28 June 2022

The wrong question (or: why the abortion debate may never end)

 I've covered this a couple times before, but it was many years ago, and now is a primetime for a reminder.

The debate over abortion is one of those things to which the correct answer seems mind-bogglingly obvious to everyone - regardless of what their opinion actually is - as well as seeming utterly horrifying that anyone would have a different opinion.

Every time that happens, it's worth taking a step back and searching for the tribalism factor, because its likely there somewhere.  In this case it manifests in one of its more common forms: assuming the motivations, (the "real" motivations), of the other side are something other than what they state, something nefarious, something sneaky.  The assumption is that any reasoning the other side - the bad guys - give is really just an excuse for what amounts to essentially evil for the sake of evil.

When 130 million people disagree with what you think is obviously correct, its worth remembering that nearly everyone considers themselves to be the good guy, everyone imagines themselves to be the hero of their own story.  There are, granted, a fair number of sociopaths in the world - estimates order as much as 1-4% - but that isn't nearly enough to account for the number of people who hold strongly held and opposite views.

The reality is, anti-abortionists are not against abortion as a way to oppress women.  That view doesn't even make any sense.  "The patriarchy" doesn't actually benefit in any way from people having unwanted children, and the whole point of oppression is to derive some form of selfish benefit at someone else's expense.  In fact, nearly half of all anti-abortionists (47%) ARE women - some 60 million of them, give or take.

To be clear: abortion should absolutely be legal.  The debate over exactly when it should stop being legal is a perfectly reasonable debate, with not only no clear cut right answer, but probably no possible right answer, but everything we know about the human brain says that what makes someone sentient and conscious and a "person" is all a manifestation of the materials and patterns in the physical brain, and everything we know about the development process of an embryo says without question that a zygote and a blastocyst don't have one, and an embryo still doesn't in any meaningful sense of the word.  Not until at an absolute minimum of 20 weeks from conception is there enough of a brain and enough brain activity for it to be even remotely possible that it has any meaningful consciousness.

That said, if the goal is to create a society where believing abortion should be illegal is a rare view, it is worth trying to understand the millions of people who hold it, rather than just demonizing them. In that light, it is absolutely vital to point out that it is the anti-abortionists, and not the pro-choice movement, that are actually making any relevant points. 

Not correct points, mind you - they get the answers to the question completely wrong - but they are at least addressing the correct question.  The pro-choice people rarely even address the only relevant issue.
That is true all the way down to the word "pro-choice" itself.  Nobody on the religious right is suggesting that doctors or politicians or male partners or anybody else should have the right to make the choice to force a woman to have an abortion.  It isn't about whether the pregnant woman chooses instead of anyone else.  Nor is the liberal left suggesting that we live in a society of anarchy, where anyone can choose to do anything they want without consequence.  The concept of "choice" is a strawman.

At the core of the debate is just one basic question:
At what point does a developing fetus become "human".
There are only two moments where one can draw a hard and exact line: conception and birth.

Almost everyone agrees that having an abortion during labor is not morally acceptable (with possible exception for saving the life of the mother).
That fact alone undermines nearly all of the arguments pro-choice people make, and underscores the relevance of the arguments pro-lifers make.
We feel intuitively that murdering a pregnant woman is worse than murdering someone who isn't pregnant.  Would be parents mourn late miscarriages.  By 12 weeks the image on an ultrasound looks like a baby, and the common language people use - 'how is the baby doing?' - reflects that.


But the fact that we all agree birth isn't the defining moment does not tell us when that moment is.

According to anti-abortionists, that critical moment is conception.
As stated above, there is absolutely no scientific validity to this view.

What that leaves is a messy, impossible-to-define-precisely somewhere-in-between moment - which is in fact where the opinion of a majority of Americans as well as a majority of state laws put it.

But in order to fight the extreme view that a blastocyst is "human" at the instant a sperm joins an egg, we need arguments that are actually relevant to the beliefs anti-abortionists have, and in order to do that we need to not just demonize them, but actually understand them.

This is not at all hard to do, if we are honest with ourselves.

Just imagine that you believed that humans have a "soul", that individuality and perception and personhood resides not in the brain, but in this "soul", and that it is injected directly into the ball of cells that will eventually become you by God himself (or herself, or fate, or whatever) at the moment the process of creating you gets started.

As crazy as this idea is, it is still incredibly common.  There are few if any religions that don't hold consciousness as something other than a manifestation of a physical brain.  To believe in any form of afterlife, be it heaven or hell, nirvana, rebirth, reincarnation, requires that there be something that makes up us other than our physical body and the patterns in our brains.  Any form of "we are all connected", any spirituality, requires there to be more to existence than just the tangible physical that we can observe and measure.  Depending on the study, anywhere in the range of 60% to 97% of all Americans believe something somewhere along the lines of a God, or an 'essence' or whatever. As obsolete as this view is, it's common, and if there are gods, or spirits, or if everything is connected by some cosmic energy - if there is anything beyond the physical world we can quantify, it is no more of a stretch to say that conscious life is something other than an arrangement of atoms in a brain, and if so, there's no rational argument that can be made that the soul isn't injected as soon as one's chromosomes are settled on and cells start dividing and differentiating.  

So, lets give them the benefit of the doubt, and consider how our own arguments sound if we assume that "fetus" and "person" really are interchangeable.  


Nobody really thinks that a conjoined twin should have the moral and legal right to non-consensually surgically remove their other twin if it means certain death for the one removed, if both of them are fully conscious individuals with their own independent, fully functioning brains.
Which means we don't actually think being physically connected to one's body is the deciding factor.

