a facile response when anything but is desperately called for.

  4. Callan:

    1. I am not voting for Trump.

    2. I am not setting anything on fire.

    3. These are Provocations, not essays. Read the description of what characterizes these pieces.

    4. Everyone has thoughts like this, from time to time: “Ooooh, I’d like to kick that guy’s ass” and the like. In Provocations, we let our IDs run loose for a moment.

    5. It seems like you got the point, at first, and then managed to lose it.

  5. Dan: I do perfectly well understand where you are coming from and that there is a sort of unpleasant, oppressive quality to taking everything as unwavering, committed rational argument (as opposed to say letting off steam and etc). I still reserve my right to weird, visceral emotional reaction too :p

    (Aside: this site is fantastic, thanks for your efforts with it)

  6. designerspaces:

    Absolutely! That’s why we do the Provocations. To let loose half-baked ideas — which may either develop further or crash; to express typically unexpressed frustrations; to report impressions one has, for which there may not be sufficient evidence to advance a “thesis.” That sort of thing. It’s not most of what we do, by far, but it is a little of what we do, which I think is good.

    In this one, the really important point is a gut feeling I have that Trump is, in good part, a reaction to what has become an excessively polite, guarded, euphemism ridden public discourse, carried on under constant threat of social and other forms of sanction, for even the slightest misstep. This is why, with every horrible thing he says, he becomes more popular, to the shock and dismay of the mainstream media. What they fail to understand is that people like him precisely *because* he is foul-mouthed an horrible, not in spite of it. He is to politics what Andre Dice Clay and Howard Stern once were to comedy.

    And because of this, he has the potential to pick off that not-insignificant Reagan Democrat group, which would give him a major victory over Hillary Clinton, whose own baggage and unlikability largely neutralize Trump’s.

  7. Dan,

    Truth is; Often there are no easy answers.

    Why? Life is complicated.

    This sounds like snark, but the reality is we seek order, structure and patterns in a large and complex reality. So we develop ways to frame this input into our minds, from religion to science to every field in between and many outside, from family to ideologies.

    The reality is that order is essentially synonymous with simplicity. Even math, when it tries to tackle infinity, finds itself lost in the underbrush of competing and often conflicting frames, models, directions, etc.

    So if you want to try to make sense of anything, make it as simple as possible. Just don’t expect everyone to agree to your particular point of view.

    Me? I try to stay on the farm and often even that gets complicated. (There are way too many crazy people in the horse world.)

  8. Daniel, don’t you think perhaps you are being a bit defensive in your reply to Callan? After all, your opening paragraph does suggest a premise or perhaps a certain orientation to the zanier side of niche ideologies and movements while suggesting a cautionary aspect. I appreciate the need to blow off some steam, as you have here, especially when employing humor as you do. The segment on “Encounter with an Anti-Smoking Hysteric” is really good and the metaphorical significance of having to situate oneself a few yards to the “anointed territorial bench” highlights the absurdity. We seem at a place where any attempt to suggest a reasonable demarcation between “to provoke or to be provoked” seems pointless. To suggest a “time-out” where one might quiet down is itself fodder for provocation, I suppose.

    Imagine, as I sometimes do, a sort of mega-ideological conference (held, of course, in Las Vegas) where one can sample the assorted ideological positions at “trading” booths. Which reminds me . . . the term “chill out” as employed in the 1980’s has lost its poignancy. Today’s youths use it to describe “hooking up” and binge-watching programs on Netflix. You may not be chillin’ here in the older sense, but thanks for providing some levity in your Provocation.

  9. Bravo. Today’s liberalism barely resembles what I fought for, equal representation, freedom of expression and tolerance of diversity. Bertrand Russell best expresses what I understand to be true liberalism:

    Perhaps the essence of the Liberal outlook could be summed up in a new decalogue, not intended to replace the old one but only to supplement it. The Ten Commandments that, as a teacher, I should wish to promulgate, might be set forth as follows:

    1. Do not feel absolutely certain of anything.

    2. Do not think it worth while to proceed by concealing evidence, for the evidence is sure to come to light.

    3. Never try to discourage thinking for you are sure to succeed.

    4. When you meet with opposition, even if it should be from your husband or your children, endeavor to overcome it by argument and not by authority, for a victory dependent upon authority is unreal and illusory.

    5. Have no respect for the authority of others, for there are always contrary authorities to be found.

    6. Do not use power to suppress opinions you think pernicious, for if you do the opinions will suppress you.

    7. Do not fear to be eccentric in opinion, for every opinion now accepted was once eccentric.

    8. Find more pleasure in intelligent dissent than in passive agreement, for, if you value intelligence as you should, the former implies a deeper agreement than the latter.

    9. Be scrupulously truthful, even if the truth is inconvenient, for it is more inconvenient when you try to conceal it.

    10.Do not feel envious of the happiness of those who live in a fool’s paradise, for only a fool will think that it is happiness.

