Archives for posts with tag: racism

Perhaps you’ve heard the song Behind Blue Eyes by The Who. If you’re unfamiliar, The Who is the band that enables Horatio Caine to make puns about murder while simultaneously putting on or taking off his sunglasses. The song fits within the category of sad men being sad, but what makes it notable is that literally every single lyric is just the worst possible advice to follow whilst being a sad man.

Let’s go through it:

No one knows what it’s like

To be the bad man

To be the sad man

Behind blue eyes

To start off, we have a basic paradox where if you’re relating to this song and taking its lyrics at face value, it already fails. By being able to relate to the song, someone besides the singer knows what it’s like to be the sad man. And like, tons of people have listened to and related to this song! I once heard in like a Ted Talk or something that depression is like a club with the most members in the world who don’t know about any of the other members. One of the best antidotes to depression is connection, and role modeling isolation, however valid it may feel in the moment, is so destructively counterintuitive!

No one knows what it’s like to be the Strong Sad

No one knows what it’s like

To be hated

To be fated

To telling only lies

Beyond the continued advocacy for self-alienation, we are now delving into the concept of determinism. I dislike determinism at the best of times, but using it to justify the hiding of one’s feelings as the only natural response to having those feelings is the worst. It’s the “I’m fine” where ‘fine’ is Fucked-up, Insecure, Neurotic, and Emotional. I know talking about your feelings is like the reverse of conversion therapy, but being honest about them with other people is one of the only ways of processing and moving through them.

But my dreams, they aren’t as empty

As my conscience seems to be

I have hours, only lonely

My love is vengeance that’s never free

This one starts out okay, but then gets significantly worse. There is the initial recognition that hope can exist outside of the numbness associated with depression which is great! Thinking about the future lets psychiatrists know you’re not likely going to kill yourself! But then… we get to love being vengeance. Obviously our singer has experienced a lot of pain that he never let go, and positive feelings he once held have turned to bitter resentment.

People hold on to resentment usually because they believe that a personal injustice has been unpunished, that their pain is righteous, but that hurt only ever goes one way: inward. It’s not the heroic battle for good it purports itself to be. Forgiveness is great not just for social cohesion, but for the emotional catharsis that lifts the weight of that pain from our shoulders. People have a hard time with forgiveness because they believe the crime was unforgivably and biblically terrible or because forgiving someone must mean that you eliminate all established boundaries with them. However, your therapist will tell you that forgiveness isn’t always for the other person, but can be for yourself. The resentee usually isn’t even in your life anymore: it’s okay, my dude, let it go.

A bird let go is worth three in the bush

No one knows what it’s like

To feel these feelings

Like I do

And I blame you

Here our singer moves on to place the responsibility of his feelings on someone else. It would be nice if someone else could manage our feelings for us, but much like everything else in this song, believing this to be the case will make your situation significantly worse. Imagine going to the doctor’s office, and the doctor is late for the appointment. One person might be anxious because they believe bad luck leads to more bad luck; another might be frustrated because they managed their time well in being punctual, and now the rest of their day is going to be out of whack because of this; another might be relieved because they didn’t have an opportunity to emotionally prepare themselves previously, and now they have time to do so. The action of the doctor is the same in all three scenarios, but the emotional response is unique to the individual because we all have our own needs and contexts. The first needs reassurance, the second needs structure, the third needs reflection. Our feelings don’t come from the actions of other people, but are based on whether or not our own subjective needs are met. Other people can support us in strategies to meet those needs, but ultimately our needs, and therefore the causes of our feelings, come from within. There are an infinite number of ways to meet our needs, and if you’re caught up in blaming someone else for your emotions, you won’t find a single one because you’re not even looking at the right problem.

Our feelings, our reactions, our context being subjective doesn’t delegitimize them. Just because the whole world wouldn’t react the same way to something doesn’t mean that the feelings aren’t valid. Feelings are always valid because they’re reflective of needs that are or are not met. Strategies aren’t all valid in that they won’t all help, and the strategy of focusing outward on resentment and vengeance certainly doesn’t.

No one bites back as hard

On their anger

None of my pain and woe

Can show through

We’re back to hiding those tough-guy emotions, so I won’t repeat myself.

Have a picture of a kitten, instead!