In fact, we don't even need such an extreme (yet entirely realistic, albeit rare) example - we consider parents to be legally and morally responsible for the wellbeing of their children.  While they may not be physically attached to us, they are dependant on us taking certain proactive steps to keep them from dying.  We have to use our bodies in such a way as to ensure they are fed and temperature regulated and safe.  An expectation that everyone has full bodily autonomy would mean that a parent could spend stick their newborn infant in a closet and spend their time doing whatever they felt like.  We are obligated to do specific actions, with body parts like arms and legs, and that means we don't actually have complete control over what we do mean we don't have complete choice over what we do with our bodies. More specifically, there is an expectation of doing a specific and intimate thing with the body - breast feeding. Infant formula has been around 150 years.  Humans have been around without it for roughly  199,850 years, about 99.93% of our existence. The current baby formula shortage underscores that formula is an artificial and recent creation of a technologically advanced and wealthy society, and in leu of it the only option, since human beings are mammals, is that our offspring drink their mother's milk. 


Even if one wants to relinquish parental rights, at a minimum there is still a moral and legal obligation to take proactive steps to ensure the child ends up somewhere safe with another adult who will take responsibility for them.  One may have amnesty from prosecution if they leave their baby at a hospital or with social services.  Leave a baby by the side of the road, and you'll end up in jail.

The expectation that a person take steps to endure the health and well being of their baby isn't negated if that baby was unintended, even if it was the product of rape or incest. How it was created is not the fault of the child. 


In more ordinary circumstances, it would not be all that outrageous for someone to say something along the lines of "if you didn't want to have to change dirty diapers, you probably shouldn't have had a kid".

Because we understand that an embryo and a baby are quantitatively different things - one is conscious, one is not - that argument sounds totally different than one that says "if you didn't want to have a baby, you shouldn't have gotten pregnant". But if you think that what makes a person who they are is not their brain, but some sort of mystical "soul", and that God implants the soul upon the beginning of the process of development, those two points are exactly the same.

-

Consider what it would look like if the motivations we ascribe to anti-abortionists were actually true.
If the purpose were really males trying to exert power over females, why wouldn't we just go all the way, and make it law that all women must submit to all demands made by any male, sexual or otherwise, at all times and in all circumstances?  Why not just legalize not just spousal rape, but all rape, make sex a free-for-all, take what you can get without consequence?  The reason this isn't a proposal, here, or anywhere, now, or ever, is because there is not and never has been a society whose primary objective was to oppress all females for its own sake.  Strategies for dealing with the reality of biology and reproduction vary widely, but in every society females are at least half the population, and are a part of deciding the rules that everyone lives by.  The goal is always a stable, successful society that continues to exist generation to generation (and I'll get more into detail on that in a future post...)

If the purpose was to punish people for having sex, the focus wouldn't be on abortion, it would be on banning all forms of birth control and overturning Lawrence v Texas and Griswold v. Connecticut, (re)outlawing adultery and fornication.  There would be a push to raise the age of consent to 21, making all porn illegal, and perhaps a call for head-to-toe clothing at all times in public.  While the religious right has never been a fan of recreational sexuality, none of these things have anywhere remotely near the movement behind them as the anti-abortion one does.

If the purpose was to encourage or force fertility, so that humans (or perhaps a particular race?) can "populate the earth", and "go forth and multiply", their would be a campaign to make it a crime to not have children continuously.  There could be tax penalties for not having a child, starting at 19, and increasing in every year a couple doesn't have either a baby 2 years old or less, or a pregnant female partner. Abstinence would be a crime. 

The fact that no one holds a funeral every month for the egg and the millions of sperm that didn't become a blastocyst shows that the issue isn't the loss of a  potential human.

The reason all of the above ideas are ridiculous yet there are still nearly 150 million anti-abortionists is because they aren't lamenting the loss of a "potential" human.  In their minds, they are lamenting the loss of an actual human.

To them, arguments about choice, or about women's freedom or bodies, all ring totally hollow, because talking about the freedom to end a "life" is no different than claiming a mother should have the freedom to neglect their newborn until it dies. Similarly, no one would suggest that a woman should have the choice to leave an infant in a closet to starve even if it is the product of rape or incest.

If we make the assumption that a fetus is a human, none of the arguments made by the pro-choice movement sound the least bit reasonable.  
If, on the other hand, we make the assumption that a fetus is unquestionably not a human, than the same arguments are simply unnecessary.  Either way, they aren't relevant.

So if the anti-abortionists are the ones asking the right question, but they are getting the answer wrong, how do we help society get the answer right?

Well, to start with, we should be actually listening to them.  Instead of just shouting them down and drowning them out with slogans and catch phrases of our own, assuming that everything they claim to believe is a lie and a trick, actually listen to what they are saying and try to understand it.  If we don't start off with the mindset that we are the good guys and they are the bad guys, it really isn't at all hard to understand and even sympathize with.  And then, instead of repeating all the specific reasons it is practical and ideal for individuals to be able to get safe abortions,  just address the points they make.
Shift the focus away from "freedom" and "choice" and "oppression" - topics American's are obsessed with but which aren't at all convincing when used to justify harmful outcomes (no more than when the same arguments are made by the right regarding gun control); and bring the focus onto the science.  God, if there is one, created humans with brains.  Whether it was God or evolution or aliens or the programmers of our simulation, whatever designed us, it was with a physical brain with billions of neurons and trillions of connections with incredibly complex patterns, with chemical and electrical energy flowing through it in their own complex patterns.  
This has been shown very conclusively and consistently, from the case of Phineas P. Gage to the examples of Oliver Sacks, and nearly 100 years of increasingly sophisticated brain surgery, from lobotomy to deep brain stimulation and focused ultrasound.  
Change the brain, change the person. 
No brain, no person.

