Serious Answers to Sloppy Questions, Part 2

Another day, another nine questions rendered largely impenetrable by having bounced around the alt-right echo chamber for so long. Still, I’ll give them a go. In case you missed it, Part 1 is here.

  • What do you hope to gain by bringing back racial segregation?
Photo of about a dozen and a half questions marks stenciled onto black pavement in white paint. Alternating right-side up and upside down in three rows.
Crop of “What?” by Véronique Debord-Lazaro, CC BY-SA 2.0

Racial segregation has never gone away. It’s gotten better in many places, but the U.S. remains highly segregated long after the Jim Crow laws that enforced that segregation were taken off the books. White suburban flight, informal hostilities, the need of those in poverty to live close to services, redlining and other practices that haven’t gone away just because they’re illegal all make racial segregation an ongoing reality.

It doesn’t make much sense for you to be asking me about wanting to bring back Jim Crow laws though. That’s just not a position that’s taken among “SJWs”. So I assume you’re asking me about groups or policies that involve spending resources specifically on marginalized populations. Those resources might be money, attention, or time. The simple answer here is that people who do this expect to be able to get more for those resources by aiming them where they’re most needed. It’s certainly reasonable at least in theory, though it does sometimes have unintended consequences, often as a response to white people being unhappy about the allocation of resources.

  • When my granduncle was dropping bombs on London, did your grandparents get out of their bunkers to protest with signs that read Not All Nazis?

This is vague and strange. If I weren’t trying to seriously engage with these questions, I’d just invoke Godwin’s Law. But I am, so let’s see what I can suss out of the assumptions behind this one.

You seem to be assuming that my grandparents were in the German military but not flying planes and didn’t want to be confused with those Germans who were flying planes. So you want to know whether they left their bunkers to demand that people be more specific. And this is somehow all tied to “not all men” with me being asked whether I identify with the men. Yes?

Um, no. I don’t. I also don’t identify with them any more after sorting out this metaphor. That’s not surprising given that my one grandfather who was in WWII (the other being an only child in a critical profession) was nearly bombed out of existence in England before his children were conceived.

The most reasonable thing I think you could possibly be asking here is whether I ever feel the impulse to say “not all X” when people are talking about a group that I’m part of. Sure. I’ve felt the impulse. I’ve also realized that actually saying it is almost never helpful because people aren’t saying “all X” to begin with. Oftentimes people are venting, sometimes hyperbolically, or working to describe a problem in broad strokes. There’s plenty of time to get into the details when we’re working on solutions. And contrary to the myth of the fragile SJW, my ego can handle it.

[ETA: Someone has suggested that I’m supposed to be a Londoner in this scenario rather than a German soldier and that the questioner just doesn’t know the difference between bomb shelters and bunkers. Could be. In that case, have another answer.

In this case, the assumption embedded in this question is that my grandparents would have viewed all Germans as Nazis and defended Nazis rather than Germans. That isn’t the case at all, however.

Welcome to Minnesota, home of a rather large percentage of the U.S.’s German immigrant population at the time of WWII. Sadly, there were plenty of people, even here, who viewed their neighbors with suspicion in both of the World Wars for their German heritage. Even people who specifically fled as the Nazis rose to power had to deal with the problem.

Luckily, people did fight back against that prejudice. They defended the people they knew and spoke against prejudice in general. Germans here did not face the same outcome Japanese-Americans did. More than that, German POWs ended up being sent to the Midwest because the loyal German population here made it easier to care for them properly while still keeping them contained.

No Nazi uprises here, despite us being at war with people’s land of origin. Weird, huh? It’s almost like the people who leave do so for a reason.]

  • Why do you think every cis white male is born racist? Racism is a learned behavior.

Well, the simple answer here is that I don’t. I agree that it’s learned behavior. However, at least implicit racial bias is prevalent enough that pretty much none of us escape all of it. And as I noted earlier when talking about the definition of racism, white people (not just cis white men) have the power of much of the justice system behind whatever racial biases they have.

  • How can you possibly say the phrase “all lives matter” is somehow racist. It sounds like something the Dalai Lama would say?

I’m not sure why you’d assume I’d look to the Dalai Lama for guidance. I’m an atheist and skeptic who doesn’t put much credence in the idea of reincarnated wisdom. Do you? If not, why cite him as though he were an authority?

That aside, the phrase “black lives matter” and the movements associated with that phrase are challenging the institutional power behind a pattern of law enforcement disproportionately killing black people and disproportionately going unpunished for that. They are definitionally anti-racist.

The phrase “all lives matter” wasn’t in any kind of common usage before “black lives matter” became well-known and supported. It only became common as a derailment of discussion around why it was necessary to fight the institutional power to take black lives. It’s a reactionary phrase, a denial of the specific circumstances of “black lives matter”. In that context, it is anti-anti-racist. Or, you know, racist.

