Friday, October 2, 2015

On idenitarians and people who kill strangers because of their identity

Welcome to America, where it seems like every week, a lonely, disturbed individual with a troubled childhood kills strangers and then everyone with a political agenda uses those killings to promote their cause.

The latest killer, who I will not name, was mixed-race and his main targets were either religious people generally or Christians specifically.  Had he been white, identitarians would use him to rant about racism. Had his targets been women, they would use him to rant about sexism. But the Orwell quote I shared yesterday applies: identitarians are oblivious to things that don't support them, so they ignore women who target men like Eileen Wuornos and black killers who target white people like John Muhammad and Lee Malvo.

It is likely that people will use the latest killings to call for more gun regulation. This ignores the fact that most mass murders are committed with guns that were bought legally.

As a socialist, I suppose I should use this as an excuse to rant about capitalism, but socialist countries also produce people who kill strangers. They say police in the USSR initially believed serial killing was a capitalist phenomenon, so they were slow to recognize the signs of serial killers in their society. In China, mass murderers who attack schools use knives, cleavers, or hammers instead of guns.

We know mass murderers appear rarely in our society, for all that they appear too often, and if you learn about their lives, you should have a little pity for what they endured, no matter how much you hate what they did when they broke. If we want to end violence, we need to stop focusing on the tools that broken people use and the ideologies that broken people claim and start building a society that breaks fewer people.

Now, given the number of killers whose history includes economic desperation, I could use this as an excuse to promote Basic Income, but I'll return to that on another day.

Related: A handy list of female mass murderers

ETA: There's scientific consensus on guns -- and the NRA won't like it - LA Times

Thursday, October 1, 2015

The greatest danger in talking about privilege instead of rights

I'm thinking again about privilege because I got into a discussion on Facebook that, no surprise, went nowhere. A friend said, "Every African American person I know doesn't ever use the term privilege in association with wealth." A black friend of hers agreed. I thought they had a limited set of friends, but then, most people do, so I didn't say that. I simply asked how they discussed economic privilege. They assured me they did, though they didn't say how. This is the usual way discussions go with identitarians—they assure you're they're also concerned about the things they then continue to ignore.

It made me want to write a post titled "Appropriating privilege." I was very pleased with my cleverness until I realized it would only be a recap of what I wrote in The Problem with Privilege Theory.

So I walked around a little bit, and in the kitchen, which is often where insights come, I realized this:

The difference between rights and privileges is that rights are assumed to be inalienable, while privileges only exist so long as they're tolerated. For most of my life, the argument against racism was that it denied people of their rights. But under privilege theory, there are no rights—there are only those who have privilege and those who do not. Marriage? A privilege for straight people, not a human right. Freedom from harassment by the police? A privilege for white people, not a human right. Equal pay? A privilege for men, not a human right. If I wanted to create the right-libertarian future in which the rich ruled absolutely, it would be essential to eliminate the idea of rights. Privilege theorists are doing that.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

An Orwell quote about nationalists that could be said of identitarians

"The nationalist not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side, but he has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them." -George Orwell, "Notes on Nationalism"

Monday, September 28, 2015

A little about Iroquois women, wealth, and power.

When making my previous post, I realized it's hard for 21st century Americans to think of a society with any division based on sex as egalitarian, so here's a bit from Female of the Species by M. Kay Martin and Barbara Voorhies for people who think women weren't equals in Iroquois society:
Brown (1970) argues convincingly that the key to elevated status for Iroquois women lay in their relationship to production and the distribution of wealth. As in a great number of horticultural societies, women were the exclusive cultivators. However a frequent accompaniment of matriliny—the manipulation of access rights to seeds and to arable land by matrilineal descent groups themselves—gave Iroquois women exclusive control over the production and storage of food. They were not only the primary producers, but collectively owned the means of production as well.