Maybe we should stop allowing people to teach impressionable young children ridiculous ancient mythologies as though they were factual histories, and relegate religion to where it belongs, a subject of anthropological study.  At least, start calling them out on the ridiculousness, the absurdity, of believing in "the Bible" in 2022.  Point out the emperor has no clothes, it gets harder for everyone else to keep ignoring it, and all the people who secretly held the same opinion can start admitting it.  Once we're done with Noah's flood and Sodom and Gomorrah and pillars of salt and rising from the dead and ascending to heaven, then we can all settle down to the hard science question of when exactly does the brain make the transition from random noise to conscious thought, and perhaps endlessly debate the subtleties of that question, but with far less at stake. 

09 November 2021

Public Service Message: Your healthy toddler / preschooler / grade schooler is at almost zero risk from covid

 COVID 19 is real.
It has killed a lot of people.
It has made a lot of people sick.
Vaccines are good. 
I am vaccinated.  

In the world wide panic over this new pandemic, however, we, collectively, seem to have conflated several facts which, independently are all accurate.

- COVID spreads faster than most deadly diseases.
- COVID has a high rate of hospitalizations in certain high risk groups, specifically the elderly, and those with known, serious health issues, such as heart disease, cancer, or diabetes.
- Middle aged people with no known health condition, occasionally get very sick, and in rare instances even die from COVID
- Young people sometimes catch covid.

From these facts has come the belief that children are at high risk due to the COVID epidemic.

It is easy to see, if one gets information from the news or any other media source, how this mistake would be easy to make - those rare exceptions get a lot of attention.  Even if you go straight to the original data sources, it can be difficult to get to the truth, because almost no one publishes data on age, preexisting health issues, and severity of outcome, independently.

I came across a way to conceptualize the risk by age in a way that makes sense, intuitively: 
Just think about the risk of dying of heart disease.

Like covid, heart disease kills people of all ages, and like covid, its prevalence gets exponentially larger as the age of the person increases.  Kids sometimes have heart disease, but it is really rare.  Middle aged people do on occasion, and the elderly die of it quite often.
As it turns out, the relative rates of death by covid and heart disease are actually reasonably close all throughout the curve.


Here are some actual hard numbers, comparing the risk for a healthy person of each age group of dying of covid, and comparing it to the rate of overall death due to heart disease as well as the death rate due to car crashes.



A 0.01 rate translates to a 0.00001% chance, or 1 in ten million. There's twice as good a chance of dying from getting hit by lightning. 

Note that the numbers for adjusted covid risk are actually likely to be generous.  The reason for this is that I simply can't find reliable data for the percentage of cases that have known major pre-existing health conditions, by age.  All sources that mention it agree that those with them are "over represented", or that "most" cases have them.  Some sources find a rate of 100% among young children, others 50% among all "children", which includes 15-18 year olds.  One CDC report finds the rate to be 94%.
Overall, including the full population across all ages, the comorbidity rate (the percentage of people who have at least one other contributing factor besides covid as a cause of death) is actually 94%, although it is unclear what percentage of those were necessarily pre-existing (vs caused by covid).

The people who collect the data simply don't release the source material granularly enough to answer the relevant question.  Overall, from all the data I can find, the overall average rate of all covid deaths (across age groups) who had preexisting major health issues (things like cancer, neurologic conditions, or diabetes, not just obesity or asthma) ranges somewhere from 70% to 100%.
It seems likely that that rate increases as age decreases.
However, to err on the side of caution and be generous with my assumptions, I take the lowest estimate, 70%, and applied it across all age groups.  
In other words, when you look at the risk data for the whole population, and you want to apply it to yourself or a loved one, and that person does not have any preexisting major health condition, you have to correct for that.  The rate of covid deaths per 100,000 population of 0.03 among all young children translates to a rate of 0.01 when you subtract the 70%.  
That is what is reflected in the 3rd column, marked "adjusted".  It represents the overall risk of covid for a healthy individual of that age.  

It does not take into account local rates or outbreaks, vaccination rates, gender, time variances, etc, but the truth is, while those factors affect the numbers, none of them affects them anywhere close to as much as age.  The countries with the least and those with the most fatalities both have the exact same age curve, and the safest places still lose more elders to covid that the highest case count countries lose young children.  Depending on what sources you search for, you may find different numbers and adjust mine slightly up or down, but it won't affect the overall point.

One of the most significant things to notice is that at nearly every age group, there is a better chance of a random person dying of heart disease than there is an otherwise healthy person dying from COVID.
Of course, in one sense this isn't a "fair" comparison, because the person who dies of heart disease obviously has a major health condition (heart disease), but the point is to help conceptualize the relative risks.  We understand intuitively that a relatively healthy 80 year old has a decent chance of having a potentially fatal heart attack, but this is not something that even crosses our minds to worry about in our children.  No one suggests grade schoolers should take daily aspirin or that its critical that preschools have automated defibrillators on the walls for easy access, because the chances of an otherwise healthy child suddenly having a heart attack, while not zero, are vanishingly low.

This is exactly how we should be thinking about covid, because the risk vs age curve is almost exactly the same.  In fact, the age range of 1-10 is actually 125 times more likely to die of heart disease than from COVID.  
At any age group, if you aren't worried about heart attacks, you shouldn't be worried about covid, because your risk of heart attack is lower than your risk of covid.

