Tuesday, December 8, 2015

"White Privilege" Is a Racial Slur

Sorry. But it is. This is obvious if we think of how other racial/ethnic slurs are used

A definition of White Privilege/Entitlement (n):
[W]hite men [...] carry the absent mark which grants us the invisible power of white privilege. Everyone else gets discrimination. [...] White privilege is the right of whites, and only whites, to be judged as individuals, to be treated as a unique self, possessed of all the rights and protections of citizenship. I am not a race, I am the unmarked subject. I am simply, whereas you might be a black man, an asian woman, a disabled Native [American] man, a homosexual Latina, and on and on the qualifiers of identification go. 
~Michael Mark Cohen 

The Internet has proven again to be a nearly perfectly efficient rendering engine. That is, it outputs whatever you look for before you know you want to look for it. If you think of a snarky comment or the most outlandish point of view, the odds are that someone has already posted it --seriously or not-- on some social network. Exhibit #1, a petition has been proposed at Change.org stating
"We demand that Adele publicly acknowledge that although she has a little bit of talent, it's her white privilege that is selling her album. We also demand that Adele donates her money to African-American causes such as #Blacklivesmatter."
In case you don't know, Adele is a super-popular singer-songwriter who initially got attention from demos posted on MySpace that she had recorded for a class project. Is this "Rhianna Jones" serious or is this satire? I don't know. Who is this person? I don't know. Googling "rhianna jones",  the first 10 hits gets me a person who labels herself a "fashion creative" but I don't know if this is the same person. Let's assume not. However, although the Internet has rendered little support for this petition (this is Adele after all), there's not much discussion whether the actual labels being applied to this recently wealthy young woman are acceptable language in any frame. In fact, this is an excellent example of how vile the term "White Privilege" (or its A.K.A "White Entitlement") has become. It is simply another racial slur. I'll show you, but first, let's step back a few paces. 

Some time ago, Michael Mark Cohen -- believing that the world lacked an essential racial slur -- wrote an article in Medium entitled "Douchebag: The White Racial Slur We've All Been Waiting For". Yay! A racial slur for white people! The universe is just a bit better now. But there was a weakness in that awesome new toy for hateful people. Cohen identified it in his article when he explained what is a white person is to do about their Original Sin of being white:
"It’s a long argument, and an endless series of principled choices, but the short version is simply: don’t be a douchebag."
That advice shows that "douchebag" is a lousy racial slur. A white person can opt to not be douchebag. And anyone else can presumably opt to be one. The qualifications for a proper racial/ethnic slur cannot be expunged and they can't be adopted. A black one-percenter investment banker or neurosurgeon, regardless of her accomplishments and life experiences, can never be above being called any of many derogatory slurs. When she is, the implication is “Yes, you might have risen to impressive heights from your roots. But [insert term] is who you really are. You are merely punching above a weight class that nature has designated for you.” For those who use such terms  a Jewish person is always a “heeb” or maybe an Arab is always a terrorist under the skin.  It doesn't matter what they do or what they overcome. 

