Friday, August 14, 2020

"Systemic" and Conspiracies

I have had a negative tone about systems in general.  Early on, I mentioned that I do have an appreciation for things which actually are systems in a physical sense - the circulatory system, the solar system - and even for socially based systems, such as the legal system, or a school system. But I didn't mention it much after in my posts.  Many of you make your living working with various technological systems, and while your pushback was mild and polite, I took notice that I was probably too negative about systems in general. They are neutral in many ways, or their faults are in their creators, not their mere existence.

I thank you and repent.  I was responding to the current popular usages of systemic oppression or racism, or people complaining that The System is unfair, in both cases imagining some vast interconnected web. I fail to see how this differs from being a conspiracy theorist, except on a fairly minor point that it attributes slightly more weight to custom or tradition, and thus somewhat unconscious actors, than the usual conspiracy theory which relies on a belief in more intentional oppressors or disruptors. Even then, this is only a matter of degree and tendency.  Both have both.  It might pay to zip in the phrase "conspiracy" whenever you hear the word "systemic" and see if it fits in context. The people who believe in systemic problems will find this infuriating, certainly, because it is about the worst insult you could lay on them, from their perspective.  They have considerable disdain for all conspiracy theorists.  Yet the intensity of their feelings of rejection is not only not evidence for their point, it is a soft form of counter-evidence. Liberal fragility, if you will.

Most of you knew that this was my real target, and you seemed to take no offense as if I were hip-checking your professions into the boards on my way by. With all that limitation in mind, I pass along to you something from Dallas Willard that one of my readers and beer night pals sent along. It could be applied to systems as well as institutions. 

The revolution of Jesus is in the first place and continuously a revolution of the human heart or spirit. It did not and does not proceed by means of the formation of social institutions and laws, the outer forms of our existence, intending that these would then impose a good order of life upon people who come under their power. Rather, his revolution of character, which proceeds by changing people from the inside through ongoing personal relationship to God in Christ and to one another. It is one that changes their ideas, beliefs, feelings, and habits of choice, as well as their bodily tendencies and social relations. It penetrates to the deepest layers of their soul.

That's a better version of what I have wanted to say all along.


Deevs said...

I've had a similar thought about systemic racism. If you could get someone to really sit down and explain the entire thing, they'll eventually have to go back to some shadowy group of anonymous individuals (white men, I assume) who are silently pulling strings. I can see how it's easy enough to believe because there were times in the not so distant past where that type of thing was going on, except no one was being discreet about it. But now we have to rely on accusations of dog whistles (which I like to think of as the tiniest conspiracy theories).

It doesn't seem to occur that sub-optimal outcomes can arise naturally or even in consequence of efforts to fix other sub-optimal outcomes. Rather we're must be seeing the results of the prodding of the Systemically Racist Illuminati(TM). Whoever they are.

Donna B. said...

Legal and school systems -- while I don't think they are conspiracy-type systems, they are vulnerable to fraud. "Just Us" isn't a joke.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

@ Donna B - because there are very real technical aspects to the law that require precision, the myth has grown up that it's all that way, even though a lot of it is abstract and theatrical. It varies by specialty, I think.

@ Deevs - I may keep SRI (TM) for future use. SOI, for Oppression, might also be useful. You might get both approval and suggestions for improving the concept over at David Thompson's blog. Very good commenters there. Wittier than here, though not as flat out smart. I think the current thinking is that it's not merely a small group of nefarious individuals, but a large group of selfish and ignorant people who are unwilling to listen. As you note, forcing someone to give evidence of that, other than the evidence of unequal outcomes, never happens, so folks can persist in their unfounded beliefs.

Donna B. said...

What part of law requires precision? It's all abstract. The theatrical part is not necessarily related to the abstract part, but definitely takes advantage of it. And in this respect, Kamala Harris is a drama queen.

Texan99 said...

I'll listen to complaints about systems if they can be explained. The hallmark of a BS system complaint is "I can't explain what the system is or how it achieves this bad result, but it's the system because I say it is."

random observer said...

My organization recently held several townhalls and online fora, with seniors commenting that they had asked for input on experiences of racial oppression, and had received submissions that were "raw and real". This seems to be a catchphrase.

Naturally, no examples, even with names and details removed, are ever provided.

I am left to assume that beatings, hazing, vandalism, and harsh, abusive language are commonplace even though I have never seen or heard or heard of it even at third hand. Or, for that matter, even in such an achingly progressive and self-reflective environment, job discrimination is rife.

I am loathe to think it is all stuff like "looking" at people the wrong way, "tone" of voice, expecting people to "act white", or the other "invisible knapsack" catalog items.