Friday, August 28, 2020

Opposite Game

Celebrities and athletes in general, but LeBron James in particular, are reliably accurate in their observations about culture, so long as you play the Opposite Game.  So when LBJ says "We are feeling afraid out there," he doesn't know it, but he means "We are feeling empowered and bold now." If you were to get an analog computer balancing the many aspects of American culture - what colors we like, what cliches we nod our heads to, what heroes we smile at, what music we listen to, what foods we eat, who has the ear of those in power, LeBron James is much closer to the center of that, the consensus of that, than I am, and closer than all of my audience is.  He is not just a great basketball player, he is a marketable commodity, and has a much better intuitive understanding of current culture than I do.  He doesn't have to think about it.  He breathes it. His are the statements of someone whose culture is ascendant, not quite in a mop-up operation, but trying to establish full dominance in recently conquered territory. They are resentful not because they have no power, but because their power is incomplete.

It is not a black thing, though white people may notice the contradiction more because of phrasing and presentation. Black culture is not a minority culture anymore.  It is one aspect of the new majority culture.  I mentioned the same thing in the post about Pink Floyd's "Another Brick In the Wall." This is the anthem of a conqueror, not a protestor. They had already won by the time it came out, but they were pretending there was still this great revolution to be fought, brave warriors were still needed.  The opposite was true.

Before that, we saw this in Jewish ascendancy.  I am a Judeophile and don't like to kick them, but in America, by the time I came of age, Jewish comedians and other entertainers, Jewish academics and public intellectuals, Jewish business leaders were all not only individually accepted, but had their culture accepted as well.  It didn't feel that way to them, because there were still a fair number of people who didn't like Jews. Still some.  And of course, the Holocaust was more recent to them, even if it was across an ocean. When one is fighting one's way up from prejudice or even oppression, every person against you could be a spark toward annihilation.  One gets into the mentality that fires must be completely extinguished because they could suddenly flare up. There is a good deal of truth in that.  When the regions of Yugoslavia devolved into regions and then countries on their own, there were political parties that reemerged after decades which had antisemitism and making sure the Jews did not impose their will that came back.  Except there hadn't been any Jews in the country for decades.

If racial prejudice can disappear from culture quickly - I am reminded of James's story about Little Rock fifteen years later - then it probably can come back that quickly as well. But no one is against the Irish anymore, nor the Japanese, nor the Germans. Sometimes the prejudice actually does go away.  Even when it doesn't, if it shuts up enough that your group actually becomes mainstream, as Jews and uppity women and Asians and *gay men and hippies and academics and Southerners and even Belgians, dammit, maybe you aren't looking at this correctly anymore.  Maybe you actually have won but are just resentful that a few holdouts dare to dislike you.

Group PTSD is not a recognised category in psychology or sociology.  It would be hard to define and hard to measure.  Yet I think it is a useful concept anyway. It certainly felt while I was in Romania in 1998 that the whole place was suspicious and silent, with either a subterranean anger or gushing (worrisome) acceptance always present.  I thought there was less in 2000, and less still in 2001 and 2005. There is a group attitude of intense alertness that I have observed firsthand, which is mutually reinforcing.  In fact, there is some resentment against those who no longer share the sensitivity and resentment, because of age, or distance from the danger, or lightness of personality. Like a returning combat veteran who is still checking his perimeter in his American neighborhood three months later, it is not a crazy response, but it should be receding by now.  It is eventually a response that interferes with functioning that is better to drop that retain.  Hyperalertness shoots squirrels as well as wolves.

Worse, it keeps shooting even when most of the squirrels are gone.  You've won, dude.  Your fear of squirrels is endangering the whole neighborhood now.

To repeat: the statements and actions of current radical protestors are not because of black oppression, but because the incidents are so rare that even marginal, ambiguous, or untrue incidents must be brought into play.  That white radicals have to take over such protests is evidence that their prospects are even worse.  They have so little of actual class oppression to ride on that they have to hop over and steal oppression from blacks, like a new queen bee sawing off the head of the old queen in order to take over the hive.These are not the voices of the oppressed, these are the installed tyrants seeking out the few stragglers who didn't clap loudly enough for Comrade Stalin at the cinema.

Okay, it's only that intense in a very few hothouses of wokeness, such as journalism or college campuses.  But even in the everyday world, these riots could not proceed with the impunity they have if they were not largely justified by the surrounding culture, whether from fear of approbation.

*a key item to watch going forward is that gays and lesbians talk about mostly about rights for the group.  Trans people seem almost unaware of the group, focusing on their personal struggles in the world instead.  That is not a successful strategy in America.  People sense when you are hiding behind group rights when your complaint is thoroughly personal. A certain amount is tolerated at the beginning, but eventually you have to demonstrate it's not just yourself you are fighting for.


Brad said...

"Group PTSD is not a recognised category in psychology or sociology. It would be hard to define and hard to measure. Yet I think it is a useful concept anyway."
Brilliant. This would explain a lot of behavior particularly in the urban black community.

james said...

I remember a church elder board that was, as individuals, quite normal, but which as a group seemed to be very strongly ADD.

Parkinson did some initial work on unexpected emergent behavior of committees: There's probably plenty of room for more study.

GraniteDad said...

I’m still against the Irish. Shiftless, the lot of them.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

James, good link. In NH you would see it at town meeting, passing on an expensive new fire truck with little discussion, but arguing over library shelves. As for Atwood's duck, I have heard a similar story about getting plans approved for VA loans for new construction: put in something they will object to, then change that when they do, plans approved.

And it certainly applies to general meetings in state government agencies. Mine, at least.

Jonathan said...

Great stuff, AVI.