That same age group is 367 times more likely to die from a car crash!  Car crashes outcomes don't vary by pre-existing conditions, so this is an even more direct and relevant comparison.  Think about how many hours your child has spent in a car, how many miles, how many trips.  If this is something you can allow, and still sleep at night, it makes absolutely no sense to change anything about your life specifically to shield your child from the risk of covid.  In fact, the risk of covid doesn't eclipse the risk of car crashes until you reach middle age.

One last thing.  A lot of people acknowledge healthy children almost never die of covid, and hospitalization are extremely rare (the rate of hospitalization in the 1-10 age group is 0.06, or 0.15 adjusted) - but they worry about so-called "long covid".
While there has been a lot of reporting about it, and a small but percentage of children self-reporting symptoms, the few legitimate independent studies of the issue demonstrate rather conclusively that it does not actually exist.  The symptoms described by those who supposedly have long covid are exactly the same, and occur with the exact same frequency in those children who have had covid and those who (confirmed by testing) have never had it.
In other words, covid has nothing to do with it.  
Every study or report which claims to have examples of long covid in children doesn't bother to actually check for similar "symptoms" in children who never had it, and without this most basic control of every valid scientific and medical study, their conclusions are worse than completely worthless.  
They serve to validate people's fears while maintaining a false air of scientificiness, generating lots of views and clicks (and ad revenue) while causing people to be less informed and less able to make objective risk calculations.

It is easy enough for us to all see how transparently anti-maskers and anti-vaxxers are really just being loyal to former president Trump and the ideology of conservatism in general, and yet we seem to have quite the blind spot to just how much of the extremeness a reaction we have to this situation is driven by the exact same political loyalty, just in the opposite direction.  You wear a mask when walking alone on an empty street not because there might be covid wafting on the breeze, but so that anyone who might drive by or look out their window and see you will realize you are one of the Good people who didn't vote for Trump.  We've internalized so much that it's hard to be objective about any related issue, and suddenly this disease which pretty much just affects the elderly and the already sick in any significant numbers is the number one threat to our vulnerable children.
Except the reality is it just isn't.  

It's important to take some basic precautions to avoid children getting COVID, because they can be carriers, and spread it even though they themselves may have only minor symptoms or be entirely asymptomatic, and that can be dangerous for the more vulnerable people they may in contact with: grandparents, teachers, any one they spend time around who is older than 60 or has health issues, and because the more covid spreads generally, the more likely high risk groups end up exposed.

But don't be careful for the sake of protecting the children themselves. 
If you want to be really careful, and avoid exposing your child to risk of death or serious injury, stop allowing them in motor vehicles.


You don't have to take my word for it.
Here is a bunch of information:



"Our report found a mortality rate of zero among children without a pre-existing medical condition "
https://www.wsj.com/articles/cdc-covid-19-coronavirus-vaccine-side-effects-hospitalization-kids-11626706868

"Six of the children [in England] who died due to Covid-19 didn’t appear to have an underlying health condition, researchers said."

"Our report found a mortality rate of zero among children without a pre-existing medical condition "
https://www.wsj.com/articles/cdc-covid-19-coronavirus-vaccine-side-effects-hospitalization-kids-11626706868


https://www.jpeds.com/article/S0022-3476(20)30581-3/fulltext

"Between January 4, 2020 and January 2, 2021, there were 105 deaths attributed to COVID among children under 15. To put this in context, there were 26,273 total deaths in this age group from all causes over this period"
https://explaincovid.org/kids/kids-and-covid-19/

"Being a child aged 1 to 17 is 99.9 percent protective against the risk of death and 98 percent protective against hospitalization"
https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2021/03/go-ahead-plan-family-vacation-your-unvaccinated-kids/618313/

“Your Unvaccinated Kid Is Much Safer Than a Vaccinated Grandma.”
https://www.nytimes.com/2021/10/12/briefing/covid-age-risk-infection-vaccine.html

"94% of patients who died from COVID-19 had complicating conditions"
https://acdis.org/articles/news-94-patients-who-died-covid-19-had-complicating-conditions-data-confusion-surrounding

"Among patients aged ≥19 years, the percentage of non-ICU hospitalizations was higher among those with underlying health conditions (27.3%–29.8%) than among those without underlying health conditions (7.2%–7.8%); the percentage of cases that resulted in an ICU admission was also higher for those with underlying health conditions (13.3%–14.5%) than those without these conditions (2.2%–2.4%) (Table 2). Small numbers of COVID-19 patients aged <19 years were reported to be hospitalized (48) or admitted to an ICU (eight). In contrast, 335 patients aged <19 years were not hospitalized and 1,342 had missing data on hospitalization. Among all COVID-19 patients with complete information on underlying conditions or risk factors, 184 deaths occurred (all among patients aged ≥19 years); 173 deaths (94%) were reported among patients with at least one underlying condition."

If you’re the parent of a high school student with no preexisting conditions, your child’s chances of dying from Covid-19 (if they even get it) is about 1 in 100,000. If your child is under 11 years old, the odds are literally 1 in a million.
https://towardsdatascience.com/covid-19-comorbidities-are-the-elephant-in-the-room-7d185bd6cfe2

https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/70/wr/mm7003e1.htm#T1_down

https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6932e3.htm

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-020-2918-0

https://www.researchsquare.com/article/rs-689684/v1

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7260492/

https://idpjournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s40249-020-00785-1

https://injuryfacts.nsc.org/motor-vehicle/historical-fatality-trends/deaths-by-age-group/

https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2021.05.11.21257037v1

https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-021-01935-7

https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6932e3.htm#T1_down

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/long-covid-in-children-how-long-might-it-last#Not-enough-data



24 September 2021

My Checklist for How to Actually be a Good Ally

Part 2 of my latest on race in modern America. 