    Treasure Commandments 6, 7 & 8!

  10. Excellent rant! You have my sympathies. The irrational manifestations of ‘liberalism’ would drive any rational person up the wall. You have only begun to scratch the surface: politically correct teaching in schools and academia, limitation of free speech, refusal to consider and debate different points of view.

    Irrational ideas from the right are just as wacky, even more so.

    Trumpism probably represents an irrational response to an irrational situation.

  11. TJ: I agree with most of what you said, but I don’t see in what sense my response to Callan was defensive. He seemed to be suggesting at the end that I was looking to “facile” solutions — i.e. voting for Trump in order to get back at jerks — but I thought it was pretty clear from both the substance and tone of the article that the desire to vote for Trump is nothing more than a kind of expression of frustration, much like wanting to punch Mr. Upper West Side in the face. I will/would actually do neither. But I wonder whether others will. Indeed, I speculated at the beginning that this sort of thing is much of Trump’s appeal. So while I would not ultimately go for the facile solution, I can imagine that many would/will.

  12. Callan,
    …misses a crucial economic component and in my mind the vast opposition to a more re-distributional tax system also leads to inevitable upheavals of the social order

    I see little connection between your point and Dan-K’s points. He gives examples of overly intrusive and prescriptive societal policing of behaviour and expresses his strong frustration at this.

    I find even the tongue-in-cheek references to violence and Trump support a bit much for me. Setting my house on fire because my mother has annoyed me seems a facile response when anything but is desperately called for.

    He expressed his frustration in a colourful way intended to provoke discussion. This is what we should do and not complain about his provocation. So in that spirit I am going to ask what really is going on?

    The clue is contained in the newly popular phrase ‘affective partisan polarisation’. This is a well documented phenomenon. What seems to be happening is that the two ends of the liberal and conservative spectrum have been attacking each other with increasing fervour and vehemence, for whatever reasons(I have my own thoughts about that). As the attacks have escalated, the ends of the spectrum have been forced further apart(this is the polarisation) until there is effectively no middle ground connecting them.

    With no middle ground there is no mutual understanding, nor liking or even respect. When that happens the nation divides into two tribes. When tribes form then the symbols of tribal membership become all important and defectors or freeriders(real or potential) are punished so that tribal cohesion can be maintained. The goal of arriving at a governing consensus is lost. Instead each tribe wishes to enlarge itself and destroy the other tribe. The behaviours that Dan-K talks about are tribal markers. They are enforced in an attempt to gain tribal dominance, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, to demonise the other tribe.

    Political truth is an elusive thing. It is never the exclusive domain of any tribe. It can only be discovered in the dynamic interplay of competing interests. For that to happen there must be a substantial middle ground that represents the underlying consensus that unifies a nation. Tribal divides destroy the middle ground and are fatal to a democracy.

  13. In case it wasn’t clear (I’m unsure why it changed, something to do with wordpress) but Callan and I are the same poster.

    Dan, Labnut: of course you are right that the ending of what I wrote is a bit off and I shan’t try to rectify it into something sensible other than the above explanation that this is my own visceral urge against the urge (I am reminded of the dispute between Eagleton and Amis detailed here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martin_Amis#Political_views)

    Labnut: with regard to my comments on economic injustice: I had indicated agreement with a story of social upheaval in the form of revolt against liberal tastemakers sneering at middle america and constructing an edifice with which to sneer even further with the pseudo-academic language that has thoroughly engulfed student politics and the consciousness of the political elite more generally. I wished to indicate though, that this is probably not the entire story of the rise of a person such as Trump* and his rise is accompanied by a severe economic landscape for many of his supporters. See for example this: http://www.primeeconomics.org/articles/mapping-france-the-link-between-unemployment-gdp-and-voting-front-national as a point of comparison. We might discuss the changing landscape of French society and the failure or not of its policy of integration of the growing muslim population but ‘its the economy stupid’ is always a worthy consideration (I don’t claim by the way that Dan or anyone else was missing this point of course, I simply find it a useful addition).

    *such causal stories in politics are mighty appealing so it is worth stepping back every so often.

  14. “Puritanism: The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.” – H. L. Mencken

    This has been a Puritan culture since… well, since the Puritans first landed here. (They were not escaping the religious intolerance of England, they were running from the religious *tolerance* they found in the Netherlands.)

    Puritanism, need not be claimed by only one ideology. It is a rigid attitude toward social behavior, demanding that what one person, or one group, sees as the right and the good ought to be accepted by everyone and abided by. So there are many forms of puritanism, across the cultural and political spectrum. Since it stems from a ‘will to be right,’ which is endemic among those belonging to cultures open enough to engender serious disagreements, it will keep rearing its ugly head again and again, causing pain to those successfully repressed, and push-back of various rebellious spirits – including competing forms of puritanism.

