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PC nation? August 11, 2017

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
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There’s a certain irony in a column on the evils of political correctness by Larissa Nolan appearing in the Irish Times just on foot of a week where historian Mary Beard faced an upwelling of antagonism and hostility on social media for her supposed temerity in suggesting that the balance of probability was that black Africans were likely to have been in Roman Britain. For Nolan writes in her piece published both online and in print in a national newspaper and with wide distribution beyond social media, taking a tweet by Lena Dunham about supposedly transphobic airline workers as example A, that:

[there has been] a hijacking of true liberalism that has its basis in stifling free speech. Those who really are liberal – definition: willing to respect and accept behaviour and opinions different to our own – must fight this pervasive belief system that is threatening the most cherished of all liberties. Otherwise we are rolling back decades of progress that has created a western world where free speech is one of the fundamental tenets of society.

She chides Dunham for not providing any proof of the alleged incident – though logically, by her own argument whether it was an actual incident or not is beside the point,the problem for her perspective being that Dunham complained about people being transphobic.

For Nolan:

There was no proof provided. American Airlines later said that the times and places didn’t match up. They don’t fly from the terminal she was flying from. They were “unable to substantiate” her allegation.
Clearly, she couldn’t miss the opportunity to jump on board the most current, right-on cause. It showed her up to be, at best, incoherent, and at worst wrong.

Well it didn’t really show her up to be either of those because we know there are transphobic people in this world so, whether one agrees with Dunham or not (and I’m somewhat dubious about anonymous incidents being perhaps the best starting point in terms of educative moments), it doesn’t mean she is either wrong or incoherent on the substantive point. Indeed if Nolan argued that there are better ways to move forward there might be some strength to her case, but instead her position is that the left or liberals or whoever isn’t on the right are in the wrong. She writes:

Why is is now acceptable for certain political groups to shout down and shut down anyone who isn’t in agreement with their orthodoxy?

And:

Why is it coming from the left, not the right. The branch of politics we should be able to trust seems to have largely forgotten that tolerance and equality cannot be parsed.

I’m not really sure what she means by that last. But again, given the treatment of Mary Beard by the right, in relation to an hugely innocuous point, the idea that it is ‘coming from the left, not the right’ is at best naive and arguably tendentious.

Furthermore she continues:

In the process it has alienated good people with diverse opinions and important minds. Rather than debate, many people now say nothing. Instead, they keep their thoughts to themselves. The space for intellectual debate is reduced. But a society without an open and honest debate is one that is more likely to turn to violence.
Political correctness, a stultifying, boring, self-righteous and prissy movement that patronisingly assumes everyone is a victim, began as a good idea to protect the vulnerable in society. Now it is silencing dissenting voices of any kind. What started as awareness and education has morphed into finger-pointing and thought-policing.

To even afford the term PC the agency of a movement is a wild over-exaggeration. There are definitely self-righteous and prissy aspects to some areas of speech as used by the left. Angela Nagles excellent Kill All Normies, amongst other works from a strong left perspective, underscores that. But as she notes given, say to take just one example, the pools of misogyny alone online, it is impossible to argue that this is one-sided, or indeed that it is equivalent. Nagle seems to me to implicitly make a case that online it is right wing speech that has the greater agency (and she has some interesting thoughts about how left libertarianism was pushed from the web in part during the anonymous period of the early 2010s when the US state amongst others went looking for those active in same).

There’s some real oddities too to the following:

The smothering of free speech is being carried out in a very modern way and appears to be the preserve of naive activists.
In the media, it’s about wilfully conflating opinion with news. It’s about reading the headline and deciding you’re offended, without any context, and instantly labelling the target sexist/misogynistic/homophobic/racist, delete as applicable. It’s lazy and it’s anti-intellectual.

Is she writing about newspapers and journalists? Again, in a world where we have had Myers employed until last week is the above entirely tenable?
And later Nolan appears blissfully unaware of doxxing or similar when she writes about the following..

It’s about setting a lynch mob on social media, calling for the sacking and destruction of people with whom you do not agree. Making them social pariahs, or turning an individual with the brain to question a contentious issue into a bad guy.

I find the following telling:

It’s creating a climate of fear so that those few brave enough to do the important job of putting a voice to what many people are thinking – but are afraid to say – are intimidated and cowed.

Has she looked at the White House recently, the US administration? Does none of that register? Well actually she has, but the functional aspect of that is ignored so that she can blame the left once more…

And ultimately there is a reaction. Irish-American satirist Bill Maher believes that the backlash against this forced thinking and free-speech stifling has resulted in “a madman in the White House”.

