I know everyone and their uncle is sounding off about this right now, but I felt it particularly appropo because one of the commentors on my DADT post challenged my claim that race relations in the USA are getting worse.  This news couldn’t have been timelier. For those who haven’t heard, NewSouth Books is about to publish an edition of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by the legendary Mark Twain aka Samuel Clemens, with all instances of the word “nigger” (over 200) changed to the word “slave”.  Here it is, straight from the horse’s mouth:

An excerpt from the editor’s introduction to Mark Twain’s Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn: The NewSouth Edition

In his introduction, the editor, Dr. Alan Gribben, states:

in this edition I have translated each usage of the n-word to read “slave” instead, since the term “slave” is closest in meaning and implication.

Really? That was not my understanding.  Are the black people I know constantly calling each other “slave”?  Perhaps some research is in order.  To the Online Etymology Dictionary!  The OED says:

niggerLook up nigger at Dictionary.com
1786, earlier neger (1568, Scottish and northern England dialect), from Fr. nègre, from Sp. negro (see Negro).

So “nigger” is from “negro”, which of course means “black”.  So wouldn’t the word “closest in meaning and implication” be either “negro” or “black”?  Someone please correct me if I’m wrong here. But more to the point, it seems to me that the word “slave” is magnitudes more offensive than “nigger”.  Seriously, what could be more offensive than calling someone “slave”?  Think of the scene in Gladiator where Emperor Commodus says to Maximus, “How dare you turn your back on me, SLAVE?!”  It’s like the ultimate burn.  More importantly, this word replacement implies that all “niggers”, everywhere, ever, are “slaves”.  Which is absurd, and couldn’t be further from the truth.  Even during the time period depicted in the novel, not all blacks in America were slaves.  This was a seriously bad move editorially. Mr. Gibbons goes on to say that

As a notoriously commercial writer who watched for every opportunity to enlarge the mass market for his works, [Twain] presumably would have been quick to adapt his language if he could have foreseen how today’s audiences recoil at racial slurs in a culturally altered country.

If Mr. Twain possessed such clairvoyance, I suspect he would have found his time better spent writing allegories against the evils of Political Correctness, and its corollary, Thoughtcrime.  If graverolling were possible, Twain would definitely be doing it right now.  Handwringing over the hurtfulness of a word hundreds of years old, a century and a half after the end of slavery, and half a century after the Civil Rights Movement succeeded in its goals?  What the hell?  You call this progress?

I’d like to ask my audience what a post-racist society would look like.  Is it one where we ban all racial slurs, thereby removing the possibility of race-based hurt to minorities?  Or is it one where we simply don’t give a shit about race, much less mere words? And if the term “nigger” is inherently hurtful, how is it that nearly every time I’ve ever heard black people talking to each other, they refer to each other as “nigger” as often as possible?  Oh wait, I’ve heard an answer to this before, and it goes like this:  the term “nigger” is only offensive when it is spoken by whites. That, my friend, is racism in the raw.  It’s not the word, it’s the race of the speaker that counts.  And *that* is precisely why censoring the word “nigger” out of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, now, in 2011, is rock-solid evidence that our society is becoming more racist, not less.  Samuel Clemens was white.  That’s the only fact that matters here.  He was white, so his use of the word nigger was racist.  I don’t hear anyone assailing the authors of gangster rap for being racist due to their incessant use of the word “nigger”.  Of course not, they’re black.  The word is race-coded.  The more taboo it becomes to whites, the more racist our society is.  It’s a great litmus test.

At this point, if I were making this argument in person, to a live audience, it would be pointed out that I’m a white male and that my opinion is therefore invalid.  If you don’t believe me, I am quite willing to meet you in person, provided you live in the Seattle area, and repeat this experiment.  It’s happened to me countless times. I’m not known to be one to back down from difficult subjects, race included.  Most white people, in my estimation, are so stone-cold-scared of being labeled racist that they would never challenge the prevailing belief that white people are born with the Original Sin of black oppression, and can simply never do enough to live it down.  Well, I’m here to rock that boat.  And to do so, I’d like to enlist the help of one of my favorite blacks, Frederick Douglass.  The following is from his speech “What the Black Man Wants”, delivered in 1865 at the Annual Meeting of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society in Boston.

Everybody has asked the question, and they learned to ask it early of the abolitionists, “What shall we do with the Negro?” I have had but one answer from the beginning. Do nothing with us! Your doing with us has already played the mischief with us. Do nothing with us! If the apples will not remain on the tree of their own strength, if they are wormeaten at the core, if they are early ripe and disposed to fall, let them fall! I am not for tying or fastening them on the tree in any way, except by nature’s plan, and if they will not stay there, let them fall. And if the Negro cannot stand on his own legs, let him fall also. All I ask is, give him a chance to stand on his own legs! Let him alone! If you see him on his way to school, let him alone, don’t disturb him! If you see him going to the dinner table at a hotel, let him go! If you see him going to the ballot- box, let him alone, don’t disturb him! If you see him going into a work-shop, just let him alone,–your interference is doing him a positive injury. Gen. Banks’ “preparation” is of a piece with this attempt to prop up the Negro. Let him fall if he cannot stand alone!