Conversely, if someone were to call me (a white guy) an "eggplant" I'd only be befuddled. You cannot apply someone else's slur to me. This would be true even if I were to go about disguised as a black man as the author of Black Like Me did in the late 50s. Knowing that I was not truly a black man would exempt me from any personal offense. If a white person can opt out of his assigned racial slur by a choice of mindset, I guess white people win again. But…maybe not. Maybe there is a slur we can apply to white people that they cannot escape. And Cohen and Jones both used it: white privilege.
[An aside: To define douchebaggery, what Cohen meant when he said "White people, don't be a "douchebag" was "Don’t imagine you deserve your social or economic status." But, to the extent this is valid, it is good advice to any American whatever his background or heritage: We are all the winners of life’s lottery here. If you are at the bottom 20% of American income earners, you are still in the top 20% of income earners worldwide—not including any additional subsidies you might get from the government, not including the many free social benefits we all have just for being here. And by at least one measure, if Western European countries were US states many of them would be the poorest states in the Union. Poorer than West Virginia. Poorer than Mississippi. On the other hand, a presumption of entitlement — the default attitude of all Americans, relative to people worldwide, regardless of income bracket— is a luxury and it bears significant costs over the course of a lifetime and over the course of generations. I suspect this is why Asians in America on average have been improving relative to Whites on average. It’s why Black immigrants tend to do better on average even though they are subject to unwarranted traffic stops as frequently as American-born Blacks. They or their parents have only recently come here and have not yet forgotten to be grateful. They do not take it for granted.]
For "white privilege/entitlement" to be a racial slur, it must make implications that are devoid of personal facts that might exempt the target. And, indeed, it is incorrect and unsupportable to say that Whites are immune from discrimination based on crude, ignorant categorization. The belief that they are so immune is founded on the same blindness as any bigot when he meets an accomplished, honest, hardworking, intelligent black woman and only sees a “jigaboo”. His error is that ancestry is a useless proxy for weighing the human soul or guessing the path of a human life. 
Per Wikipedia, Prof. Luvell Anderson (University of Memphis) argued that "for a word to be a slur, the word must communicate ideas beyond identifying a target group, and that slurs are offensive because the additional data contained in those words differentiates those individuals from otherwise accepted groups."
In the case of a white person, it is true that if your skin color is classified with 70% of the population, it is unlikely (but not impossible) that anyone will discriminate against you because of the color of your skin. You’ll never stand out because of that. But that just means that you will only face discrimination for other things instead: Because you’re a “hippie” and people stereotype you as flaky and drugged-up, or a Mormon and people think you are weird and narrow-minded, or because you have Southern accent and people assume you are stupid and racist, or because your car is an older model than what is common in your neighborhood so the cops stop you all the time.

Or it could be that people think you are too FAT to be a female pop star of worldwide acclaim. Heaven, knows that having 50 pounds over the ideal makes you worthy of all the approbation people might throw at you. You did it to yourself, after all. And you're a burden to society to boot. 

Or maybe it is that (despite your white privilege) you are socially awkward and you don’t have any valuable social connections because you were raised by an alienating, clinically-depressed, alcoholic single mother in a small, unfashionable town and your academic scores were lackluster, and your household had just enough reportable income to not qualify for enough meaningful university grants to make a difference. 

Yes, people of all races might face these same sorts of disadvantages as well. But white people encountering them do not have a secret superpower called White Privilege that they can whip out to overcome them. They have to overcome them the same way anyone else does, or not.

When Adele grew up in relative poverty, the daughter of an alcoholic who abandoned his wife to raise their a two-year-old alone, she couldn't make that go away by asserting White Privilege.

In the real world, your White Privilege and a dollar will buy you a pack of gum—although in a high crime neighborhood, maybe you won’t have an immigrant store owner following you around while you pick it out.

There are at least two false beliefs about that mysterious Race of White People that underlie this idea of White Privilege.  

1) If you are not white and male, you might well believe that there are lots of secret benefits those people confer on each other when you aren't around. Benefits that are apart from good looks, social affability, intelligence, health, wealth, or connections, or the college you went to, the organizations you joined, the church you attend. But I can report from the other side that that it isn't true.

This notion reminds me of a 1984 Saturday Night Live mockumentary where Eddie Murphy disguised himself as a white man and discovered that when no one was looking white people give each other things for free. When there is only white people on public transportation, suddenly, it becomes a party bus. 

[And, lo, the Internet renders again. Because less than two months ago, a writer for the New York Daily News asserted that this very Eddie Murphy humor skit had "got it right" on White Privilege.]

2) The other false belief is that, I, as a white man somehow receive a benefit every time anyone who is not white is hassled by the police or is microaggressed  in hundreds of little ways each day. To think that is to adopt the most wooden, simplistic concept of the complex world of human interactions that... well, now that I think of it, that sort of thinking is probably near the heart of all bigotry.

