Link: “I Can Tolerate Anything Except The Outgroup”

Briefly resurrecting this blog in order to post a link to I Can Tolerate Anything Except The Outgroup by Scott Alexander. It’s long but the whole thing’s worth reading.

I think after that, anything else I’d post here would just be needlessly repetitive.

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This project was rather falling by the wayside even before I went and got myself a full-time job, but I’ve not forgotten about it.

For now, though, I just want to quickly mention this post at my other blog, about the frightening levels of venom, hatred, and bloodlust that have recently been directed at someone merely implicated in the disappearance of a young girl.

The fact that the man hadn’t been charged with any crime, and it hadn’t even been determined whether the missing child’s body had been found, make this case all the more disheartening. But even if it becomes known with certainty that Tia Sharpe died at his hands, he doesn’t deserve to be tortured to the extent that many are already planning for him.

It may be the case that there must be consequences for his actions. But whatever he’s done, he remains a human being. So do those Facebook commenters who deny his humanity and delight in the thought of such “scum” suffering immensely. There are no “others”.

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The Hunger Games

The release of the film The Hunger Games highlighted some worrying examples of othering recently.

Certain responses – from a very limited segment of the fan-base of the books and the film, no doubt – to the casting of black actors in major roles were disheartening, and actually quite shocking. You really don’t expect to hear things like this being said so brazenly in this day and age, except from devotedly hateful extremists.

But the comments listed on that post, and this tumblr compilation, seem to be more lazily thoughtless and tribalistic than actively racist.

Awkward moment when Rue is some black girl and not the little blonde innocent girl you picture

I’m still a bit lost for words at this. I can’t quite get my head around the necessary sequence of events. First, this person must have experienced a feeling of crushing disappointment at realising that a character she’d read about had dark skin (even though, I’m told, this character’s skin colour is explicitly described as such in the book). Further, it must have entirely failed to occur to them that the qualities she originally admired or appreciated in Rue might still be present – that the colour of her skin might be no hindrance whatever to this young girl being innocent, or likeable, or courageous, or charming, or quick-witted, or whatever she’s like.

And then they must have decided that publicly expressing all these unfiltered prejudices was a perfectly fine thing to do.

Some black girl.

Absent but strongly implied, of course, is the word “just”. Just some black girl.

Not, like, a girl girl. Just some black girl.

However you might have told the story to yourself while reading it, I don’t understand how you can have this reaction to encountering an entirely irrelevant racial disparity, and believe that it’s an acceptable reaction to have.

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America’s history of tribalism

A Tiny Revolution has a collection of quotes that demonstrate the way white Americans have dehumanised others to justify imperialism, conquest, and slavery.

The Oriental doesn’t put the same high price on life as does a Westerner.

[T]he Iraqis don’t on the whole say “darn it, you shouldn’t have blown up all of our houses.” They sort of accept that.

[Sheikhs]… do not seem to resent… that women and children are accidentally killed by bombs.

Marine major Julian Smith testified that the “racial psychology” of the “poorer class of Nicaraguans” made them “densely ignorant… A state of war to them is a normal condition.”

Their griefs are transient. Those numberless afflictions, which render it doubtful whether heaven has given life to us in mercy or in wrath, are less felt, and sooner forgotten with them.

The third quote there was actually from a British commander. Any cursory glance at history will tell you that my country is also among the experts at “othering” foreigners to the point of redefining them as entirely separate species.

And that last one? Thomas Jefferson, talking about black slaves.

Holy crap people are good at hating other people.

And we’re not over it yet. Not by a long shot.

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In Brief: Tulisa

A celebrity sex-tape turning up online isn’t generally an unusual or surprising event these days.

The case of Tulisa Contostavlos, singer with N-Dubz and one of the judges on The X Factor, differs from the norm in two ways.