When my fist clenches, crack it open

Before I use it and lose my cool

When I smile, tell me some bad news

Before I laugh and act like a fool

And if I swallow anything evil

Put your finger down my throat

And if I shiver, please give me a blanket

Keep me warm, let me wear your coat

These last two verses are about the same, so I’ll do them together. This is when the song picks up, and you might expect some more informed lyrics to counteract all the bad advice that has been previously espoused. You’d be wrong. Our singer is still intent on having someone else manage his emotions for him. Not only does he not want to show emotions, but his ideal partner is the one where he doesn’t have to self-regulate whatsoever. This is an impossible standard to impose on anyone and will always be doomed to failure. He will return to the cycle of bitterness and resentment, and remain forever alone.

We got through it! What’s interesting about this song is that it was initially intended to be sung by the villain of an aborted rock opera that The Who tried putting together. The reason it would be awful to emulate is because you’re not supposed to emulate villains! Mystery solved!

People may ask, Who is Snidely Whiplash, but no one ever asks how is Snidely Whiplash!

Unfortunately, songs don’t come with warning labels indicating that their lyrics are meant to be villainous. The radio DJ is not going to outline, as I have, all of the proper ways to navigate depression prior to playing the tune; they’re just going to play it and cut to commercial. If you fast-forward to the early 2000s, the Attitude Era, when the wrestling was meaner, nu-metal was on the rise, and those with a propensity toward blue eyes began to be angry for what seemed like no reason, we have famed angry man Fred Durst covering this song with his group Limp Bizkit. The demographics catered to by Limp Bizkit are certainly different from those of The Who, and the tragedy of taking this song at face value becomes much more apparent. If you read the YouTube comments for the Limp Bizkit cover, you’ll see scores of people connecting to this through their own depression, or through someone they know who has passed away, one notably by suicide; you can plainly see that people are uncritically connecting to this song despite its concretely harmful message.

This isn’t unique to art. The villainous strategies to corrupt legitimate needs abound. Demagogues don’t provide warning labels either. The racist mass shooting in Buffalo was in response to real anxiety over the impacts of poor resource management on the future – a genuine cause for anxiety, but an obviously horrific strategy to meet the needs underlying that fear. Racism in general preys upon the need for security, reassurance, and belonging, and if it isn’t any of those needs, I bet there it’s one similar. The threats and fears may be real or manufactured, but the strategy to meet them is what is important. Sometimes the most effective strategy is to reevaluate the threat. Anxiety is not inherently intuitive, after all.

Whole lotta really old memes in this one. You can tell I try to cater to the no-longer-that-young crowd

The thing is, though, Behind Blue Eyes is a great song, and it does connect very meaningfully to some very universal feelings of hurt and loneliness. There is a good reason why people respond to it the way they do, in the same way that people respond to racism or similar ideologies with equally terrible practical outcomes. It’s also why these ideas are so perniciously resistant to reason: they’re not based on reason!

A lot of the times people will convince themselves their beliefs are based on facts and logic because that’s far more modern than those rubes from before science was invented, but the same is true for all of us. Reason is a slave to the passions, after all. These people don’t need an argument, they need a hug and to be told they’ll be okay – even if, and perhaps especially if, an argument is what they’re clamouring for. We are driven by our emotions and our needs, that’s fine and valid, but we need to use our heads to arrive at strategies that will actually satisfy them lest we destroy ourselves or those around us.

Did you know that racism died? It’s true! The far right doesn’t want to do a racism anymore, because racism is irrational. Melanin doesn’t have any cognitive impact! That’s crazy talk, and the far right prides itself on prioritizing facts over feelings! However, if the far right isn’t racist anymore, then nobody is racist anymore, and if nobody is racist anymore, then racism no longer exists! We did it!

The madman jumped into their midst and pierced them with his eyes. “Whither is racism?” he cried; “I will tell you. We have killed it—you and I. All of us are its murderers.”

And yet, despite the death of racism, disparities still exist! It’s just the darnedest thing! Black people are still disproportionately incarcerated; Indigenous people still have worse health outcomes; the Middle East is still perpetually at war. These pesky things need an explanation, and it can’t be the effects of racism, so what are we left with? Luckily for us, the far right has given us an answer. It’s just their culture! Have you even listened to a rap song? They’re all about crime; Black people just have a culture of criminality! Indigenous people get so much from the government, they developed a culture of dependence; since they don’t have to work to support themselves, they just stay at home and drink all day! And don’t even get me started on Islam; at its core is a culture of violence.

This is why groups like the Proud Boys define themselves as “Western chauvinists;” Western culture is superior! It has nothing to do with race. If white people adhered to a culture of criminality, dependence, or violence, they would be in the same situation! They just don’t! That’s where those discrepancies come from. White people inherently know better than to follow inferior cultures. There’s just something smarter and better about white people – they know to avoid these cultural traps that other, lesser races haven’t figured out yet. Case closed!