Now, it is true that class privilege is a valuable thing. A child of a household in the top 5% of income earners probably has a statistically better chance in life with only a high school diploma than someone raised by the bottom 25% has with an undergrad degree (that is by some measurements). It is not a crazy anomaly when a white person is in the bottom 25% of income earning households, but the belief that that is at least relatively rare is an underlying assumption among those who conflate class and race. But even class privilege doesn't trump everything. In the 50s lots of white, high income, leftist artists in the movie industry were discriminated against for associating with Communists, and even more feared they would be. To many of their peers, they were just another pinko. When the Internet rendered the fact that Mozilla CEO and co-founder, Brendan Eich, had contributed money to an anti-same-sex-marriage initiative in California, his corporate peers and employees turned their backs on him until he was sufficiently pressured to resign. To them, despite knowing him for years, Eich was suddenly just another teabagger.

"White Privilege" is a label that denies the individuality of the target and forces him to into a set of predefined stereotypes. That's what slurs are for.

There is nothing the target to can do to exempt himself. It is beyond achievement, effort, or choice. You just are Black or Latino or Jewish or White Privileged. Definitively, a person of Euro-Caucasian descent can never stop being white privileged for to be white is to be white privileged. The most degraded white man sleeping on the streets in a 10 degree blizzard at least has white privilege in his pocket.

 And just like those other racial slurs, being "white privileged" undercuts anything a person accomplishes: past or future. Maybe he can be the nicest White Privileged chap that his Black and Latino friends know. Maybe he can be “one of the good ones” who “knows his place” as the beneficiary of American institutional racism. But he can never be other than white privileged. If you are white privileged, it means that — although you might have never treated anyone inequitably based on their race, creed, or national origin, although you might have even shown a degree of favoritism to races different than your own, although you might have had no valuable socio-economic connections when starting out, although you might have worked very hard and risked much to achieve whatever you have — but still you vicariously share in the sin of every cop (white or black or brown) who stops and tickets a black man in an expensive car because he stood out on the highway. And it asserts you have even reaped unspecified rewards from those encounters—rewards not shared by anyone in another category...even if someone in that category has never been similarly harassed. 

It does no good to say "Well, other slurs denigrate a person, but the label "White Privileged" merely says the person is better off." If you imply that a Jewish family has secret hoards of wealth in their basement accrued by cleverly manipulating naive gentiles or that their causes benefit from Jews controlling the media, that is still a slur. "White Privilege" is intended to denigrate a person morally and on merit. 

As a racial slur White Privilege is far more offensive and derogatory than "honky" or "cracker" (which white people never really cared about), and no one has shown the least embarrassment in throwing it around. It is used the same as any other racial slur: To deny the target his individuality, to brand him with the failures of the worst member of his category and with the stereotypes in the minds of others, to disparage the quality of his achievements and potential, and to implicitly demand more from him than others.

[A version of this article was originally published on Medium.com.]

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Femme Fatal

One of the film/pop culture commentary podcasts I listen to regularly is Fighting In the War Room. I'm about to be contrarian about their last episode, but you shouldn't take that as general disparagement of the show. I like it. I'm subscribed to it. If you like this sort of podcast, you should be subscribed to it too.

One horse corpse that this group regularly thrashes is the terrible, awful plight and dearth of female directors. It's not enough that there are lots of female directors working on critically acclaimed films (they whinge). We need lots of female directors working on big, franchise, spectacle blockbusters.

Poor Colin Treverrow. The well of contempt for this guy for being hired to direct Jurassic World after only directing the critically and popularly embraced Time-travel movie, "Safety Not Guaranteed", has no bottom. I guess he should have died or at least got a sex-reassignment when he accepted the job. And the nerve of the guy for not framing female directors et al as helpless princesses chained up in the dragon's cave of the impersonal Hollywood System. And when I say impersonal I mean it is literally as if no specific people, or valid individual business decisions are involved in the selection of directors in big investment film projects. When Treverrow points out that in many cases the reason big budget movies weren't ultimately helmed by female directors is that a female director removed herself from the project...well Colin just doesn't get it. 