    For purely strategic/logistic reasons, I don’t see Trump winning the presidency. He has ‘fans’ who are quite active, but little political machinery; and it appears that he would come out of the Convention unable to rely on the considerable machinery of a much damaged Republican Party. (I confess that a Trump/Clinton debate would be amusing, though.) But certainly the people who demonstrate at Trump rallies are not only acting like children, but also fueling his fans’ angst and anger.

    But on the wider issue, I agree that this culture isn’t so much fun anymore. We seem to have forgotten how to agree to disagree, how to go with the flow, live and let live. Clichéd truisms, yet words to live by.

  15. Labnut,

    Keep in mind that polarities are naturally occurring, even elemental. What you describe as the middle ground is when those polarities are relatively weak. So rather than simply wish for quiet times, wouldn’t it be sensible to try to understand how and why polarities function, evolve and how they co-exist as opposite sides of a larger dynamic. Then if people could be schooled into these dynamical processes, as part of elementary social studies for instance, then the larger society would be better able to both incorporate this dynamic into the social, ecological, generational, economic spectrum and react when things do start to spin a little too fast. As an old Federal Reserve chairman put it, ‘Take the punch bowl away, when the party gets too wild.’ Unlike today, when they just pour more vodka in it.

    Not have everyone essentially running blindly about and declaring allegiance as a way to ground to some instinctive tribal identity.

  16. designerspaces: The name change threw me. Now I get it. And I agree with your visceral reaction to my visceral reaction. I have it myself. It’s why these sorts of people worry me so much: they manage to bring the worst out of everyone.

  17. EJ: I hope you are right about Trump’s prospects. I would feel better if he were running against Bernie, though. Bernie could hammer Trump on Trump’s negatives, whereas Hillary really cannot, as her negatives are just as bad and in some cases, worse.

  18. Dan K, well, maybe so upon my rereading of his comment. His second sentence is a mouthful, what with the comma splice and all. But I didn’t take it to be critical of you on my first reading, especially since he writes “the tongue-in-cheek references to violence and Trump support.” At any rate, he can clarify, I suppose, in a subsequent comment.

    I think the sort of approach you’ve taken here–one of humor and parody–to be an effective approach, essentially mirroring the kind of divisive craziness I haven’t seen since the late 60’s and 70’s. Of course, back then, I was young and naively idealistic while today I am old and pathetically cynical. 🙂

  19. EJ, “We seem to have forgotten how to agree to disagree . . . .” Or, maybe, it’s that emphasizing difference is easier, more immediately emotionally gratifying than the more difficult chore of identifying similarities. We don’t hear much talk these days of common cause. The phrase itself seems at times oxymoronic.

  20. LOL! I am a dimwit. I see that callam/designerspaces has subsequently commented. I need to read all the newer comments before mouthing off. “Who can it be now?”

  21. Dan Kaufman,
    I sincerely enjoyed your article, but while I agree with your attitude against the concept of cultural appropriation (and I must emphasize that like you I am against the whole idea)I think you somewhat misrepresented the idea. The concept of cultural appropriation doesn’t mean that nobody should engage in some form of cultural exchange via taking/borrowing cultural artifacts from another culture. For example, you wrote:

    “Every culture does it and always has done it. And with the open, global communications we have today? Every minute, every day, we can see what people around the world are wearing, listening to, watching, reading and the like. How could this not have an influence? How could it not lead to a widespread syncretism? One of the saner commenters in the discussion pointed out that suits and ties are Western and asked whether we should tell people in Japan or China — or India — that they shouldn’t wear them, because it’s “cultural appropriation.”

    What many people on the left would say is that Indians, chinese, and japanese cannot culturally appropriate because cultural appropriation *by definition* can only be done by privileged/dominant groups against oppressed groups, but it cannot be done by oppressed groups against the privileged ones. In the global order, the west is the dominant group that has a history of imperialism, colonialism, and so on (as far as the social justice thinking goes) that has illegitimately taken cultural artifiacts from other cultures without permission and has done so in a way that stereotypes the the oppressed group. So many on the left are actually supportive of cultural exchange, but it’s just that they don’t like it when westerners take cultural artifacts from oppressed groups without permission and appropriate cultural artifacts in a way that is disrespectful to the oppressed.