#BestCulture

Of course, this is a very silly notion indeed if you think about it. First of all, are you suggesting that the practices of Islam in Somalia are the same as those in Indonesia on the other side of the world? That the Sunni, Shia, and Sufi sects are all the same? That urban and rural black people share the same culture, or that Caribbean immigrants, African immigrants, or hell, all the different cultures across the different countries in those areas are all somehow the same? That the different Indigenous bands with hundreds of different languages among them all practice the same culture? Do you know what culture means? What are some of the festivals that are celebrated in these cultures? What are some of their traditional foods? What rituals do they practice? Culture is a very deep human artifact, and can vary from household to household, and even from individual to individual. Unfortunately, the education of foreign cultures (or even domestic alternatives to the mainstream) is usually done through polemics spoken over frightening YouTube videos of genital mutilation or whatever.

The thing is, this approach misunderstands Western culture as well. Do they think all of Western society is good, or are they picking and choosing specific aspects? Which aspects exactly are they looking at? Communism, postmodernism, and feminism are all Western constructs, and these are loathed by the far right. These ideologies are even criticized on the left for the way other Western constructs (such as colonialism and white supremacy) have influenced them. That’s why intervention in Middle Eastern countries to “save their women” is criticized by leftists. Imperialism blended with feminism is still imperialistic. This is baffling stuff, I know! You’re supposed to support women, and Muslims are horrible to women! It’s part of their culture!

Obviously consulting the women on what they want for themselves is out of the question. It’s better if we just decide for them! West knows best, after all! …Because our culture is better, to be clear.

Weirdly enough, Western culture only has continuity thanks to its mingling with other cultures. Hellenistic culture survived because the Arabs held on to it when the West decided to purge itself of paganism. We also got algebra from the Arabs, so whenever you tell a communist to thank a capitalist for their iPhone, you’ve got to thank an Arab for the math that allowed the history of physics to even begin. Pretty much all of modern Western music has its origins in Black culture. The fact that we even have an American continent is thanks to the generosity and collaboration of the Indigenous populations that certainly got the worse end of that deal.

This isn’t to say that cultural practices can’t be criticized. I mentioned genital mutilation earlier. It’s perfectly reasonable to criticize practices without expanding a single strand of a culture as a representation of its whole. Or conflating it into places where it doesn’t belong (genital mutilation has closer ties to the regions where it is practiced than it does to Islam, for example). Just as it should be okay to criticize cultural practices of the West, which the Western chauvinists would call treasonous (police brutality, an essential staple of Western culture, cannot be kneeled against, for example).

An institution that operationalizes violence to control the behaviour of its jurisdiction, founded in the slave patrols utilized to maintain white supremacy? Yeah there’s no room for critical analysis there. And for any smug Canadian, the history of the RCMP is basically the same.

Social problems ought to be criticized, but they ought to be criticized with the intention of social change. I can criticize Western culture because I’m a member of Western culture. I have a stake in how that turns out. The change I’m going to impact is really only going to be felt here, anyway. I could want the lives of people in Saudi Arabia to improve, but I don’t live there. I don’t know enough about their culture to really say what would work or not. I’m an outsider. That’s why legitimate cultural intervention requires local cultural leadership. If the far right really wanted to help Indigenous, Black, or Muslim people, they would listen to and amplify those voices rather than talk over them. The far right is not presenting good faith criticisms of cultural issues because their goal isn’t social change, it’s exclusion. I mean, if you really want to know why disparities exist, you can look into it! Make informed criticisms! Or, I suppose, you could continue believing what an outrage peddler on YouTube tells you.

Racism is an ideology that holds one race supreme and dominant over all the rest. As an ideology, it can get very complex and nuanced. Nobody likes either of those things, so racism often gets boiled down to the hatred of races other than one’s own. Lynchings, cross burnings, all that fun stuff from about a hundred years ago, and about five years from now, serve as the framework for what racism looks like. If the far right isn’t doing that, then I guess it’s not racist!

Phew! I’m glad you cleared that up! I was worried for a second there…

The thing is, the far right is trying to disengage from the measurable manifestations of racism because it carries such negative connotations. But that doesn’t stop their ideology from actually being racist. Islamophobia is the best example of this because they will say that Islam is not a race, and they are technically correct. Checkmate to all the liberals! However, the culture that they’re pointing to doesn’t actually exist. They don’t know anything about it. The reason that hate crimes against Sikhs increased after 9/11 is because they were Brown people who wore turbans, just like Osama Bin Laden!! It had nothing to do with their culture because culture is just the veneer used to overlay the actual ideology of white supremacy. White people are safe; Black and Brown people are not. Let’s call it Islam because we don’t want to be seen as racist. That’s why bad faith criticisms of Islam are called racist; good faith criticisms usually originate within Islam itself and end up looking much different.