And there's obviously nothing but sexism at play if a female director of a successful film is replaced by a male director in the sequel (as in the Twilight franchise). This is refreshing if it happens the other way, but once a female director pees on something, by golly, it can only be helmed by another female even if two of the three executive producers making the decision are female (which strikes me as a more substantial step forward for Womynkind).

The question of the day in this episode was especially irking. "Is it less than righteous" (they didn't use that word but righteousness under-lies this and all discussions of this type) "NOT to cheer whenever a female director releases a film whether or not the film produced is particularly good?" Naturally, when a female director produces something that is objectively fine, we're going to dance with euphoria about it even if (like the Hurt Locker or Zero Dark Thirty) it merely had a decent script and was professionally handled without internal drama. But, according to the FITWR panel, if a woman directs a bad movie, we're still going to cheer because a) any movie directed by a woman is an improvement and b) it means we've moved forward so much that a woman can direct crap. Nothing, we all know, improves the professional status of women in film like mediocre art. But! What if we could have had a good movie if it had been handed to another director, who just happened to have been male? Are we not to put that opportunity cost into our accounting?

Look, I understand the reasoning that if women are directing lots of bad art, it's a good proxy for the professional status of female directors because Sturgeon's Law states that 95% of everything is crap. So (the reasoning goes), the more bad films women create, it means that women are being treated professionally without regard to their sex -- they don't have to be Great to be given money by investors to do film work. But that only works as a proxy IF viewers are not judging films, good or bad, by whether they were directed by women. So the expressed attitude of most of the FITWR panel is actually dragging women down. The path to creating great films is not to hand it to women who produce crap. And investors are not going to be interested in handing $200 million to someone as a vague and meaningless gesture for which there will be NO return on investment if the person does not produce.

So FITWR does not have to be embarrassed when they pan a movie simply (or in part) because the director is female — they should not even acknowledge the possibility of embarrassment or disappointment.

I'll stipulate here that I'm the father of three grown daughters. If Feminism is defined as believing that women are people, then I'm a feminist. If Feminism is practiced as an Identity Politics Advocacy philosophy, then I am not a feminist. I don't believe in Girl Power. I don't want my daughters to be inspirations to young girls everywhere. I want them to be inspirations and mentors to young people regardless of sex. I don't want them to thrive because they are female. I don't want them to thrive in spite of being female. I want them to thrive at whatever they put their hand to and devote themselves to in excellence. And if they were to complain about someone looking down on them for their sex (which they never have), I would not undercut them by reminding them of how limited and unentitled  they are in this Man's World. I would empower them by reminding them of how fortunate they are to live in THIS country at THIS time where their opportunities and channels to make use of those opportunities are phenomenally greater than any other time and place in history. Now go forth and conquer.

Whenever issues of Diversity come up, the FITWR panel stops caring about good film itself (something they self-evidently care about a lot the rest of the time) and start to care about something else more.

I recall an episode of Siskel & Ebert (I don't remember what title was at the time), where Gene Siskel sensibly chastised Roger Ebert (paraphrasing), "Don't recommend a bad movie as a good movie, because you like the themes or the people involved." I loved Siskel as a film reviewer. I trusted his assessments. I can remember only a handful of quotes from their show but they are almost all his. And the FITWR panel should remember his admonishment before naming, a movie like say, The Obvious Child, as one of the best movies of the year –acknowledging that it isn’t objectively outstanding -- simply because they liked its stance on a culture-war issue. None of the panel are Christians but I have no doubt I could hear their eyes rolling through my earbuds if someone named the financially profitable movie God Is Not Dead as one of the best movies of the year just because "We don't get a lot of movies like this as feature films."

[The spelling of the title of this post is deliberate. You're in the hands of an expert here. (wink)]

Monday, October 26, 2015

The IRS Fetish

I thought of this upon hearing comedienne Sarah Silverman talking on NPR's Fresh Air show.
"My dad raised us to respect taxes and know that its an honor to pay taxes. And it goes to people who need it, and highways, and schools, and that's what makes our country great, and the more successful you are the more you can put into the ante..into the middle..to help make our local communities and our bigger communities great."
This is a new thing among Democrats, this tender soft-spot for taxes--taxes for their own sake, ignoring any specific program--because we're suppose to accept that the programs receiving the dollars are worthwhile without consideration. I've recently heard Chris Hardwick, Jon Stewart, and David Letterman apologize for making jokes at expense of the IRS. The IRS!