    I personally think the problems with the idea of cultural appropriates are twofold. One, people aren’t very consistent in how they apply the concept cultural appropriation. For example, one of the writers for Salon wrote the article titled “Why I’m Sick of White Belly Dancers.” (paraphrase) where s/he argued that whites are culturally appropriating belly dancing from the middle east and they are engaging in exoticizing the middle east (also known as orientalism). However, the author never mentioned Japanese belly dancers. Why is this important? While the Japanese do not have a history of colonizing the middle east, they are among the most privileged and dominant groups in the world. They have an incredible GDP, educational system, low crime rates, a great social safety net, and so on. Technically, they qualify as a privileged/dominant group. In effect, the japanese are committing cultural appropriation. But imagine if the title of the article was “Why I’m sick of Japanese belly dancers.” It would sound pretty ridiculous, hilarious, and racist, right? I can imagine the author arguing that the west has a history of oppressing Arabs, so the Japanese don’t count. This is strange given that plenty of European countries such as Ireland, Norway, Iceland, Poland, and others didn’t oppress people in the middle east via colonialism yet they are considered to be “white.” If some of them adopted belly dancing (in fact, a Norwegian Dancer Marta performs belly dancing*), do they still count? If they do, then it’s not just the history of oppressing the other group but also their status/position in society. If that’s the case, then it’s not only white westerners who can commit cultural appropriation. Japanese, Taiwanese, Singaporeans, and South Koreans (the four tigers of the East Asian economy) could arguably commit cultural appropriation (in fact, check Hip Hop in South Korea; they borrow a lot of mannerism, attitudes, and tropes from the Hip Hop culture in the U.S.) Yet, for whatever reason, a lot of people on the farther left want to say that only whites can commit cultural appropriation. What this does is that it sends the wrong message to a lot of whites “You shouldn’t engage in cultural exchange!” It’s just bad PR.

    Second, it isn’t obvious that cultural appropriation by can only be done by privileged dominant groups. In fact, one could imagine a scenario where an oppressed group takes a cultural artifact/symbols/practices from another oppressed group without permission and appropriate those artifacts/symbols/practices that stereotypes, misrepresents, and distorts the other culture. This is perfectly conceivable, but it’s unclear why cultural appropriation requires that only dominant groups can engage in this act. It’s like defining theft in terms of wealthy class taking something from the poor. Sure, that counts as theft, but is it conceptually necessary that only the wealthy class can engage in theft? It is arguable that when the wealthy class engage in theft that harms the poor more than the poor steals some stuff from the wealthy, but it seems unusual to say that only the wealthy class can engage in theft by definition.

    *https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OfQjUiZxyRA

    1. Paul So wrote:

      What many people on the left would say is that Indians, chinese, and japanese cannot culturally appropriate because cultural appropriation *by definition* can only be done by privileged/dominant groups against oppressed groups, but it cannot be done by oppressed groups against the privileged ones. In the global order, the west is the dominant group

      ———————————

      Of course they would say that. The question is whether it is credible at all. For one thing, I see no reason articulated here why an “oppressed” group cannot appropriate — it’s just stated — and for another, to refer to China and Japan as “oppressed” or somehow subordinate is just plain bizarre. These are two of the most powerful economies in the world and in one case, one of the most powerful military forces in the world as well.

      I think the idea is thin as paper and can’t sustain even the mildest scrutiny.

  22. EJ,
    Puritanism, need not be claimed by only one ideology. It is a rigid attitude toward social behavior, demanding that what one person, or one group, sees as the right and the good ought to be accepted by everyone and abided by.

    That is a very interesting insight.

    I would also put it this way. Tolerant, progressive people have a pragmatic view of the truth while puritan liberals have an absolutist, prescriptive view of the truth. They believe that they alone possess the truth and that this requires them to impose their conception of truth on others. Liberals seem as prone to this absolutist prescriptive view of the truth as are religious fundamentalists and this can be attributed to their intellectual arrogance. They think they are much smarter than everyone else, while, by contrast, religious fundamentalists think they have a special, revealed source of knowledge.

    I also think there is something else going on. The world is a messy, uncertain place. To make sense of it and navigate through it we engage in model building. The models are simplified abstractions of the real world that we appeal to when confronted with the ambiguities of the real world. This is a necessary process which simplifies the continual choices we must make. Shared models improve cooperation, build consensus and promote cohesion.

    People vary in their tolerance for ambiguity. Those with low tolerance build stronger models of the world and those with an especially low tolerance require that others buy into their idealised model of the world. One can think of it as an intellectual Obsessive Compulsive Disorder with the unique feature that ‘Compulsive’ applies to others as well as the self. Perhaps this will finally be recognised as a new personality disorder and find its way into DSM VI or DSM VII 🙂 See also http://www.psychiatry.org/psychiatrists/practice/dsm.

  23. Bertrand Russell’s liberal Decalogue has been transformed into the illiberal Dodecalogue by the adoption of the following amendments:

    11. Thou shalt have no other gods before me, for the lord thy god, is a jealous god.
    Post-liberalism is the one way, the true way and the only permitted way. Political idolatry is a grievous sin.

    12. Thou shalt not take the name of the lord thy God in vain.
    Criticism of post-liberal values or points of view is a mortal sin to be punished, first by pillory, second, by stoning and third, by burning at the stake.

    I have been pilloried(on the other forum), I have been stoned(by a local mob) and all that is left for me is to be burned at the stake(that has happened to a friend). I have an adventurous life. I would not want it any other way.