Right wing ideology is often based in fear. It’s afraid because the bogeyman is coming for us, and so we have to make sure to keep the bogeyman away. The best bogeymen are the ones that look different from us, and race does that super well. Turns out racism never really died, as hard as Obama tried to president it away. It will be with us for a long time, and “Western chauvinism” really shouldn’t be fooling anybody.

I recently made the mistake of listening to a podcast that had Sam Harris in it. Whenever I am exposed to Sam Harris, I get a kind of migraine until I am able to express fully how terrible he is, and then relief sets in. Sweet, sweet relief. Now, if you happen to be a fan of Sam Harris, I would recommend instead you read another racist utilitarian, John Stuart Mill. His racism is far more dignified, and he has the honour and privilege of being one of the earliest incarnations of a white feminist!

john stuart mill

“Despotism is a legitimate mode of government in dealing with barbarians, provided the end be their improvement, and the means justified by actually effecting that end.”

Harris’s general philosophy is that pain = bad, pleasure = good. It’s hedonistic utilitarianism, but this time, Harris suggests that we use science because nobody has thought of using science to determine morality before. Morality has always been so wishy washy and soft in the past, and Harris wants to ram hard science down its eager throat. Pain of course is objectively bad, pleasure is objectively good. Claiming objectivity in morality has always tended towards zealous dogmatism in the past, but now with science, that objectivity must be true, and Harris’s dogmatism is justified.

sam harris

“What will we do if an Islamist regime, which grows dewy-eyed at the mere mention of paradise, ever acquires long-range nuclear weaponry? … In such a situation, the only thing likely to ensure our survival may be a nuclear first strike of our own. … it may be the only course of action available to us, given what Islamists believe.”

What the dogmatism of Sam “Nuke The Muslims” Harris, and even John “Brutally Subjugate The Indians” Mill to a lesser extent, fails to take into account is that the objectivity of pain as a moral compass doesn’t hold up in the slightest. The gym rat maxim of “No Pain, No Gain” literally requires pain. Getting hella swole isn’t often thought of as morally bankrupt, if perhaps a bit douche-y, yet objectively it must be. Boxers fighting for a prize belt must also be engaged in Holocaust-levels of immorality, given their premeditated intent to inflict pain on one another. And don’t even get me started on those sexy BDSM freaks in the sheets; mixing pleasure WITH pain is just an ethical nightmare!

bdsm

Just go with it

Yet Harris never mentions those because they’re not predominantly engaged in by Musli… I mean because they’re obviously not unethical behaviours. The thing that distinguishes them is consent. The boxers have agreed upon certain rules and regulations before entering their fight; the magic and wonder of BDSM is underscored vehemently by an emphasis on consent; and if some bro wants to tear his quads by going for that one extra rep, more power to him. Without consent, these activities turn into assault, rape, and non-consensual lifting. I don’t know what that last one would be like, but I certainly don’t want to find out.

do you even lift

Please don’t make me lift

What Sam Harris seems to miss is that human beings are quite capable of making their own decisions. I guess science hasn’t gotten to that part just yet. If a woman chooses to wear a Burqa, fine. People are agreeing to be punched in the face, and if that’s okay, certainly a choice in attire is okay. If she is coerced into wearing a Burqa, that becomes less fine. Issues of age and capability certainly impact consent, but ultimately it is not up to Sam Harris to decide who gets to agree to what, and what their available choices can be. It is very easy to paint a culture we don’t belong to as being intrinsically coercive (the hypocrisy being how ignorant we are of the coercive factors insidiously lurking within our own), but it is the inhabitants of that culture that ought to have the right to choose which direction they wish to go.

burberry-ad-sexy-model

Let’s let Saudi Arabia determine which direction our culture goes with regard to our media’s portrayal of women

People in general seem to have a hard time letting others live out their lives, because we know what’s best and if they’re doing something different, they must be barbaric savages, unfit to make their own decisions. This isn’t a call for relativism; my autonomy is worth just as much as yours. This is a call for the respect of autonomy, and to engage only in consensual interactions. Rather than, you know, nuking a religion, like only a genius ethicist could conceive.