Have we followed Mr. Douglass’ advice?

Fetuses: Not your body.

Posted: December 19, 2010 in Philosophy, Politics

Since I mentioned abortion in my last post, I figure I’ll follow it up with my exposition on that topic.  This is another highly politicized issue where I’ve never felt strongly about a particular outcome, but I have felt strongly about how it’s discussed.

 

 

 

 

 

If you’re either of these people, I disagree with you.  But if I had to pick one as being more wrong, it would be the one on the left (both geometrically and politically).

The statement “abortion is murder” works semantically because the term “murder” is so poorly defined that you can apply it to just about anything.  The mistake this person is making is assuming that just because you call it “murder”, you’ve won the argument.  PETA says “Meat is Murder”.  Ok.  I’m not going to argue with that.  I’m going to keep right on eating meat, perfectly content to be a “murderer”.

The person on the left, however, is making the claim that a fetus can be part of her body.  She is essentially saying that the fetus is not a body itself.  How does that work?  At what point does the fetus become its own body?  I’ve heard some people claim that the fetus is a “parasite” on the mother (keep it classy, pro-choicers) and that it doesn’t become its own “person” with its own “body” until “the point of viability”, where “the baby can survive on its own outside the womb”.  Can a newborn baby “survive on its own outside the womb”?  Of course not.  This argument requires that babies and toddlers are part of their mother’s body, and are subject to termination at any time.  Not until the child is ready to venture out into the world and find its own sustenance does it gain “personhood” and escape the threat of abortion.  Let’s face the obvious:  the nature of reproduction is that the female of the species has a separate body, a separate person growing inside her.  Trying to call a fetus a “piece of tissue” or something like that is obfuscatory, absurd, and does nothing to further your cause.  It just makes you look like an ass.

Why do you suppose it is that pro-abortion activists make such ludicrous claims?  Well, let’s look at who the activists are:  primarily women and young people.  What could their motivation possibly be?  My answer may astonish you, knock you right out of your chair:  they want to be able to have sex without dealing with the unwanted consequences of it.  Yes, that’s right:  all this vitriol, all this screaming about rights and freedom, etc, etc is a smokescreen for crass, unadulterated selfishness.  Not that I think there’s anything wrong with selfishness.  I just have a problem with the bullshit arguments that are presented in its place.  If you want to be able to have sex, and then abort your baby when you accidentally get pregnant, fine.  Just fucking say so. Of course, no one wants to admit it when they’re just looking out for #1.

Believe it or not, there are decent, rational arguments to be made for permitting abortion that have nothing to do with shitty philosophising.  The more advanced pro-choice activists have these arguments in their arsenal, but routinely destroy their own credibility by reverting back to “rights” talk.  Let me say at this point that if you believe fetuses have souls, it’s going to be pretty much impossible for us to connect on this subject.  I’m an atheist; I don’t believe in gods or souls.  As far as I can see, we’re all just sacks of meat bouncing around in close proximity to each other in a world with scarce resources, and we have to make up rules in order for us to all get along nicely.  One of those rules has long been “Thou Shalt not Kill”.  (And yes, I believe humans invented this rule, not God.)  When this rule was created, you know, thousands of years ago, children were almost universally seen as valuable.  The more the better.  Hell, the whole purpose of women was just to kick one baby out after another.  As long as they were married.  If not, the woman would have to induce an abortion with a dagger or something.  It was either that or get stoned to death for adultery.  So, these other caveats *ahem* aside, people had no way to foresee the necessity or desire to abort kids.  It’s not like people had other things going for them.  They lived brutal lives of drudgery, and for the most part had little in the way of material possessions.  Kids were one’s only shot at greatness.  They were probably a great source of entertainment, too.

In the modern world, things are different.  Kids just don’t matter that much to us.  We have all sorts of cool things we can do with our time and spend our money on.  We can go on trips (and who wants to bring kids on those?), we can buy nice cars and houses, we can watch TV or play videogames, or just focus on our highly rewarding career.  There’s a lot of upward mobility in the modern world, and we don’t want our kids to get in the way of that.  And when people do have kids, its generally for a different set of reasons than in the pre-industrial era.  Kids are no longer our social security net — the government takes care of that.  In fact with child labor outlawed, mandatory K-12 education instituted, and the “cult of childhood” ingrained in our culture, children are now a massive expense.  People with prospects in life don’t want to have kids unless and until they’re going to be able to “do it right”.  Which brings us to another aspect of modern child-rearing:  it’s an ego-project.  Helicopter parents spend countless hours researching child development, and “the right” way to raise your child, and use the performance of their children as a status symbol.  In a world where the economic importance of children is nil, a completely different set of motives takes over.