  24. Sitting in my chair made in Taiwan, I’m eating Mexican chili on rice with chopsticks, while listening to Culture (a great Jamaican reggae vocal group). Soon I will watch the One Armed Swordsman from Hong Kong, ca. 1967. Then I’ll read a passage from the German philosopher Kant, as I’m trying to write an essay on his aesthetics, which i will probably send to my Italian American friend, David Polizzi; but I might post it for my frequent German reader, nannus. But first, I’ll visit my Kenyan friend makagutu’s blog, Random Thoughts,

    Half of my grand nephews/nieces are Hispanic American; the other half African American. I’m part Irish, part Polish Jew, part something or other out of the Ukraine (my mother’s father played it close to the vest), My native food is the Coney Island hot-dog. My niece cooks great Jamaican!

    I’m wearing a shirt sewn in Korea, and tomorrow I will be drinking Brazilian coffee.

    Many of these phenomena are the result of horrific colonization; but much of it is the result of cultures doing what they need to in order to survive.

    And there is not a one of us, whomever, whatever, who is not complicit in this, who is not involved in this.

    Cultural appropriation? why not just say -, culture?

  25. Cultural appropriation is a dreadful misnomer. Cultural manifestations are not a good that can be owned or claimed. they cannot be seized. They cannot be limited in the traditional ways through patent or copyright. It is an idea and ideas move freely. Culture is a permeable medium and ideas naturally diffuse between cultures at their boundaries. It is an unstoppable process and no amount of illiberal posturing about ‘cultural appropriation‘ can halt or slow it down.

    Before, cultural boundaries tended to coincide with national boundaries and this slowed the diffusion process. Today, high speed media is punching holes in the boundaries, speeding up the diffusion process. The result is an added richness and vibrancy to culture. The diffusion of ideas from neighbouring cultures is a powerful stimulus and should be welcomed, not opposed.

    The free borrowing and improvement on ideas is the engine of our species progress. The whole of science depends on this. The richness and the depth of our culture is the result of this. Patents and copyright are attempts to limit the process for corporate gain by creating artificial monopolies. Monopolies stifle progress, enrich the monopolist, limit access and drive up prices. This is the real evil and it should be vigorously opposed.

  26. Maybe we can point to some things most of us can agree to be inappropriate appropriation. Perhaps “biopiracy” (“one report estimates that the developing world would gain $5.4 billion per year if multinational food, seed, and pharmaceutical firms paid royalties for local knowledge and plant varieties”) where material culture is extracted and commodified elsewhere. Or use of artistic techniques or motifs from one culture where copyright would have protected the work if that of an artist from our society.

    As to the smoking incident…while younger (I am asthmatic), I would regularly tolerate rooms where the clouds of smoke dimmed the light. Now exposure to cigarette smoke has become rare, I really notice small amounts, even when outdoors. So I am somewhat sympathetic to the park regulation. As to the complaining gentleman, we have all met his like – I don’t see him as left or right (“when he was young he had kept a notebook of slights, insults and grudges, but as he had grown older he had found that he remembered them quite well”).

    1. David: You say you are sympathetic to the park regulation but give no reason. Are you seriously suggesting that smelling a whiff of cigarette smoke, in the open outdoors is a problem of *any* kind, when one is surrounded by thousands of cars and trucks speweing out exhaust?

  27. Dan-K,
    …people who actually work in the Met. Lower class. Blue collar. Exactly the people whose interests liberal, Upper West Side, Bernie! types so loudly claim to care so much about. It made me sick. And it made me want to bash Mr. Upper West Side’s fucking face in … and vote for Donald Trump.

    I think you have just articulated the force that is driving Trump’s campaign. It is a protest against intrusive micro-management of behaviour which serves only to satisfy the need to exert control. It is a protest against the insincerity of their motives. It is a protest against a policy of trivia that ignores the larger and real issues faced by the working/middle class.

    It is a truism that my freedoms end where your freedoms begin. No-one forces me to smoke so why should I force someone else not to smoke? I might think that it is an absurdly risky behaviour but I should respect your right to take your risks. After all I have routinely taken far greater risks in the mountains but no-one censures me for doing this. Risk is inherent in life and freedom also means the freedom to choose risk. I expect respect for my right to exercise this freedom and similarly you have the right to expect respect for the exercise of your freedoms.

    I want to be informed so that I can make intelligent choices but I don’t want to be ‘nudged’ and manipulated into making those choices. I want to be treated as a free agent, responsible for my own behaviour.

    There is a deeper problem here, and that is the overuse of laws and regulations to direct our behaviour. When the laws become absurdly prescriptive of a multitude of trivial behaviours we lose respect for the law itself. We become scofflaws, seeking to pervert or evade the law and that is a very, very dangerous thing. It is dangerous because the law depends on the willing compliance of the majority. Lose that and we steer close to anarchy.