The significance of this control for the manipulation of power in Iroquois society was tremendous. Since food was wealth, and since the matrons of matrilineal descent groups supervised its distribution, women had available to them a mechnanism for giving or withholding rewards. Women of the longhouse held in common a store of food, which they systematically allocated to their men and children. Since they had labored collectively to cultivate these food crops—and on land belonging to them by virtue of their common kinship—women were not obliged to feed men on demand, but more did so as an act of good faith. The elder women would simply ask any male member of the longhouse whose behavior they viewed as objectionable to leave. Such eviction notices were apparently taken quite seriously, and provided an efficient instrument for terminating unsuccessful marriages and for eliminating persons incompatible with the larger longhouse membership.

But the power of women among the Iroquois extended far beyond the domestic unit. As in most matrilineal societies, the senior women or matrons of lieages and clans played an important role in political and social policy decisions. The Iroquois confederacy or League was headed by a council of chiefs. These representatives to the governing body were male, but gained and held office only with female approval.
Google Books continues that passage here.

Recommended: "Engels and the Origin of Women's Oppression" by Sharon Smith

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Class trumps race in the US—a link fest

I often meet race reductionists (people who focus exclusively on race) who insist they're intersectionalists (people who believe different forms of social oppression like racism and sexism are unrelated and only "intersect" when someone is, for example, black and female). Now, I'm not in either group—I'm a universalist who thinks all social oppression is interrelated and springs from the social hierarchies that develop with many agricultural societies. (While we don't have time machines handy, a look at egalitarian tribal peoples like the Iroquois shows that sexism and racism are not part of human nature.)

Here are a few articles indicating that class trumps race in the US today:

1. In education:

No Rich Child Left Behind -
Family income is now a better predictor of children’s success in school than race.
When Class Became More Important to a Child's Education Than Race - The Atlantic:
According to a 2011 research study by Stanford sociologist Sean Reardon, the test-score gap between the children of the poor (in the 10th percentile of income) and the children of the wealthy (in the 90th percentile) has expanded by as much as 40 percent and is now more than 50 percent larger than the black-white achievement gap--a reversal of the trend 50 years ago.
2. In health:

In health, income has greater impact than race | New Pittsburgh Courier:
even though Blacks have higher rates of disease than Whites, “these differences are dwarfed by the disparities identified between high- and low-income populations within each racial/ethnic group,” the report said.
Socioeconomic Factors Trump Race and Geography for Odds of Living to Old Age - Observations - Scientific American Blog Network:
By studying survival beyond 70 on a county-by-county basis, a team of researchers found that a combination of social factors, such as education, marital status and income, were much more predictive than race or geography alone.
The stunning — and expanding — gap in life expectancy between the rich and the poor - The Washington Post

3. In the prison system:

From “The Crime of Being Poor”:
White prisoners tend to share one thing with their black and Hispanic compatriots: poverty. Most prisoners report incomes of less than $8,000 a year in the year prior to coming to prison. A majority were unemployed at the time of their arrest.
From “The rich get richer and the poor get prison”:
Among those entering prison in 1991, about 70 percent earned less than $15,000 a year when they were arrested, and 45 percent didn’t have a full-time job. One in four prisoners is mentally ill, and 64 percent never graduated from high school.
4. In geographic location:

In Climbing Income Ladder, Location Matters -
Regions with larger black populations had lower upward-mobility rates. But the researchers’ analysis suggested that this was not primarily because of their race. Both white and black residents of Atlanta have low upward mobility, for instance.
Not here, surely? | The Economist:
Virtually all of the 20 poorest counties in America, in terms of wages, are on the eastern flank of the Rockies or on the western Great Plains.... The area does include several pockets of wretched Native American poverty, but in most areas the poor are as white as a prairie snowstorm.
5. In internet access:

Class Trumps Race When It Comes To Internet Access : Code Switch : NPR

6. In general:

Robert Putnam: Class Now Trumps Race as the Great Divide in America - The Atlantic includes observations like:
The class gap over the last 20 years in unmarried births, controlling for race, has doubled, and the racial gap, controlling for class, has been cut in half. Twenty years ago the racial gap was the dominant gap in unmarried births -- and now the class gap is by far.
Now, race reductionists like Tim Wise love to claim that Marxists are class reductionists. Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor refutes that nicely in Race, class and Marxism |
To claim, as Marxists do, that racism is a product of capitalism is not to deny or diminish its importance or impact in American society. It is simply to explain its origins and the reasons for its perpetuation. Many on the left today talk about class as if it is one of many oppressions, often describing it as "classism." What people are really referring to as "classism" is elitism or snobbery, and not the fundamental organization of society under capitalism.
Or as Adolph Reed Jr. notes in The limits of anti-racism:
Yes, racism exists, as a conceptual condensation of practices and ideas that reproduce, or seek to reproduce, hierarchy along lines defined by race. Apostles of antiracism  frequently can’t hear this sort of statement, because in their exceedingly simplistic version of the nexus of race and injustice there can be only the Manichean dichotomy of those who admit racism’s existence and those who deny it.
ETA: A little about Iroquois women, wealth, and power 

Monday, September 21, 2015

My father, Bob Shetterly, died last night

No need to offer condolences. Dad lived life on his own terms and came very close to dying under them. While I have some regrets, I'm generally content.

He had wanted to die on his farm and had a bottle of pills on hand that he intended to take if he ever thought he could no longer live unassisted, but a neighbor found him after a heart attack. He spent his last weeks at the clinic in Tofield, where Mom died. He always hated hospitals and nursing homes, but if he couldn't die at home, that was probably the next best place. He died last night between being checked on by the nurses.

My niece was surprised that he went so quickly after being admitted. Emma's mom went quickly too when she knew she could not go home again. They were both strong-willed people, and if I filled out the death certificates for them, under "cause", I would write, "cantankerousness."

My dad and I always had a difficult relationship. I respected him enormously, and loved him too, but I don't think I'll cry about his death. I'm a little sorry a great psychiatrist never got a chance to study him, because I suspect he was either the best sort of sociopath or unusually autistic. He always tried to do right by others, and so far as I know, he never lied. He could be extremely charming, but he had no interest in conforming to anyone's expectations, and he always lived very simply, wearing old clothes and eating cheap food. He had an extreme sense of duty and a great discomfort around emotion—he didn't like to be hugged and I don't remember him telling anyone that he loved them. He had no use for pretensions of any sort. He was an atheist for as long as I knew—my first regret now is that I never asked him when he became one—and I am sure he died one. I could tell you things I hated him for, but in the larger scheme of things, they weren't important. He was a flawed man like any man, but he was ultimately a good man, and maybe a great man. If you want a slightly—and only slightly—romanticized version of him, read Dogland.

Here are my main blog posts about him:

In the 1960s, he ran a tourist trap in Florida: about Dog Land, the place, and Dogland, the novel

And he was involved in the civil rights struggle: Bob Shetterly, the only liberal in Levy County

He and my mom and my sister moved to northern Ontario, where he crashed two planes, but only one was written up in the National EnquirerCrashing a plane.

He is probably the oldest solo circumnavigator.

In 2004, he wrote a letter to my very conservative brother about American politics.

My life would've been easier with an easier man for a father, but all things considered, I was incredibly lucky that he was my dad.

ETA: My niece just informed me, "Edmonton accepted his body for science. They should be picking him up today or tomorrow." No memorial ceremonies are planned, but I'll probably toast him this evening, and the next time I'm near a large body of water, I'll toss in a rock or sail a paper boat in his memory.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Karl Marx on Lord Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley

“The real difference between Byron and Shelley is this: those who understand them and love them rejoice that Byron died at thirty-six, because if he had lived he would have become a reactionary bourgeois; they grieve that Shelley died at twenty-nine, because he was essentially a revolutionist, and he would always have been one of the advanced guard of Socialism.” —Karl Marx

Quoted in Shelley and Socialism by Eleanor Marx 1888.