For an explanation of the points below, read the last post



1) Stop using the term “poc” (or “brown people” or “bipoc”, or anything else equivalent). 

Tacking on “black and indigenous” supposedly somehow makes the term less reductionist, or less emphasizing of European’s special place in society (even though it still contains the same last 3 letters, which means its not so much changed as merely redundant). Just as society came up with the word “retarded” to provide a clinical, neutral term to replace feeble minded, which itself was to replace imbecile, and before that moron, which replaced idiot – and then “retarded” became the new pejorative, to then be replaced by “mentally disabled” and then “challenged” and… changing the actual specific words or terms, while leaving the meaning the same, doesn’t really change anything. Regardless of what acronym is currently in favor, the actual meaning of the term is still exactly the same as “colored people” – and we should all be just as offended by hearing “bipoc” as we would be from “colored people”.


2) Be conscious of – and reject – all forms of “separate but equal”.

They are everywhere, some more subtle than others. There are obvious ones, like decrying artists for “cultural appropriation” because they happen to like a genre dominated by people of a different appearance, or referring to all movements of European Americans into areas they aren’t already dominate as “gentrification” even when the location in question has rent control and just cause for eviction laws ensuring that no individual is displaced due to increasing rent prices. There are less obvious forms, like collecting separate data on people based on their demographics, when no equivalent data is collecting on equally irrelevant factors such as whether particular people are left-handed or whether they have attached earlobes or can fold their tongues. Summaries of what “the ____ community” thinks or does or wants or what is good for it, made by anyone other than the representative of a formal association made on the grounds of a particular demographic, are a form of advocating segregation. Look for it. Don’t do it.


3) Stop fueling the fire! 

Don’t repeat dramatic, outrage inducing anecdotes, unless you have taking the time and effort to personally research the relevant statistics, and you know that this particular anecdote is actually representative of a larger overall trend. Consider that the more outrage inducing a particular story is, the more likely it is that some or many relevant details have been left out somewhere in the retelling. This has always been true, but it is perhaps especially true in the age of character limited social media and the attention deficit disorder it has caused to become normal in everyone. Don’t constantly search for confirmation of the narrative. If you search for it, you will be able to find the evidence you want – just like you can do for any narrative. But taken out of a larger context, that “evidence” might really be nothing more than a random anecdote. The New York Times is a terrible offender in this. Literally every time they report on a story that fits the traditional Narrative of Oppression and will spark outrage (therefore selling more papers) they will make a point of noting the race of the individual’s involved, no matter how inorganically it fits into the headline: “White officer shoots black man”. When the story doesn’t fit the narrative - if they report it at all - there is no mention of race “Officer shoots suspect”; as though race is relevant if, and only if, it fits a predefined model of oppression. Because of media framing, almost everyone “knows” that police almost never shoot at white people, and certainly never unarmed white people – this just happens to be factually inaccurate, they actually shoot at white people more often. And while of course the ratio seems biased again when you account for the proportions of people in society, it turns out that when you adjust for rates of involvement in violent crimes (e.g. blacks commit more than half of murders annually), black men are actually shot at disproportionately less than white men in the same situation. The reason “everyone knows” something that is factually inaccurate is because media cherry picks outrage inducing stories, frames them misleadingly, and then the public repeats the implications of the stories to each other without bothering to fact check. Don’t have time to fact check every story? That’s fine. Just don’t repeat it, or take it at face value.


4) Don’t ignore real “intersectionality”, crimes, and other anti-social behavior committed by minorities.

Including that intersectionality works in both directions. That term is basically used simply to count the number of oppressed groups which a given individual falls into. But an intersection involves different paths crossing. The whole concept of “people of color” primes us to think of every human interaction as being between white people (presumably straight and male, and with all of the power, all the time), and everyone else, who are the white male’s victims. The only question asked is how many different ways is any specific person a victim. Reality is a lot more complex. If we really want to look at how different groups intersect, we need to be prepared to actually look at it, and look at it honestly. Reality includes that a majority of Muslims worldwide are homophobic, with a number of Islamic countries enforcing the death penalty on gay people, while even among those Muslims who immigrate to the US (on average more liberal than nations based on sharia law) half are opposed. If one asserts that you should always support a black man against the racist police and biased criminal justice system, and also that one should always support women against violent and predatory men, what do you do and who do you support when a black woman calls the police due to domestic violence or rape? This is a real situation that actually happens in reality. Do you condemn the white police officer who shows up and arrests the black man, or the DA or court that decides to give him jail time? As a black police officer I once worked with once said – if you want to abolish both the death penalty and the prisons, what do you do with white cops who commit murder? It is a comforting fantasy land to live in where rich straight white males are the only people who ever do anything wrong, and society would be a peaceful wonderland if only they would stop abusing their power and being so prejudiced, but unfortunately this view doesn’t even begin to approximate reality. There is a reason that the defund the police movement is overwhelmingly white and middle class, while black people who actually live in poor, high crime neighborhoods are against it: people who actually have to live in a high crime environment every day know from personal experience how much more likely they are to be attacked or murdered by criminals than by the police – and how much worse it would get if the police disappeared.

