Wednesday, August 24, 2016

It's A Rule

A man was visiting Belfast for the first time.  An Irish friend warned him that it could be dangerous to be the wrong religion in some neighborhoods.  He described which places it would be best to claim to be Catholic if asked, and which places to be Protestant.

The visitor found it confusing, and reached a neighborhood where he realized to his distress that he didn’t know which answer to give.  Worse, a rough-looking young man had fixed his gaze and was bearing down on him from across the street.  “Now then!  Are you Protestant or Catholic?” he asked, grabbing him at the collar.

“I’m – I’m Jewish” came the answer.

The other man smiled appreciatively, drawing his fist back.  “Begorra, I’m the loockiest Palestinian in all Ireland.”


The joke only partly intersects with the topic, which is that we are not supposed to make generalisations about groups of people.  It's an American rule, or it was. Insulting generalisations are supposed to be right out. It has been gradual.  Comedians made jokes about "women drivers" on the Ed Sullivan Show when I was young, but people only do that ironically now. (I think.  Maybe somewhere...)

It was perhaps naive of me to absorb the rule and think that it should apply generally.

I am not talking about mere name-calling, which I think is self-defeating.  When I see the word libtard, Shrillary, or Dhimmicrat  I just pass on to the next comment.  Low chance of anything worthwhile surrounding it.  I first encountered that kind of thing in 6th grade, when Norman Ranfos said "Goldwater in '64.  Bread-and-water in '65," and even then sensed it was relying on accidentals about the person rather than anything real.  Even when done cleverly, it pales rapidly.

Yet it persists, and I get the same pattern whenever I point it out. People who would cut their tongues out before they would call a black person shiftless or even an Oriental person the more-neutral inscrutable will very off-handedly refer to supporters of a candidate or cause with some terrible insult: that many of those are meth-using child-abusers, or uneducated boobs, or hypocritical haters or -ists of many sorts.  The pattern is 1)  someone makes a general comment about a group, 2) I call that out as unfair, 3) The claim is dismissed as ridiculous 4) I am accused of making the argument personal.  I actually do see some of the point of that, but still believe the argument is strong - and necessary.  Yes, you were making a general comment, without thinking of anyone in particular, and I did indeed laser focus back on you in specific. It certainly feels like an escalation.  But only to people to already agree with you, who are similarly oblivious. That general comments can and should be taken personally has been established for decades by blacks, Jews, elders, and women drivers who happened to be present when offensive remarks were made.

Weeeellll, people get their backs up when go at them personally and sometimes don't acknowledge the justice that they should.  Yet I have seen people instantly and sincerely apologise over some stereotypical attribution (often clumsily and making it worse - it's not all that gratifying to be considered some equivalent of "one of the good niggers" - but one has to appreciate the humility of making the effort). I don't often see it now, and it is far worse this election cycle. I'm seeing insults about even-up against Trump and Hillary, but it's not close in referring to their voters. I am seeing really bigoted stereotypes about Trump supporters, who are in fact a pretty varied group, so far as I can tell. When I challenge these (and I usually make only a mild comment publicly to create a little social pushback, reserving my sterner comments for private or at least more circumscribed audiences) I get some version of the pattern response. Most commonly, the excuse is "But you clearly don't understand how really, really bad Trump is," or "but the generalisation is true, they really are like that."

All of you can fill in the blanks from here where I would go with this as a logical argument.  But I don't really expect anti-Trumpsters to be all that logical, any more than the Trumpsters, or the Trump-neutrals, or anyone else.  So I step back and look at what else is happening here.  Most people accept the American rule of no stereotypes.  Talking about it would lead to instant arguments and disagreements, but those would occur precisely because Americans now generally accept this principle. Why then, do people believe that some of their statements, which to all logic should fit under the rule, are exempt from the rule?

I don't think I ever considered that.  In my OCD/Aspergery/simple stubbornness way, I stayed focused on the mere illogic and my annoyance with that.  While true, it isn't likely to lead to any further understanding.  A moment of stepping back, and three or four theories came to me quickly.

My current favorite: the need to make tribal declarations and signaling that one is a nice person overwhelms logic instantly. Observing that, I can think of quick examples where that applies to others as well, from other political points of view.  Birds chirp to indicate where they are.  Dogs urinate to mark their territory. It has actually been a main topic around here that human beings do much the same, largely without noticing it.


jaed said...

On the other hand: there are so many ways to signal your membership in the Tribe of Right-Thinking People without going near bigoted statements about a whole group who have in common only their political support for someone you don't like. You could insult Trump himself all day long without doing that, for example.