  28. Labnut wrote:

    There is a deeper problem here, and that is the overuse of laws and regulations to direct our behaviour. When the laws become absurdly prescriptive of a multitude of trivial behaviours we lose respect for the law itself. We become scofflaws, seeking to pervert or evade the law and that is a very, very dangerous thing

    ———————————————-

    This is a *very* important — and sound — point. The case of small-quantity marijuana possession is a prime example of this. Turning large numbers of perfectly good, productive citizens into de facto criminals.

  29. Engaging with Hillary, Bernie or Donald’s economic or social ‘theories’ would be a stupid thing to do because not one of them is trying to be rational, or even rigorously factual. They are trying to get votes from irrational human beings and must say persuasive things. Only a semblance of logic is required.

    We tend to give a pass to our personally favored candidate. This time is different and interesting because there won’t be a favorite.

    There is a general arousal amongst the inchoate masses because they realize they have been taken for a ride. Sold a bill of goods. That, at least, is what they think and who are we to tell them that they are wrong? The elites have been dethroned.

    I actually blame the elites for our situation.

  30. Hi Dan, I liked and agreed with most of this essay, though I think Trump is more than a reaction to (liberal) political correctness. Rather he is a reaction to politicians and politics as usual. The fact that he is massively politically incorrect merely adds credence to the idea he is well outside politics.

    That of course does not put him outside of corporatism as usual. I sort of wish people would factor that in too.

    Hi Paul So, you said “… they don’t like it when westerners take cultural artifacts from oppressed groups without permission.” How and from whom does one get such permission? Beyond criticizing the literal plundering of another civilization, that concept seems ludicrous on its face.

    Besides which, these “oppressed groups” have completely indigenous artifacts? They never encountered and took from prior cultures they met during their development?

    1. dbholmes: While I do think that Trump’s appeal has a lot to do with his freewheeling, unpoliced language, part of what I was also trying to get at is that this sort of hyper-correctness and its policing can only serve to splinter and break up the left wing coalition. In my mind, the latter is the greater danger and when combined with the former, could easily elect Trump.

  31. Dan,

    Since when has the left been organized? Order is the premise of conservatism. Things like civil and cultural structures and strictures are inherently conservative.

    The strength of the left is its dynamism, which naturally tends to burst out in any possible direction and resist the quantification that eventually leads to monetization. Which is why various of the fleeting forms it does create eventually win out, if society doesn’t collapse in the meantime, as it expresses the energy and potential of the future, while conservatism is the established order, that will eventually recede into the past.

  32. To quote Robert Frost; “If you are not liberal when you are young, you have no heart. If you are not conservative when you are old, you have no head.”

  33. Dan-k:

    I didn’t really agree with your comment, it was a miss click. For some reason if I touch or click my screen anywhere inline with the Like button it gets selected.

    On your Provocation, I’m still cogitating, but I *am* extremely annoyed by individuals like the ones I think you are referring to, people who take an academic concept, usually misunderstand it, then take it way out of context and make unreasonable claims to put it nicely. Not sure at first if it’s more than a ‘side show’, but then *all* media do seem to love this kind of stuff, so maybe how many people are actually involved isn’t relevant because once media gets a hold it will seem like a trend no matter what. So in that context I agree that it’s helping some people on the ‘right’ and probably some on the ‘left’ too into Trumps hands.

    On Trump’s overall rise, I think it’s the conservative party’s political tactics (their atmosphere and policies) that are catching up to them:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/14/opinion/trump-is-no-accident.html

    And this is really interesting in a bad way:

    http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2016/03/15/return-of-the-undeserving-poor

  34. If I could sort of milk the thesis in line for what I believe it to be is that of an underlying problem, I cannot stand Hillary, more so than any fear I have of Donald Trump being elected. Why because anyone who would be willing to look can see how tactful she tries to be. It is a sort of blatant disrespect for the populous and now of the electorate. The latter of which we need a new one– and may be gaining in the likes of millennials. There is a sort of acceptance today with bullshit in the sense of what Mcginn pointed out, and I don’t mean to take credit for anything Mcginn has already said that I missed. Bullshit is what we are willing to accept from another person as a truth without the mildest critical justification for it(otherwise it may be construed as simply a colloquialism in a disrespectful-pathos), a fellow voter perhaps, or a man accosting someone to put out their cigarette out in the park is likely to go unchallenged because the deference played to the accoster doesn’t seem to serve anything more than a mere cathartic release the likes of which no one will see anyone’s point of view, but imagine if time had been taken by to address a deliberation by everyone, what true progress would be made. Although Hillary is I should point out a liar and not a bullshitter, the growing discontent with which Dan is referring to is I believe to be is, we have been allowed to bullshit each other in reference to say what Hillary or someone lies about.