Instead of focusing on a small handful of high-profile cases where police behavior was unjustified, consider the victims of the 1 to 1.5 million annual arrests for violent crime in the year. Despite all the attention given to the occasional “hate” crime, the vast majority of violent crime is perpetrated within a community – white criminals have mostly white victims, black criminals have mostly black victims. Which means that by advocating on behalf of a person arrested by the police for involvement in a crime – thereby potentially saving him from the racist criminal justice system – one is also giving him free reign to continue to terrorize more victims in his own community. When the rate of violent crime by citizens compared to the rate of unjustified violence by police against citizens is on the order of several thousand to one, yet only police actions are protested, the message this sends to violent black men is that no one minds what they do.

Simplify it this way: if you are not personally a black person who lives or spent a significant percentage of your life within the last couple decades living in a mostly minority, poor, and high crime neighborhood, then you should not have a strong opinion on issues that affect the people who are.

When well meaning allies willfully ignore things like black crime out of an understandable but misplaced sense of guilt or fear of appearing racist, they end up advocating for counter-productive and destructive “solutions”.


5) Stop creating more purebreds

Seriously. I realize how outrageous that will sound at first. Is that an incredibly personal ask? Of course it is!

Society is not some giant living in the hills that imposes its will on people. Society isn’t “government” or “white people”. “Society” is nothing but the sum of all the various individual people. As a result, the conditions of society are nothing more or less than the sum total of individual choices. Which means there can be no meaningful distinction between the personal and the political. Your personal choices are what makes society what it is. 

To object publicly to racism, while limiting your personal dating / marriage / mating prospects to people of your own race is as ridiculous as it would be to verbally object to climate change while actually owning and driving a motor vehicle that runs on gasoline and eating animals raised on a farm. Personally owned automobiles and the production of animals for consumption (plus the production of feed for those animals as well as clearing land for them) together make up the majority of the source of greenhouse gases that directly drive climate change. It simply makes no sense whatsoever to rally against something that while personally causing the problem – yet you can actually see bumper stickers decrying climate change on gasoline powered vehicles. It isn’t politicians or oil company executives or people who don’t believe in climate change who are purchasing and burning the gasoline to move that car around. 

What society does is nothing more than the sum of the individual choices of everyone who makes it up, so there can be no division between the personal and the political. Everyone contributes their own little bit to climate change – unless they make the choice to sacrifice their own convenience for the good of us all – and everyone contributes their own little bit to the preservation of the racial divide by keeping their own life segregated.

There is a reason why interracial marriage is the white supremacist worst nightmare, why isolationist religions ban marriage outside the religion, why the government of India will actually pay a year’s salary to any couple that marries across caste: marriage is, and always has been, the single strongest bridge across cultures and groups. Nothing else can come close to shared grandchildren in making two families feel like a single family, and that makes the imaginary significance of physical differences begin to disappear. And of course, it literally bridges the gap between those physical differences as well. Had we been interbreeding sense the time slavery ended, the whole discussion would be moot, because everyone would have mixed heritage and it would be impossible to look at someone and place them firmly in any meaningful group based on appearance in the first place. But if we don’t start now, we can expect to still be stuck in the same place we are now in another 150 years. 

It is understandable if a person lives in Algeria, Gambia, Japan or Togo, where close to the entire population shares a single ethnicity, any given individual ends up with someone who looks pretty similar to themselves. If you live in the United States - and especially in CA, (and especially in the Bay Area, with it’s high concentration of window signs proclaiming their progressive values), where no ethnic group has a majority, there is no excuse. Even if you are in the most represented group (European Americans), approximately 65% of the people in reasonable dating distance look different than you. If one truly believes that all people are equal, than statistically it is most likely you end up with a partner of a different race. The fact that less than 5% of the population identifies their ethnicity as “two or more races” shows just how much race is still a primary criteria for seeking mates – in an area where about 80% of people lean left / liberal / progressive, and bumper stickers and lawn signs proclaiming allegiance to anti-racist movements are common place. Real integration is about much more than having “diversity” at the city level. If race doesn’t matter, if we are all one people, then it shouldn’t play a factor in who people end up with for partner, and the family unit is the most fundamental, and most meaningful, level on which integration can occur. 

Just as it is an obvious ethical imperative to avoid owning a gasoline powered car or eating farmed animals if a person believes that anthropogenic climate change is a threat to all humanity, the first and most important place to put beliefs of anti-racism into practice is one’s own personal life.

No where is that more powerful or meaningful than it actually mixing your DNA with someone's of another race.


Of course, there will be many reading this for whom it's too late. Of course every person who is already here is valuable in their own right, pure breed or not, and I wouldn't even go so far as to advocate committed couples split up just because your choosing of a partner whose ancestors came from the same continent as yourself is borderline incestuous.

However:


6) Recognize that "giving your children every advantage" is literally the definition of "privilege". 

Again, "society" is nothing more than the sum of millions of individual decisions, and it makes absolutely no sense to publicly declare your opposition to something while actively creating that exact thing in your personal life.

If you are against privilege for some, if you are against the idea of dynasties or inherited riches or 'crony' capitalism or aristocracy or an unlevel playing field or an unjust society or however you might think of the unfairness by which some people start out life with advantages they didn't earn, you can not make a special exception for your own personal family.

It doesn't matter that you aren't a billionaire - you already have more wealth and security than at least 80% of the world and at least 20% of the country.

Every one wants what's best for their children. That is just a natural instinct. But just as we who live in a society suppress equally natural instincts of violence and lust when they would manifest in anti social ways, we have a responsibility to society to be aware of the significance of that feeling, understand it, and not act on it.

This is true no matter what your race, but it is especially true if you or your partner (and especially if it's both you and your partner) are white.