  • Would you rather be right or popular? It seems like your primary objective is to score social points and get public validation. You speak publicly in the same way people write their dating profiles. Stop trying to demonstrate how awesome you are and get real.

What makes you look at someone who challenges Richard Dawkins and other beloved figures of the atheist movement and think their primary objective is public validation? I don’t understand how you think that would work. I mean, I’m glad you think my writing says good things about me, but any awesomeness that comes through is incidental. I’ve never written a dating profile. There’s nothing wrong with it; it just hasn’t been necessary for me.

No, I’m pretty concerned with getting things right, sometimes pathologically so. That doesn’t mean I never get things wrong, but I at least work to not repeat a mistake. How about you? Are you going to stop insinuating this now that you know it’s wrong?

  • So if a drunk man sleeps with a drunk woman, the woman is incapable of giving consent but the man is?

No. Neither of them is capable of giving consent in the moment. They might both have consented had they been sober or neither of them might have. You’re not going to know until everyone is sober again unless some sort of prearrangement was made. Even those are tricky, because people do change their minds. Being drunk when that happens just makes you less likely to notice or restrain yourself.

If it does turn out that one person wouldn’t have consented unless they were drugged, then you’ve got rape on your hands. It doesn’t matter which party it is, though, or their gender. That’s just one of the risks you sign up for when you say you want to have sex with a drunk person. (Unless you’re getting someone drunk because you think they’re less likely to consent sober. That’s premeditation.) Not really a risk I’m willing to take, though the question is moot for me. How about you?

What happens if both people decide when sober that they would not have consented? Most likely nothing but bad feelings. Reports of rape are fairly rare. Prosecutions more rare. Prosecutions in situations that are remotely murky are nearly nonexistent. While both people are still legally and ethically culpable for their actions if they chose to drink, the reality is that nearly everyone would consider them both to have already received the appropriate punishment for their actions against the other.

  • Is it really easier to spend your life trying to pacify the world and subdue all around you instead of accepting that you are the person who has to change?

Oh, so many weird assumptions in this one. No, I don’t think the path I’ve chosen for myself is easier any more than I think it’s a route to popularity. It’s work. It just happens to be worthwhile work.

You also assume that I have to change where others don’t. That’s simply incorrect. I’m really pretty good at this. People learn things from me. I persuade organizations to make changes. I make changes directly myself. Frankly, if I didn’t, you wouldn’t be so upset with me and people like me. You’d just ignore us.

You’re even wrong that I’m setting out to change everything. I’m not. I’m not here, for example, to reform the Republican Party. It can go be terrible on its own. I mean, it will continue to implode as it insists on doing that. We’re seeing that already. But I’m not going to try to change it, and the further it sinks into irrelevance, the less time and energy I’ll spend on it. I don’t want to change everything, just the important things, and I’m perfectly happy to do that by changing what we consider important.

  • When I’m singing along with rap music is it okay if i say the word nigga?

Well, that depends on what you mean by “okay”. Is it illegal? No.

Is it unethical? That depends somewhat on your philosophical framework, but I think we can jam several of the most common considerations together here without getting incoherent. Let’s say that doing this would be unethical if it did predictable harm that outweighed the good it accomplished. I’ll leave out rules-based ethical considerations, because your question implies in itself that you assume there is a rule about this and the mere existence of the rule doesn’t sway you.

Then you need to ask yourself what kind of effect your words will have. Can anyone hear you? If not, you’re probably fine, but you might want to give some thought as to whether that will become a habit that will find you singing in front of others.

If people can hear you, who are they? What meaning does that word, as said by a white guy, have in their personal history and in the history that shaped the world they live in? How much of that meaning does it retain? Do they know other things about you that would make them more or less likely to interpret that as a racist act? Don’t forget to account for your biases either. You wouldn’t ask the question if you weren’t looking for reasons to say it. Eye answers that lead to the outcome you want with extra suspicion. That includes questioning anything you’re just assuming about the situation that would make it okay.

Then consider what good you might be doing with your singing. The only virtue I’ve seen acts like this said to upheld involves freedom of speech. Again, however, question particularly hard when you’re turning up answers that say you’re in the clear, since that’s what you want to hear. How much good are you doing taking a stand for free speech if the people you’re singing to aren’t people who could effectively stop your singing? If you’re claiming to challenge power, the people you’re challenging have to be powerful to support that claim.

Then weigh those answers against each other and decide whether your action would do more harm than good or vice versa. There’s your answer to whether this is ethical. This process also gives you the ability to answer your question where “okay” equals “free of consequences to you”, but the answer there is almost always no.

  • How do you reconcile your opinion that gender doesn’t matter or even exist with your need to invent new genders each day?