I guess I could stop and reflect on the further irony of her repeating without qualification the idea that there is a ‘madman’ in the White House given her complaints earlier. And I have, I have. But the problem is, of course, that there isn’t a madman in the White House and the roots of his victory aren’t restricted simply to free speech or otherwise. There’s a strong argument that the inability on the part of Democrats to articulate economic issues salient to their base skewered their run last time around (though one also has to note the way in which Republicans and the right in the US has narrowed the space for – yes, speech in relation to taxation, and other economic matters at least as regards left wing approaches, and let’s not even get started on voter registration and other issues that constrain votes and voters). But that goes well beyond speech and into economics.

But then if we start to pick at that we begin to see the real power centres in society, and they aren’t focused on social media and they almost invariably aren’t focused on the left. But that, perhaps, is inconvenient…

And returning to her initial point ‘those who really are liberal – definition: willing to respect and accept behaviour and opinions different to our own – must fight this pervasive belief system that is threatening the most cherished of all liberties’ while there are exaggerated responses on occasions, there are also limits to behaviours and opinions. Would Nolan set forth to support Milo Y’s freedom to say what he said at the pinnacle of his career and which brought him rapidly down to earth? Is that a set of ideas she’d feel comfortable defending the right to articulate? I doubt it. Few would.

So once we accept that there are ideas that are incorrect or not worth defending or – hey, illegal, we move beyond simplistic notions of freedom of speech. And where do we move? Into a different area where it is also accepted that some speech ranges from illegal to probably not a good idea to simply discourteous. As I noted at the beginning, calling out, albeit anonymously, two airline employees, is probably not where I would start (though again by Nolan’s own logic surely that was Dunham’s right under free speech, and shouldn’t those employees have to defend their speech?). But this article is too one-sided, too oblivious to the reality of many strands on the left but also on the right, and arguably more dominant in this period, to really provide a path through this area.

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Comments»

1. GW - August 11, 2017

It’s remarkable how deep-seated racism has become, given that it doesn’t seem to have always existed. I guess that’s yet another gift of colonialism.

The Romans seem to have been fairly blind to skin colour, AFAIK. While of being a ruthlessly class-structured society of course, and prone to bouts of politically directed cultural xenophobia – the anti-Carthaginian culture wars, for example.

The skin colour of the Romans is only an issue for a certain group of (I expect overwhelmingly pro-Brexit) contemporary Brits. Anachronistic prejudice.

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6to5against - August 11, 2017

I’m inclined to believe that racism as it exists today is a strange mix of more elemental phobias. Particularly xenophobia and class-based fear. Certainly in America, a lot of what is thought of as racism seems much more classist to me.

Not that that makes it any better. But I wonder if it can ever be properly addressed without acknowledging that aspect.

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2. EWI - August 11, 2017

When it comes ‘from the right’, it usually comes in the form of the heavy hand of law’n’order.

Liked by 1 person

3. Dermot O Connor - August 11, 2017

Funny thing about Beard’s comments, and her being attacked by righties: one of the tenets of many alt.right is that the Roman Empire fell because of immigration (I know, I know; but they’re, what’s the word? Thick).

Youtuber ‘Shaun’ made a 30 minute video taking the piss out of the alt.right on the ‘Rome fell because of immigration’ nonsense:

So when Beard says that there were Africans were in the UK in the Roman period, you’d think that the ‘Rome fell because of immigration’ types would seize on that.

So some reactionaries believe that Rome was all Kiplingian whiteness, whereas others believe it wasn’t (them immigrants is coming to our Empire, taking us jobs, and they won’t even speak Latin).

The spittle-flecked Paul Joseph Watson was schooled by a historian on Twitter not long before, on his mighty whitey Romey womey theory:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/07/27/alt-right-commentator-gets-schooled-historian-diversity-roman/

They are a tedious shower.

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WorldbyStorm - August 11, 2017

Agree completely, there’s an obtuse aspect to them isn’t there.Thought it was telling the Black Swan guy stepped into the fray too against Beard. Twitter. Jesus Christ.

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4. GW - August 12, 2017

Does anyone know whether anyone has done a comparative anthropology/history of racisms?

We rightly know a good deal about white European / North American racism, but what about, say the prejudice of rice-growing middle Chinese against the Han. Or northern Indians against southern Dravidians.

Japanese racism against Chinese and Koreans was/is at least as virulent as white European racism.

To what extent are they coeval with the formation of empires and colonies? What role do states play?

There must be some readable standard works out there. Anyone?

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WorldbyStorm - August 12, 2017

That’s an interesting question. I’ve heard of Japanese racism in relation to minorities in the north(?) Island.

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WorldbyStorm - August 12, 2017

And then within African Americans strands of attitudes to lihghter and darker skin colours (clearly driven I’d think by the hegemony of ‘whiteness’).

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WorldbyStorm - August 12, 2017

Though one would imagine that that would be more a thing of the past given increasing confidence and assertiveness.