To be frank, there's something unAmerican about that, and I don't use that word lightly as does Harry, Reid, Nancy Pelosi, Dick Durban, and Barack Obama.

The short of it is this: This country was founded on a revolt against a two cent tax hike on imported tea.

Look. We should pay our taxes. And we should collect enough in taxes to pay for what we spend (as they do in Denmark by taxing the bark off the middle and working class). And we should be required to think before we spend --no matter how terrific the concept behind the program--because we know we'll only be able to pay for it by sequestering a greater portion of the free economy with taxes (or we'll degrade future value of the savings and salaries of people through deficit spending). But that doesn't require that we love taxes. The IRS has been an organization of menace since 1918 -- all throughout the New Deal and Great Society eras. What's changed?

"Honoring" the payment of taxes is becoming a kind of sacrament for Left-leaning people. They speak of it the way religious people speak of their tithes--as an act of piety, and act of submission before God. It is interesting that progressives speak such love for the ideal of paying taxes and then denounce others for pointing out that half of us don't make any net tax payments at all

They don't even defend the taxes on the basis of New Deal programs anymore, or any specific programs to that distribute the money. Instead, they talk about highways and cops (yes cops) and firemen and the post office for heaven sakes. 

Taxes can be ethically and economically problematic. Economically, because when you tax an activity, you are disincentivizing it (which leftists comprehend if you're talking about taxing carbon dioxide or cigarettes) and that means that less of those beautiful, beautiful, all important taxes will be collected. Taxes designed to disincentivize cannot have the same design as taxes intended to generate revenue. Disincentive taxes should not be expected to support any of the wonderful things the government does for us. But since it is normal now to find a villain in order to tax him, all new taxes nowadays are created with the ostensible purpose of doing both. 

Ethically, they are problematic because taxes are not donations. You are demanding it from people who might not agree with how it is spent and often the way it is spent is not defendable. Someone is setting up his good judgement for how someone else's money should be spent as superior to his neighbor's judgement and backing that opinion with the potential of lethal force. That is a view that has been understood since Robin Hood. For this reason, every expenditure should be worthwhile and I think that the fact that progressives have begun to honor the payment of taxes rather than the specific programs that the taxes support is evidence they are feeling embarrassed about those programs. 

We all agree now that that our money isn't going toward a Great Society. No one believes in that anymore. Instead it's going to powerful factions and demographics all the way down. The money is going to some guy in a leather chair in an office downtown, and we're just hoping it will trickle-down to the deserving. But government has become the Church of the Left because they've managed to relegate the old-fashioned churches to condescension or contempt. It's blasphemous to make a deal out of an expanding bureaucratic class with 100% job security and compensation well above comparable private sector workers. Or to mention that social security payments, single-payer healthcare, and free university benefits go to people who can well afford to care for themselves

Friday, October 23, 2015

Price is No Obstacle


Self-driving cars, opportunity costs and idle gold

You'll have to register to read it.
"We argued...that the economics of self-driving taxis don’t necessarily make sense.Which is to say, we’re not entirely convinced (at this stage) that self-driving taxis will be any more or less affordable than those driven by humans. "
That is irrelevant. The economic value of self-driving cars is that people who are currently driving taxis will do something else productive that can't be automated right now... Likely something that is either not being done now or is under-served based on the desire of the public. We should hope that self-driving taxis WILL (without general inflation or legal mandates) become increasingly expensive because that means that the value (productivity) of those hired trips is increasing. People freely pay for things only if they think the money they have is less valuable than the thing they want.

I think the misconception is this: The writer thinks that price is an additional impediment when in fact price is a proxy for or quantification of the scarcity of a product -- that is, how hard it is to get (or make) and how many people want the useful product.