Hmm. You seem to be confusing saying that gender is a social construct with saying that gender isn’t real. No, society is real. The things its builds have real effects, just as racism is real and deadly even though dividing humanity into races has no scientific basis.

As for me, I don’t feel a need to invent any new genders. Saying I’m a woman does a fair job of capturing both my identity and my experiences. That isn’t true for everyone, however. And the great thing about social constructs is that they’re amenable to change, so we get to reconceptualize gender in a way that works for more people. Just as we fix scientific theories when conflicting data comes in, we can and should want to fix our social theories.

Back with Part 3 soon. If you’re looking for more snark to clear your palate in the meantime, try PZ’s answers.

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Serious Answers to Sloppy Questions, Part 2

8 thoughts on “Serious Answers to Sloppy Questions, Part 2

  1. 1

    I think when they refer to segregation, they’re talking about “(insert minority here) spaces” that so-called SJWs allocate for different demographics. I personally have mixed feelings on the subject. Even though minority groups are marginalized, mostly by virtue of them being minorities, I hate how people generalize how black people think, how Hispanics think, how LGBT people think. Look at how BLM, a guest of honor, shut down Toronto Pride, and wouldn’t let the parade continue until the organizers completely capitulated to their demands, including removing police floats. They had a valid point of POC and trans people being disproportionately and unjustly harassed by police, but that also marginalizes LGBT and non-white officers who must now choose between their identities. The root cause is admirable, but that doesn’t justify some of their tactics. You can’t do whatever you want.

  2. 2

    “How much good are you doing taking a stand for free speech if the people you’re singing to aren’t people who could effectively stop your singing? If you’re claiming to challenge power, the people you’re challenging have to be powerful to support that claim.”

    Thank you; this is marvelously put, and very clear. I think I may need to borrow this one for use in future argument. 🙂

  3. 3

    Joshua, they can’t possibly be objecting to people getting together with others in their demographic groups. After all, they just got together as white men to make this video.

    As for Toronto Pride, you may wish to be aware that Pride itself commemorates a riot started by the police raiding the Stonewall Inn. You may not like it personally, but there’s nothing about keeping the police out of Pride as an official group that anyone has to justify to you. Pride organizers didn’t have to give in, either. They could have demanded the protesters be arrested. There would have been consequences, because people really do know what Pride is about, but they could have done it.

  4. Nat
    4

    I…really can’t dredge up much sympathy for LGBT police (especially white cisgay police) who “have to choose between their identities”.

    Police continue to wage violence on pretty much the entire spectrum of the LGBT movement outside of the white cisgays. It’s not too much to expect “queer” police organizations to understand why a celebration of a riot against institutionalized homophobia by largely QTPoC would be uncomfortable with open displays from the enforcement arm of that institution.

    When LGBT police organizations start vocally and actively protesting police violence, especially police violence against QTPoC, then perhaps they might find themselves more welcome at Pride.

  5. 5

    Joshua:

    They had a valid point of POC and trans people being disproportionately and unjustly harassed by police, but that also marginalizes LGBT and non-white officers who must now choose between their identities. The root cause is admirable, but that doesn’t justify some of their tactics. You can’t do whatever you want.

    I fully support the actions of the BLM activists at the Toronto Pride march, including the desire to not have cops participating in the event. Pride got kicked off bc QUILTBAG folks got sick and tired of being harassed, detained, beaten, and arrested by cops. Police officers are viewed by many QUILTBAG folks as hostile actors bc of that history. In addition, while white gay people might feel safe around law enforcement officials, there are plenty of People of Color who do not, bc they continue to experience harassment from cops. And their voices matter. Their desires matter. Those voices, and those desires are more important than some cops who got their feelings hurt bc activists didn’t want them to participate in the march.

    Also, the BLM activists didn’t do whatever they wanted. The blocked the parade, which is a tactic often employed by black activists seeking to make their demands for equality known. If you’re uncomfortable with black activists blocking a parade, then I think you need to examine why that is. Bc Black Lives Matter, and that was the point to blocking the parade.

  6. 6

    I thought the London bombings were meant to represent Islamic terrorism, and All Nazis would be All Supporters of Political Jihadism, who somehow are also All Muslims. Then again, who the hell knows how to interpret a question like this. I greatly respect your effort at parsing assumptions.

    By the same logic, All Nazis would be All White People or something to that effect. For the record, Islamic terrorism largely targets Muslims, just like the WWII was largely fought between white people.

    Or if not All White People, maybe just All People of German Descent. Like the guy who posed the question apparently is.

  7. 7

    the notion that simply being born white/male/etc. absent any context makes you privileged and gives you power

    this is probably my favorite bit of nonsense. a white man born on an uninhabited island can be said to lack context, and has neither privilege nor power. every other kind of white man however is born into a context.

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