Is any of this bad?  I’m not going to make a judgment on that now.  What I will say is this:  if children have no practical benefit, and are a drain on society’s resources, we should take any and all measures possible to ensure that people who don’t want kids don’t have them.  Let’s do a cost-benefit analysis of abortion.  What are the negative consequences of it?  With the possible exception of some minor psychic trauma for the mothers who get them, none that I can see.  What are the negative consequences of banning abortion?  Widespread poverty, illiteracy, overuse of resources, gang violence, back-alley abortions.  I know those of you who believe fetuses have souls see all of this as insubstantial in the face of MURDER.  And I can’t argue with you, unless you want to have a theological discussion.  I don’t.  But I can help you with your marketing.  If you want to stop people from having abortions, then don’t do this:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Periodically these people come onto the UW campus and agitate.  While I’m sure most people are shocked the first time they see these photos, I doubt many go away with a new-found resolve to never get an abortion.  What is DOES do is desensitise everyone to the sight of dead, bloody, torn-up fetus.  I’ve seen these photos so many times now, thanks to the pro-life activists, that I hardly bat an eye at them.  Thanks guys.  Now when my girlfriend gets an abortion, I might even ask to take the fetus home so I can dissect it.

 

Anyway, I think I’ve spoken my peace, and made my main points clear:  that the vast majority of the people involved in this debate are totally irrational.  It’s a debate worth having in a civilised fashion, and again, no easy answers.  Though I do think keeping abortion legal is probably a good idea.  I would like to see Roe v. Wade overturned, it’s one of the worst Supreme Court rulings of all time, and it IS an example of judicial activism.  Laws should be created though the legislature, not the courts.  If Roe v. Wade is overturned, abortion will likely remain legal in most states, and I predict that it will gain greater and greater acceptance as we enter the posthuman era of cloning, cybernetics, and consciousness transfer.

Here’s the AP story.

This is one of those political issues that has always been a curiosity for me.  It’s one that many people feel very strongly about, but I never have.  My thoughts run along these lines:

The military is not a social justice sandbox.  The military exists to do one thing and one thing only:  kill people.  Every feature of the military should be optimized in order to best serve the goal of killing people quickly and efficiently, with as little loss to our own side as possible.  To this end, the military discriminates in a myriad of ways:  gender, height, weight, intelligence, physical fitness, eyesight, hearing, reflexes.  They even discriminate, in certain circumstances, on the basis of good looks or ethnicity.  I’ve heard a few complaints about the exclusion of women from the combat arms MOSs, but other than that, all this discrimination goes by without a bat of the eye.  What is it about discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation that gets people so up in arms?  If General James Amos, USMC, says “I don’t want to lose any Marines to the distraction.  I don’t want to have any Marines that I’m visiting at Bethesda (Naval Medical Center) with no legs be the result of any type of distraction,” then who are we to second-guess him, and on what basis?  If we’re going to conclude that he’s a bigot and is lying about the reason he doesn’t want homosexuals in his unit, then that’s an issue of integrity and fitness to command, and the solution would be to remove him.  Is it totally inconceivable that a combat commander might genuinely believe queer-integrated units would pose a threat to mission accomplishment?  Is it inconceivable that he might be right?

Supporters hailed the Senate vote as a major step forward for gay rights. Many activists hope that integrating openly gay troops within the military will lead to greater acceptance in the civilian world, as it did for blacks after President Harry Truman’s 1948 executive order on equal treatment regardless of race in the military.

This rings completely empty to me.  Race integration in the military improved race relations in this country?  How?  As far as I can tell, race relations are shit and getting worse.  In a country where Cynthia McKinney, a member of the United States House of Representatives, thinks its ok to accuse a capitol guard of racism merely because he asked to see her ID (his job), I’d say we’ve hit rock-bottom.  Also, nothing about military service has anything to do with “rights”.  In the military, you have fewer privileges than a typical prison inmate in the USA.  When people talk about the “right to serve in the military”, a little part of me dies.  What does that mean, that we all have a right to a military-industrial complex?  A right to war?  There is no such right.  If the military has become an entitlement program, then I think we have bigger problems to worry about than DADT.

Now please don’t misunderstand me — I’m not arguing in favor of DADT, or of a ban on homosexuals in the military.  I’m simply arguing that this is not a question with an easy, “no shit” answer.  It’s not about rights, it’s not about equality.  Like the abortion debate, this issue has gotten so politicized that its almost never debated in terms of the real-world consequences of the policy.  Let’s talk about a few of those.  In the military, men and women sleep in separate rooms, and use separate toilet facilities, much like in the civilian world, and probably for the same reason.  Men and women are (typically) sexually attracted to each other, which can lead to either discomfort, or hanky-panky, both of which the military frowns on.  These issues become even more intense in the field, or in a combat zone, when you’re sleeping in foxholes together and showering outdoors.  So where does an openly homosexual man fit into this picture?  Well, unless you’re just going to throw him in with the rest of the dudes, he has to have his own room, and his own shower.  If not, well then you might as well say fuck it and throw everybody together, men and women, queer and straight alike.  If that’s the goal, a la the film Starship Troopers, then ok.  Let’s talk about THAT, not “rights” and “equality”.  Because that’s the road this puts us on.

Welcome to The Cogitation Station!

Posted: December 14, 2010 in Uncategorized

In this blog, I will be providing my wisdom and rare insight into whatever topics are on my mind.  I’m a 32-year-old United Statian white guy who thinks I have all the answers, and can fix the world if I think about it hard enough.