Because if you are white, then your children are white, which means that "wanting what's best for your kids" is, in practical terms, no different from "wanting what's best for white people".

One might object that wanting what's best for someone doesn't necessarily mean holding anyone else back, but then one might also remember that this is literally the exact argument made by white nationalists: 'we don't hate anyone, we just want what's best for our own'. Really the only difference is that white liberals define "our own" narrowly as their own directly blood related white children , while the nationalist is generous enough to broaden that concern to cover all white children.

Whether you want to actively hold anyone back is beside the point. Consider most cheating in sports. One way to cheat would be to injure or somehow sabotage the training of all the competitors. The much more common - and effective - way is to give yourself, or your team, a little boost, something to make you faster and stronger so you can get ahead.

Ultimately, it doesn't matter, the result is the same.

In the modern first world, almost everyone has access to at least the basic minimums. Even in homeless encampments you can find luxuries unimaginable to kings and emperors of only a few hundred years ago, like cars and cell phones. As technology and wealth increase, our standards of what we "need" increase along with them, and with that "success" can only be measured relative to everyone else. In other words, unless you are defining "what's best for my kids" as 'not starving the death', then you are referring to a zero sum game.

By definition, it isn't possible for everyone to get into "the best" schools and universities. Not everyone can have a house at least as good if not better than the average homeowner. Not everyone can have a middle class or better paying job. These are things that are inherently relative, which makes them inherently zero sum, which means that helping your own kids "get ahead" is completely interchangeable with 'holding other people back'. There can be no meaningful difference.

So, to state the whole thing another way: if you are taking steps to help your kids get ahead, and your kids are white, you are the agent of white privilege.

So what does not being an agent of privilege look like?

It's simple, really. It doesn't mean doing anything specifically to hold them back; it just means not doing anything to help them get ahead (or at least not anything that isn't accessible to someone in poverty).

Instilling positive values, a strong work ethic, the concepts of delayed gratification and investment in the future, those are ways everyone can and should help their children to be successful in life.

Personally teaching them as much as you know, from as young as age as possible, and providing them a safe and supportive home environment is a totally valid way to help one's children.

Enrolling a child in private school, or moving to a particular neighborhood for the express purpose of ensuring your children entry into "good" schools is something which, by definition, is not an opportunity available to disadvantaged or underprivileged families.

It's not impossible to help out your own children without further disadvantaging those already behind; in fact, being a legitimate ally would actually close the gaps and improve the lives of the under privileged. For example – after enrolling your own kids in the under-performing school, the next step is to put in the same time and effort volunteering at the school that you would have at the fancy suburban school you considered moving for. Organize bake sales and volunteer in the after school program and tutor classmates. Contribute to real integration, and at the same time, learn and help your children learn about the real experience of the lower classes. Instead of declaring support for non-white people on social media and window signs and bumper stickers and at rallies, spend enough time in the communities you theoretically support to make real friendships. Instead of teaching your kids not to be racist, show them with your actions that you believe people who look different are people, and let them see that for themselves directly. And by your presence and participation, help blend cultures and communities and make integration a reality.

Of course, you may not yet be in the position to be the one advantaging your own offspring.


7) If you are in the younger generation – and you believe in equality – take the even harder step of turning down these kinds of gifts. 

It is not enough to verbally acknowledge that you have privilege. That acknowledgement does not do a single thing to help out someone who is underprivileged. The way to truly be a good ally is to renounce and disavow that privilege. Earn your own way, through your own personal hard work, intelligence and sacrifice. Play on a level playing field with all the others who weren’t lucky enough to be born, not only white, but to parents who don’t have a few excess tens of thousands of dollars to help fund their college, to help with a down payment, or even to buy them a car.

Everyone likes to think they are just one person, but the economy is a marketplace, and every buyer drives up the price just a little bit. The record home prices, the record tuition, making these things hard for the working class to afford, these things don’t just happen. Prices are the direct result of the cumulative choices of millions of people. Taking a few extra years until you can save up your own money is doing your part to keep prices sane for all the other people who don’t have the luxury of family gifts.

But don’t just reject the money, leaving that wealth in the hands of other white people. Accept it – and immediately donate it, all of it, to a relevant cause. Your middle class parents offer you down payment money? Donate to a program that offers down payment assistance to low income people. Parents offering to pay half your college tuition? Take it, donate it to a scholarship fund. Then get yourself a part-time job, full-time in summer, and learn what its like for everyone who didn’t have that option.


Ghandi never actually said the words “be the change you want to see”,
but Mos Def did say “Don’t talk about it. Be about it.”


Equality in early childhood education and experience are extremely important in ending inequality and injustice, to ending both the economic, educational, and cultural differences that lead to dramatic differences in life outcomes later in life.

But its just the beginning, as one of the largest contributors to economic inequalities, (which in turn directly impacts all sorts of secondary and tertiary effects), comes when children are all grown up and should hypothetically be accountable for their success or failure based on their own merit.


Half of white college students had at least some of their college tuition paid for by their parents, with almost 20% paying between ½ and all of it.

Half of young homebuyers get downpayment or closing cost money from family, 20% have parents co-sign loans, and 15% of adults under 34 still live in their parent’s home. 

Given that housing costs are the most expensive part of living for most people, and that property ownership is the single biggest part of wealth building for the majority of the middle class, these facts alone can account for the wealth gap. White families are also twice as likely to receive an inheritance, at nearly 50%, as black families, and that amount of that inheritance varies even more dramatically – a median of $100,000 for whites vs $4000 for blacks – a difference of 25x. 