One is the level of class hatred that followed the revelation:

The word “chav” would not go away. This derogatory term of abuse, loaded with class prejudice, was ubiquitous in tweets on the subject. Certainly, tweeters were using it as a self contained insult: “Tulisa makes my blood boil. Fucking chav”. In fact, the words “slut” and “chav” were used pretty much interchangeably.

Tweet after tweet focused obsessively on Tulisa’s working class background: her “chavvery”. Many expressed a lack of surprise at the tape, because they “always knew she was a chav, was just a matter of time really before she made one”. One, fairly representative, tweet read “Oh Tulisa, living up to the chav image we all expected of you”. The implications here are fairly unsettling: sexuality and class are seemingly still being conflated in a way that would be more at home in Victorian or Edwardian times. The concept of a dangerously immoral and highly sexed lower class is apparently still relevant.

The fact that the Tweeters had to comfort themselves by believing that Tulisa had been pretending to be something she’s not is extremely odd and betrays the fact that vast sections of our society literally still can’t imagine a woman who no only doesn’t aspire to be perceived as middle class and sexually pure, but who is successful and popular at the same time. Where this sickening vitriol comes from, I have no idea. But it seems we still have a long way to go before sexual license and social mobility are no longer dirty words.

The other is the level of humanity, dignity, and level-headedness in her response to all the fuss.

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Slaughter in Afghanistan

I’ve written a very brief post over at my main blog, concerning the recent mass killing one particular recent mass killing by a US solider in Afghanistan.

It’s worth noting just how much this incident brought out the repugnantly tribalistic side of many supporters of the military. When one of our side goes off-message and slaughters innocents while they sleep, we expect it to be taken for granted that this was one rogue, isolated individual, unrepresentative of us as a whole, and it’d be completely unfair to judge the rest of us based on this one guy. Obviously we’re still the good guys and we’re doing what’s best. The idea that we should act even for a moment as if our position as moral defenders of freedom and goodness weren’t totally assured is ridiculous.

But whenever one of them attacks us, well, that’s entirely typical behaviour, it’s just what they do, it’s what we have to expect from them.

A post at Practical Doubt in particular exhibits some truly staggering examples of othering from commenters on the Fox News website. The first exemplifies the general attitude taken to foreign victims of US military action:

How “innocent” were they really? Any proof ? ? ?

If someone were to question the “innocence” of the 9/11 victims, and ask for proof that they didn’t deserve to get blown up before offering them any sympathy, I wonder if this person would take a similar position.

There are no “others” here. There are lots of people with lots of ideas and lots of feelings and lots of ways of dealing with their ideas and their feelings. Some people died, and that’s horrible. Someone killed them, and that’s tragic. It was just one event which doesn’t stand out much in an ongoing conflict, and that’s…

I don’t even know.

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Trayvon Martin

His hoodie killed Trayvon Martin as surely as George Zimmerman.

You’d think that when a seventeen-year-old black kid gets shot dead, we could all agree that the situation is unequivocally tragic, even if he hadn’t been both innocent and unarmed.

In case you’re not up to speed, Trayvon Martin was an innocent and unarmed seventeen-year-old black kid who was shot dead recently in Florida. George Zimmerman is the “neighborhood watch captain” who shot him. The hoodie was an item of clothing worn by Trayvon at the time. And the above quote was one of a series of tweets made by Geraldo Rivera about the incident.

He expressed similar sentiments on Fox News, explaining:

I think the hoodie is as much responsible for Trayvon Martin’s death as George Zimmerman was… You have to recognize that this whole stylizing yourself as a gangsta — you’re going to be a gangsta wannabe, well people are going to perceive you as a menace. That’s what happens. It is an instant, reflexive action.

The list of situations under which firing a gun directly at somebody is justifiable as an “instant, reflexive action” is, I dare say, an exceedingly short one, and “a young black man wearing a hoodie walking into your line of sight” is not one of them.

Maybe this particular clothing style does have an association, in some parts of the world, with a certain violent gang culture. But even if that’s true, the only acceptable solution is one in which we try to change that culture, not just abandon people to their fate and tell them they should have acted differently to stay out of trouble.