In other words, if the cost of getting something to you from over a mountain range is high, it means...
  1. The thing you are bringing over the mountains is worth the effort of dragging it over the mountains in the first place.
  2. The effort to bring it over the mountains is onerous to some degree -- it is not "easy" for the average person to do for himself.
Think of it this way: You want a doo-dad brought from over the mountain. But due to the difficulty, the cost is too high for you to pay someone to do it for you. So, instead of using capital (which might be money or it might be trading labor or resources or it might be putting up with pop-up adds.), you either expend your own labor to carry it over or do without it. This is like a Manhattanite without a car and without enough money for a taxi who walks to the train station and then walks from the train station to his final destination, or instead gets a friend to drive her (a donation of capital).

Someone who is producing enough excess capital will not waste his valuable time schlepping over the mountain for this truly valuable product. He will hire someone to do it: someone whose time is slightly less productive (that is, producing less excess capital...obviously this fellow is working very hard).

Now the person who hires is not robbing from the person who does his own schlepping. Nor is the hired schlepper  hurting the self-schlepper by not doing the work for less. The self-schlepper would have done his own schlepping if a hired schlepper did not exist so he is no worse off if the hired-schlepper charges more than he thinks he can afford. The employer and the hireling are potentially better off of course. But beyond the self-schlepper's envy at the employer for getting his doo-dad without having to traverse a mountain, his nose is not trimmed at all.

If the hireling builds robots to schlep stuff over the mountain (ala self-driving cars), there is no reason to suppose that the price will go down just because it is now "easier" for him. After all, he has the same bills he did before. He had to devote extra time to design and build those robots and never received any payment for that work. If he were going to be paid less for that work, he would never have built them in the first place. So he'll charge the same amount. But now he has more time to build more robots. He can devote his time to building robots instead of schlepping over the mountains--something he didn't have time to do before. Then he can provide his service to more people who want the valuable doo-dad.

Probably, over time but not initially, the product will become more affordable because it will become less scarce on the other side of the mountain. But if the doo-dad makes people so additionally productive that demand only grows for it, the cost will not decrease at all. Same thing, if the maintenance costs, and up-front capital costs are high. In conclusion, there is no reason, in this example, why the price must increase or decrease. It depends.

Because you might be thinking it...

But what if the maker of robot-schleppers was an employer of human schleppers? Doesn't that mean that his robots are ruining the lives of his hired schleppers?

Well.... Understand that those hired schleppers have been profiting off the problems of their fellow citizens. They had a doo-dad that was scarce and hard to get. These people profited by overcoming the mountain range for them.  This is not an evil. They are doing good. lt is true that they are "profiting off the suffering of their fellow man". They are making their living off the obstruction of the mountain and their willingness and ability to overcome it. They are caring for the needs of their fellowman via a system that is self-sustainable since it allows them to do it all the time and have their own needs met.

But let me try another analogy: Imagine if a city is hit by a hurricane and the roads into it are destroyed. So people hire themselves to schlep goods by hand to the city. They are benefiting the city. They are doing good. They are also profiting off the suffering of the city. But this is not an evil. 

HOWEVER what if the people of the city began to repair the roads into the city. Then, what if the people employed to schlep goods into the city began picketting the repair work?
"You are ruing us! What will we do for employment? No one in this country carries things any more!" 
This is evil, because they want to profit off the unnecessary suffering of their fellow man -- suffering they are trying to personally cause to be maintained.

The robot schleppers are essentially flattening the mountains as if they were not so imposing. In this little way, they are making people more powerful. And the hired schleppers are sharing in that increased empowerment along with everyone else. 

Granted, they will have to do something other than schlep things over the mountain -- a task that is no longer needed by anyone. They will meet the needs of their fellow man in ways they never had time to before. The only way that there will never be any more work for them to do instead is if all human impediments were destroyed -- that is, if humanity (including the hired schleppers) were to become all-powerful. In that case, why would they need jobs?

I don't know what the hired schleppers will do instead. But I do know that we won't find out if we use regulation and legislation to create artificial mountain ranges where they would otherwise not exist so the hired schleppers can pretend to be productive. Or if we were to pay them for being idle.