But I don't actually think this is new. "Knuckle-dragging, mouth-breathing conservatives" is a well-established trope at this point. "Angry white men." "Poor, uneducated, and easily led." "Those Trumpies are all meth-heads" is just one more variation. At least that's my perception.

So in this view, people are surprised by your objection, and push back, because they're doing something that's been considered socially acceptable for decades.

Christopher B said...

I disagree that insulting Trump, or Hillary, directly gets the right results as signalling mechanism. Lots of Republicans and/or conservatives object to Trump, just as lots of Democrats objected to Hillary (or at least gave the appearance of it in support of Bernie Sanders). If you object to them personally you run the risk of the Other Tribe thinking you might be a potential ally or your Own Tribe thinking you have a secret affinity for the enemy (see #NeverTrump). You have to make sure people understand you dislike them for the Right Reasons, i.e. the same reason the rest of your Tribe does, and the most direct way to do that is point out the differences you have with their supporters.

I agree that this is nothing new though but it does seem to be ramping up over time. It seems an article of faith on the Democrat side that Republicans are deluded at best and mentally ill at worst since at least the election of Ronald Regan. Walter Mondale's "I'll be honest about raising your taxes" was a mild form of this and it's gotten worse since then. Hillary apparently made an appearance on one of the late-night shows recently and made a show of opening a jar of pickles, which I have to assume to be a mockery of questions about her physical condition.

The electoral successes of the GOP since it's nadir in 1974 appear to have made Democrats assume that conservatives aren't persuadable (that's probably true though not for the reasons they like to assume), and the election of Obama did something similar on the GOP side. Current politics seems to be mostly about getting the blood up among your natural supporters.

Sam L. said...

Some of this is "virtue signalling": I am one of the right-thinking educated people who has all the correct opinions.

Christopher, The Repubs seeing the Dems push thru Obamacare on a party-line vote has a lot to do with their opinion of the Dems.

RichardJohnson said...

I am a reminded of a Yellow Dog Democrat friend,who is adamant about not not being nasty. Whenever some interpersonal conflict is brought up, invariably he will reply that he gets along with everyone and that he is "not a hater."

One time when some druglord had escaped from a Mexican prison- or may have even been released- he stated he was afraid that Mexico was on the way to becoming a failed state. At the least, the Mexican government that was not helping the US in the drug war. I replied that as Operation Fast and Furious had sold illicit guns to criminals- and several hundred Mexicans were murdered with guns that could be traced to the Fast and Furious operation- I could understand why the Mexican government might not be so amenable to cooperating with the US in the drug war. The reply came back that Fast and Furious was years ago, and my bringing that ups showed that I was a hater. [For having the effrontery to disagree with a Yellow Dog Democrat?]

Yet this Yellow Dog Democrat, who is "not a hater," has no problem with using the term "Teabagger." Given the original definition of that word, it is difficult to argue that the term "Teabagger" is NOT hateful. Bit of a contradiction there.

Jonathan said...

A lefty acquaintance of mine thinks Republicans are a bunch of racists (his phrasing). His evidence, in part, is Republican opposition to Obama. I replied that I think it's good that Americans can elect a black president, but that Obama is unqualified for the office and has been a disaster. He replied that I'm the first Republican he's heard say it's good that Americans can elect a black president. This sounds to me like "you're one of the good niggers", but I let it go. He's not a bad guy, but I think he's extremely naive about politics and I usually avoid political discussion with him as we have other interests in common. How does an educated, intelligent person like my acquaintance continue to hold such negative and I think inaccurate views about "Republicans"? I'm guessing this is a matter of selection bias: the people he interacts with who disagree with him realize there's nothing to be gained by discussing politics, so they avoid political topics, leaving people who agree with him disproportionately represented among those with whom he talks politics. I'm sure this phenomenon exists among conservatives as well, but as a mostly conservative person with many left-wing acquaintances I see only one side of it.

Sam L. said...

Last two comments: Anyone disagreeing with a leftist is a "hater" and a 'raaaaacist" because they cannot begin to comprehend that there could be ANY OTHER REASON to disagree with or dissent from their point of view. Ipso facto, and all that.

lelia said...

I'm trying to avoid urinating in public to signal my virtue.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

It's good to have a goal, Lelia

Texan99 said...

It's been years since we were allowed to say "Oriental," didn't you get the message? It's Eurocentric, implying the Europe is the center and Asia to the East. You're to say "Asian" now.