Geraldo has never said, “It’s a simple fact that black people get shot more often, they should learn to adjust,” but the callous victim-blaming is no less insensitive here.

He professes to have seen Trayvon Martin as a “wonderful kid” who “didn’t deserve to die”. But he must have abandoned a certain measure of human empathy a long way behind, to see this kind of senseless killing as inevitable on the basis of some clothes and an accompanying stereotype.

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The Difference Between Us And Them

This post by Popehat could almost serve as a manifesto for this blog. It’s framed in the context of American politics, but summarises many major points of self-serving tribalism and othering which can be seen in every kind of discussion imaginable.

Sample quote:

They are constantly saying vile, racist and sexist, and threatening things about Us. That’s unacceptable. To make things worse, because They don’t understand humor, satire, parody, or context, and because They are willing to misconstrue things for political profit, They are constantly and unreasonably whining about Us of saying allegedly vile, racist, sexist, and threatening things about them.

What he’s not bluntly and dully spelling out, of course, is that there really is no “Us” and “Them”. There are no “Others”. But breaking that habit of thought – the habit by which we tend to make excuses for ourselves and cast our own group in a favourable light, while condemning the “enemy” at every opportunity and granting them no such leniency – is difficult and unnatural, and requires a good deal more reflection, study, and humility than many of us are capable of or inclined towards.

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Government Social Programs

I don’t think these are new results, but this post about government social programs gave me a slightly new perspective on them.

The research shows that people who are receiving financial help from the government will, in significant proportions, report that they “have not used a government social program”. A quarter of people on food stamps or welfare, over a third of Medicare users, and fully half of those with student loans will deny that they’ve had any monetary support from the state.

Putting aside for a moment the problems of the underlying inequality behind the need for these programs, I think this study tells us something interesting beyond the extent of people’s ignorance as to the details of how these programs are run.

Many people have an idea in their head of what state hand-outs look like, and the kind of people who take them. It’s free money that the government gives to lazy moochers like them, having taken it right out the pockets of hard-working, decent citizens like us.

It might only be a minority who see things with quite so little nuance, but a similar attitude seems to be disappointingly prevalent. When thinking of government hand-outs, it’s apparently hard to see the recipients as being as fully human as ourselves, and as potentially deserving of help as we feel that we are, particularly when there’s a risk of our own financial benefits being taken away.

Nobody wants to see themselves as a moocher, but if you’re going to be consistent, it’s important to remember that other people have their own difficult circumstances to deal with as well. If you’re morally justified in accepting these benefits, then maybe the other people who receive help from these programs are human too.

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Follow-up: Drug testing

A quick follow-up to yesterday’s post:

As has been recently highlighted by The Daily Show, the proportion of people in Florida failing drugs tests as part of the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) screening process is, in fact, significantly lower than the estimated proportion of drug users in the population of Florida as a whole. The stereotypes being perpetuated by lawmakers, depicting welfare users as drug addicts or otherwise unworthy of help, is abjectly failing to show any correspondence to reality.

And it’s clear that a negative stereotype of the poor is exactly what this program both depends on and exacerbates. As the ACLU point out, no such requirement is made of other demographics who also rely on taxpayer funds for support – such as politicians.

It should be noted that the number mentioned in this article, for how much the program is costing the state, is rather lower than the number I quoted yesterday. But it’s still clear that this targeting of poor people is of negative value in every respect.

Edit: A commenter from the drugsandotherthings blog mentions some other important points that didn’t occur to me while originally writing this up: the TANF program fails to take into account the effects of tobacco and alcohol on a person’s lifestyle, and their subsequent suitability for government aid, and simply looks at illegal drug use alone as the sole indicator of worthiness; it’s liable to end up closing down future prospects for people struggling with drug problems even further by removing a potential lifeline; oh, and it may well be an illegal violation of the Fourth Amendment, since these personal searches are being conducted without any probable cause.

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