    Why is it sort of agreed upon that we will take everything one group says to be true,but if there is a dissent within such a group we will give the smallest semblance of credence to it? — if any at all. Those who play identity politics for their own gain, if it be political, do so in a very disrespectful-pathos. Let me explain because I’m sure this all could still sound vague. A respectful pathos would be one where are ideas if they are truly bad are criticized. Such as building a thirty foot high wall to keep out “illegals” which in itself is stupid, minding what John Oliver pointed out as one can find a thirty foot rope. I believe it is as much our responsibility to challenge, the views that remain unchallenged and, those who play identity politics, they do so because we let them. I don’t agree with EJ Winner “we need to learn to agree to disagree.” We need to regain a forum or, a public square so to speak, willing to criticize bad ideas.

  35. “whiff [versus] thousands of cars and trucks” – I don’t have any problems with people smoking out there with the cars and trucks ;). In the park, vegetation reduces pollution and particulates (trees more than other plants) – a restful place for the lungs. One can always find a ridiculous aspect to smoking rules (here in Australia you can smoke once you are exactly 5 metres outside the hospital property line), but I have been wedged in more than once in outdoor cafes downwind of smokers who have refused to stop. It’s not the tiny increment in health risk, it’s just I now find it unpleasant on my nose and throat and stinky on my clothes. I don’t experience much air pollution where I live, and I don’t recall smelling it on my clothes. But if you are the utility monster and gain so much pleasure from a fag, I guess I’ll just have to put up with it.

    1. davidlduffy: I voluntarily do not impose myself on others, so I would never smoke in a crowded area, unless it was a bar, where people were there to drink and smoke.

  36. More on the bindi.
    While cultural manifestations cannot be appropriated they can certainly be misused or abused. This is most likely in the case of religious symbols, national symbols or historical symbols, which have special significance for some. Abuse of religious symbols can be offensive to the believer and sometimes this is the clear intent. An example of this has been the few occasions when commenters(on this and the other forum) have called Christians, Xtns. This is a term chosen by atheists to be deliberately disrespectful of Christians. Another example was the case of PZ Myers putting a nail through the Eucharist wafer.

    Choosing to deliberately give offense is of course just petty childishness and is best ignored. In a mature society we treat religious, national or historical symbols carefully, respecting the special meaning they have for some. If some people choose to be petty, mean and immature, by treating these symbols in a way calculated to cause offense, my reaction is to say that I am glad to be given the opportunity for recognising that person’s true character and I will forthrightly label them accordingly.

    The borderline issue is the use of religious or national symbols as fashion elements or ornaments. Here there is no intent to give offense, merely insensitivity towards, or perhaps ignorance of, the potential for giving offense. The bindi probably falls in this category. In this case I say live and let live if there is innocent intent. Using a religious symbol as an ornament is after all a form of affirmation.

    National symbols, such as the flag, coat of arms, etc, can be tricky as some countries have laws protecting them.

    Commercial symbols are another category of interest. Most countries have trademark and trade dress laws to protect commercial symbols. Here one treads carefully because companies will usually act aggressively to protect their symbols.

    Historical symbols, such as statues, memorials, etc, are another area of sensitivity, as we have seen in my country.

    More generally, symbols are the visual representation of a shared fiction. Attacks on the symbols are attempts to destroy, degrade or delegitimize the shared fiction. But tread carefully, shared fictions are what unite us, motivate us and give meaning. They give form to society[Sapiens-Yuval Harari]. Once we legitimize attacks on shared fictions we start to attack the basis of our society.

  37. Hi Dan, I did get your point how “this sort of hyper-correctness and its policing can only serve to splinter and break up the left wing coalition.” I agree and think it is worth pointing out… or skewering in this case 🙂

    But I guess I would differ in whether it is the greater danger. It’s possible, I’m just not certain.

  38. “Xtns. This is a term chosen by atheists to be deliberately disrespectful”. I seem to recall similar plaints made about “Xmas”, but that hasn’t gone. I think this is one of the points about the definition of cultural appropriation including the proviso that it is done by the powerful, or that ethical satire should “punch up”. Atheists, despite being more rational and having more correct beliefs (do I need a smiley here?) are still a minority and feel themselves at a disadvantage. So I think that in the secular free speech society they have the expectation that the churched are a powerful group who can just suck it up, just as in the case of “Temptation of Christ” or “Piss-Christ”. But the reverse feels “unfair”.

  39. labnut

    Xtian, Xtians, Xtianity and Xmas (using the X for Christ) are all traditional forms. Many Christian writers used/use them informally including CS Lewis.

  40. Mark,
    the overwhelming majority of people(Christians and non-Christians) refer to them by the widely accepted proper noun, ‘Christians’. And why not? After all, having agreed labels greatly facilitates communication.