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gendjinn - August 12, 2017

Inter-tribal/clan competition for resources precedes the emergence of the hominid lineage. Racism appears to be constructed upon that foundation in combination with identity of self, identity of and with a group, and identity of of other group(s).

13kya agriculture begins as the reindeer herds migrate north. 8kya metal discovered. Then we’re off to the races with genocides, famines, wars and collapses. The Bronze age collapse at the beginning of the Iron age seems particularly catastrophic.

From at least 8kya, if not 13kya, the worlds population comes under a rapacious, kleptocracy maintained with regular slaughters of civilians, general starvation of 95% of the populace and unrelenting brutal repression.

That is going to generate unresolved rage inside each citizen that can easily be targeted at any group the leaders wish.

The hate from the wars of the reformation are precisely those that fuel racism. Identical.

As James Baldwin points out “Race is the child of racism.”

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gendjinn - August 12, 2017

Last night in Charlottesburg, UVA. Echoes of Burntollet, police stand aside, let the right get stuck in with their tiki torches, then arrested the BLM protestors.

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WorldbyStorm - August 12, 2017

Makes a lot of sense what you say there gendjinn. Just on the last comment of yours, it is so obviously partisan policing there. Trump’s comment on it was very ambiguous too. Natch.

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gendjinn - August 12, 2017

Nazis drive car into protestors, got a real 1920s Germany look and feel to the protests.

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WorldbyStorm - August 12, 2017

+1

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6to5against - August 12, 2017

Such a study could really be fascinating. It would be really hard to disentangle all of that from various other bigotries at play, though.

I remember working in California restaurants a number of years ago. The serving staff was a pretty broad mix of backgrounds, but the kitchen staff was exclusively made up of Latin American immigrants. What I found fascinating (as obvious as it was in retrospect) was the myriad rivalries between the kitchen staff. The central Americans disliked the southern Americans. They all seemed to dislike the Mexicans, though the Mexicans seemed indifferent to it all (or were perhaps condescending to all).

Is that all racism? I doubt it. I suspect it has more to do with large and small nations and their rivalries – akin to the rivalries spread all across Europe. But its not entirely separate from racism either.
Perhaps one morphs into the other when there are large wealth disparities involved.

One problem with such a study, though, would be how it could be used the far right to normalise racism. To argue that it was part and parcel of the human condition and that therefore should be accepted as normal, and even healthy.

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WorldbyStorm - August 12, 2017

I had a similar experience in New York in 89. Worked in an office. Two things, mixed relationships were verboten in an informal sort of way. Secondly there was a real though unstated tension between some African American people and some of the ‘white’ folk (I was taken for lunch by an early middle-aged Irish American soon after arriving and he was pure racist. Full stop. Individuals he worked with not overly a problem but groups… 😦 . That was the first and last lunch we had). But there was a further differentiation between southern Americans (some from native Amrerican or mixed backgrounds) and African Americans.

I think you’re right too that it’s not just race, it’s groups. In London a year or so later there was none of that. Literally none, in racially and ethnically mixed offices. I couldn’t help but think that the very clear cut identities and locales didn’t help in NY. But then again the US has a very specific history in relation to this (which is one of the reasons I’m always leery about mapping experiences from one onto another context because those histories are quiet different).

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6to5against - August 12, 2017

That bit about your colleague being racist towards other groups, but not particularly towards individuals says so much, doesn’t it? we all tend to judge individuals on their own merits, But then attach often crazy labels to groups, and it can be very hard to catch yourself doing it.

In another US restaurant experience – on the east coast, in Philadelphia – I remember they’re being very open racism between the local white guys (serving the public) and the black kitchen staff. Words that I won’t even put in print were used freely. And yet there was real warmth between individuals across that divide, and we all worked together reasonably efficiently.

(I took it that I was working in a minefield of sorts – where the locals knew where the bombs were, but I didn’t – and stayed broadly silent)

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6to5against - August 12, 2017

I also had a very interesting day doing community service (for a pretty minor ‘crime” in NY.) It was me, a middle-aged Korean business man and about 40 black guys. We were clearing out an empty lot and they all broke out into old chain-gang-style-songs (ironically – I think) while we worked, while always addressing each other with a word-I-won’t-type-out.

I was the only white guy in sight apart from the cops, and couldn’t help but feel race-issues hovering over the days work. I was broadly ignored all day, though, and spoken to benevolently when I was spoken to at all. But I think nonetheless that I was probably wise to not join in the use of that word when I needed to get somebody’s attention.

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6to5against - August 12, 2017

Wwhile I’m engaging in fond memories of racist minefields, I also worked subbing in a school in California, where I was told in the cafeteria (loudly) to watch the black kids because most of the trouble came from them.