    On the other hand, usage of terms like Xtian is mainly found among New Atheists and their fellow travellers. Now why should that be? Is there any sensible semantic, syntactical or practical reason why New Atheists should defy the common usage? Please enlighten me. Could there be some connection with the fact that New Atheists adopt a derisive, sneering tone towards Christianity? Could you honestly, with a straight face, deny the connection? After all this is the same movement that tried to co-opt the term ‘Brights’ and create the implication that theists are not bright. And one comment above yours we see the implication that Christians are not rational!

    Really, why would New Atheists adopt a corrupted version of the term ‘Christian’? Why should you not use the nearly universally accepted proper noun(in the English language world), ‘Christian’? Can you give a straightforward answer that does not fail the laugh test?

    It all seems so pointless. You are fighting the wrong war. Petty semantic wars make you look petty. There is a real world of suffering, injustice and moral wrongs out there. This is what needs to be addressed. Perhaps that is why Pope Francis is the world’s most respected leader. See this recent BBC news article, “Pope more popular than world leaders – poll” (http://www.bbc.com/news/world-35888289)

  41. Mark,
    you might doubt my assertion
    the overwhelming majority of people(Christians and non-Christians) refer to them by the widely accepted proper noun, ‘Christians’

    My Google search shows the following:
    Xtian – 461,000 hits;
    Christian – 1,230,000,000

    The term Xtian makes up a mere 0.04% of the Christian mentions on the Internet.

    Similarly, the ngram search of Google books gives the following:
    Xtian(s) – 0.00000103%
    Christian(s) – 0.013448%

    The term Xtian(s) makes up a miniscule 0.008% of the Christian(s) mentions in books published in 2008. Earlier years are similar.

  42. Cynical 60’ish people! A media star who dominates the political scene? Huh, look at what we are treated to as kids, a futuristic world…The same NYC borough and not too far from where Trump grew up..I’m sure as you drove the wonderful roads around LaGuardia, the shadow of the future world was still cast from the Flushing meadow.

    Worth watching, but around 5 minutes in, Edwin Newman gives the ultimate commentary on what the fair was actually predicting about our future. Also note later on he points out the major complaint was the fair was too expensive, “tacky” and commercial except for the FREE show presented by the Mexicans (they came cheap); who also burned a chicken before performing their ritual.

    The future is here!

    https://youtu.be/GA5LVf0p9TM

  43. At today’s Trump Fair, the Mexicans climb a 50 foot high wall.

    Just watch the other 5 installments on Youtube.

    Edwin Newman’s commentary are akin to the Prophesies of Nostradamus about America.

  44. labnut

    “You are fighting the wrong war. Petty semantic wars make you look petty.”

    I am not fighting a war on this. I just made a two-sentence comment! Because I myself had recently used one of those forms in a comment, I thought I should (coming across your comment) point out – to avoid any misunderstanding – that no offense was intended, and that these abbreviations have been used by devout Christians for centuries. They were very often used in letters and private journals (not in published books, by the way).

    It’s possible that certain atheists who don’t know about the etymology (from the initial letter of the Greek form of ‘Christ’) and history of these forms are attracted to them because they think they do entail disrespect.

    I was just pointing out that traditionally in Christian circles they never did.

  45. Mark,
    I am not fighting a war on this. I just made a two-sentence comment!

    Sorry, I am guilty of clumsy wording. When I said ‘you’ I did not mean you personally but rather the inclusive ‘you’, the atheist world. I should have phrased it better. I know that you did not intend offense. Your conversations are always civil.

  46. Labnut writes, perhaps “clumsily” 🙂 , I wouldn’t know:
    “.. Xtns. This is a term chosen by atheists to be deliberately disrespectful of Christians.”

    This vague statement about the relationships between two somewhat ill defined groups could be parsed till the cows come. There may be some atheists or some Christians. (I have met some Christians and some atheists that are completely off the wall.)

    I bring this up because it illustrates a type of political statement that gets a mob rather riled up. There is political power in a horde. Calm, precise analytical statements are probably always too late to be relevant.

    Blanket statements are usually not an accurate reflection of the particulars of reality.

  47. Liam,

    “This vague statement about the relationships between two somewhat ill defined groups could be parsed till the cows come.”

    And that is why we should use the ‘correct’ terminology, that is the well understood terms used by the vast majority of people. Language has many pitfalls and we only add to them by using fringe terminology that has a history of tendentious use.

    I fail to understand why anyone would want to use such fringe terminology. I am still waiting for a good explanation.

  48. “I fail to understand why anyone would want to use such fringe terminology. I am still waiting for a good explanation.”

    In general, as shorthand, as a creative avenue, as part of an academic or professional field, etc.

    In this particular case I always thought people wrote Xmas mainly for aesthetic reasons. The term Xtian I’m not familiar with, dictionary definitions seem to say it’s a synonym or abbreviation for Christian, and the Urban dictionary agrees but it also includes negative connotations of the term (see the 4th entry and below).

    http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=xtian

  49. Or do the simple thing and call a Christian a Christian. Not hard to do and bound to improve understanding.

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