I was horrified, and the statement was widely overheard by other staff who were all furious about it. But the whole thing was complicated by the fact that the woman who said it was Irish (though had been living in the States for years) and I felt that I was being linked to her. All of this went on while we were working, so it was all in asides and mumbles. There was no chance to air the issue and declare my innocence. Bloody nightmare.

Anybody Irish in the states will be told sooner or later about the racism of the Irish communities there. I always resented that, and felt it was stereotyping in and of itself. But there were times it was hard to defend…

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WorldbyStorm - August 12, 2017

“(I took it that I was working in a minefield of sorts – where the locals knew where the bombs were, but I didn’t – and stayed broadly silent)”

I felt very much like that. Too tricky to navigate, just stayed away from the racists. My boss in NY was African American and she took against me somewhat after a first month when we’d got on really well and I wondered was it because the Irish American guy showed up a few times trying to get me to go out for food and she thought I shared his attitudes or something.

That’s telling too re the interactions being so open but weird. The personal thing is key, but if one then goes home and is just surrounded by people who are haters…

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WorldbyStorm - August 12, 2017

That community service sounds amazing. Yeah, agreed, that’s a word that is site and person specific.

And just on your last comment that’s precisely what I felt re the job in NY. My Peruvian friend said that she felt I handled the hostility well, kept very polite, did the job etc, but in retrospect I am almost sorry I didn’t try quietly to suss out what the problem was. And then again, perhaps it was as simple as white Irish guy gets job in company for summer when she knew lots of black guys who could/should equally have got it but didn’t have the opportunity (I got it through a neighbour of mine where I was staying. He was white too).

I know a number of Irish Americans who aren’t at all racist, but some who really are and it’s hugely depressing. One thing that I always very much admired during the Civil Rights era was the young Jewish men and women who went and stood by the Civil Rights protesters, and were beaten up and worse (and it’s tragic how relations between African American and Jewish communities seemed to fray later on). I wonder was there a similar dynamic in the Irish American community?

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EWI - August 13, 2017

I wonder was there a similar dynamic in the Irish American community?

I’ve never heard of it, outside the reputation of RFK(?).

That the racist GOP undergrowth from which Trump draws his core support and staffs his White House is so filled with Irish-Americans is hugely depressing.

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GW - August 12, 2017

“One problem with such a study, though, would be how it could be used the far right to normalise racism. ”

Would it though? Wouldn’t it serve to demonstrate precisely how racisms are historically and economically determined, and not innate? That would be my expectation, anyway.

You’re experience in California chimes with my working time in New York at a large data centre in the 90s. It was incredibly tribal in it’s hiring policies.

The programming department was largely Jewish, systems management and networks were a ‘Catholic’ fiefdom – Irish-, Italian- and Polish-Americans. And guess who worked shifts in the noise of the computer rooms swapping tapes and doing backup work – yep – Latinos and African-Americans.

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GW - August 12, 2017

your

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WorldbyStorm - August 12, 2017

yeah, I was at a scientific book publishers just off 23rd street and it was exactly like that. Fiefdoms.

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5. yourcousin - August 13, 2017

Murdered protestor was a wobbly.

Rest in power FW

https://www.gofundme.com/our-sisters-keeper-heatherheyer

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WorldbyStorm - August 13, 2017

Appalling and the response from Trump has been pathetic. Has the IWW announced that officially?

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Starkadder - August 13, 2017

Terrible.

The driver has been identified as James Alex Fields Jr.

http://abcnews.go.com/US/mother-charlottesville-suspect-knew-rallyi-thought-trump/story?id=49185691

The SPLC has found a picture of Fields with members of the
white supremacist group Vanguard America:

https://www.splcenter.org/hatewatch/2017/08/12/charlottesville-driver-who-killed-one-rallied-alt-right-vanguard-america-group

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gendjinn - August 13, 2017

This is just the beginning.

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yourcousin - August 13, 2017

Not my knowledge. Just going off reliable Facebook friends.

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yourcousin - August 14, 2017

https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=1482591298492643&id=116413245110462

Following up, it appears that while the deceased was amongst IWW members she was not a wobbly. This in no way diminishes her sacrifice.

I apologize for posting information that turned out to be wrong.

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WorldbyStorm - August 14, 2017

No apology necessary, she was there fighting the good fight, her affiliation or not is a matter of curiosity and understandably in the circumstances wasn’t initially clear, but she stood on the correct side and with the right people.

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6. Starkadder - August 14, 2017

Bernard Kenny, has died. He was the brave man who was stabbed trying to protect Jo Cox from the fascist Thomas Mair, (a man who wanted to create a real, as opposed to imaginary, climate of fear):

http://www.itv.com/news/2017-08-14/bernard-kenny-man-who-got-stabbed-trying-to-protect-murdered-mp-jo-cox-dies/

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