(You don’t  have to  take my  word for it)

In fact, around 60% of all wealth in America is directly inherited. As with college and home buying, this varies dramatically by race.  

This preserves the status quo of inequality directly, with no need to invoke any form of systemic racism in housing or education or employment or criminal justice. 

Just like with helping your team by giving them a little boost, in any evaluation based on a comparison, helping one person is completely indistinguishable from holding back someone else. 

It is a lot more emotionally gratifying to look for racist boogiemen and vague indefinable “systems” of oppression that can be found easily in anecdotes but fade away if you dig into real statistics. 

One can feel self-righteous anger at cops, and judges, employers and educators who obviously must be discriminating, because, look – different outcomes, disparate impacts!

As long as the culprit is other, each individual can feel like the good guy. I’m not racist, therefore someone else must be responsible.

And this worldview very conveniently also means there is no need for any personal sacrifice whatsoever.

Rejecting privilege – actually rejecting privilege, in a meaningful way – isn’t something you can sum up in a slogan on social media or a window sign, isn’t something anyone is ever going to rally for, and no one person doing it is going to change the world instantly and forever.

Then again, none of the memes or bumper stickers or marches was ever going to change the world either.

By giving up privilege, and the desire to privilege your progeny, you can bring the world one small step closer to being one of equality and justice.


Anti-Racists: (The New Racists)

 

In 2020, during the world “pandemic” of Novel Coronavirus 2019, I was on an involuntary Coast Guard deployment to GITMO, the infamous prison housing (suspected) 9/11 planners along with a few other (suspected) high level terrorists, who after almost a decade in prison are still awaiting trial.

Myself, along with maybe about a ¼ of my ~200 person unit, I joined the Coast Guard with the idea of going out to rescue people from drowning, and other similar movie worthy heroics. The Coast Guard is technically part of the military, but it has never been under the Department of Defense. It has participated in some way in every major armed conflict the US has been in, but 5 of its 6 primary roles are peace time domestic missions.

I and several others were transferred to a more “defense” oriented unit because the Bay Area based Port Security Unit couldn’t find enough volunteers, and after training us to use machine guns and special tactics, we shipped out.


I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, one of the most left/liberal/progressive areas in the country (if not the world). Working class, mixed race, LGBT family, vegetarian, even literal communists in the family – I grew up with a lot of the left’s checkboxes just being normal life for me.

I had a little exposure to religious people, anarchists, libertarians, little tastes of alternative viewpoints here and there, but liberalism was around me like water around a fish.

Going to GITMO was the first time I was ever fully submersed in an environment where conservatism was the default, liberalism the exception.

In GITMO it wasn’t just a mix of people who joined the Coast Guard to save lives and those who choose the Port Security Unit. It was people who volunteered specifically for GITMO. People who joined the Army and the Navy and the Marines. People who feel it is literally a moral issue to salute the flag. People who prioritize God, country, and family (in that order). Trump voters. People who continued to support Trump, even after he got in office and chose to manage his own Twitter account.


 

This was also the time of the massive “Black Lives Matter” protests.

Having been quite sick of the hypocrisy of the movement for many years, I tried to pay as little attention to it as possible, but having family back home who believed in the movements rhetoric, I eventually found opting out to be impossible, and ended up doing a good deal of writing about it. It was nationwide news, so of course it was a big topic of discussion at work as well, and I got to overhear a lot of opinions and ideas from the “other side”

And spending so much time among people with such a different worldview than the one I was used to, I eventually came to realize some things…

30 September 2020

Bigger concepts: Why the anti-racism movement isn't helping end race inequality PART 3/3 (Part 5/5 of a series on race based on emails to my family)

 

The final Chapter

(A few notes on specific things from a family member's last response, written before I got to the larger things I wrote about in the last post, follows):

 

Regarding music of the 90s: I listed a small sample of musicians who got plenty of airplay, who’s work had zero, or very little violence or other negative themes.  It’s not just that they weren’t the “most” violent.  I’m not really sure where the idea that radio stations deliberately promoted it came from, but I think it’s simply not true.  The fact that indie musicians with a specific message to promote are heard on public radio is a reflection of the pop music industry as a whole, it is no less true for “white” music.

Regarding reparations:
My point is that the symbolic reparations Jews got had nothing to do with their recovery. 

Your response is in terms of “moral right” –
For one I’m not interested in what people feel is “fair”, because that has little to do with the actual day-to-day conditions of reality and well-being. 
My point had nothing to do with what anyone does or doesn’t “deserve” – I wrote in my first reply that I would support it if anyone had any serious proposal – my point was that the proposal wouldn’t actually solve anything.

For two, I don’t believe a lineage is interchangeable with a person.  In fact, I believe that belief is THE root of all related issues, but I’ll come back to that in detail soon… The “heirs” which sometimes got reparations were the children of people who personally experienced direct harm, not the great-great-great-grand-children.  If generations are all part of the same unit, then all of us should be going back to Europe and Africa (and Asia, etc) leaving the remaining “Native” (aboriginal) Americans all of North and South America, and anything short of that will forever be the greatest injustice, perpetrated by all of us who choose not to leave.

I pointed out that the amount of money given by the US government to black people is tens of thousands of times more than Germany gave to holocaust survivors, even if they didn’t restrict it to only black people or call it “reparations”.  You suggest seed money for black-run businesses should count, and in fact there are things like the federal MBDA (minority business development) and procurement guidelines and quotas – which are not available to whites.  Again, not officially referred to as “reparations”, but with a total real world impact significantly higher than Germany’s contribution to Jews was.

Regarding other groups being oppressed, I was never suggesting that no other group was oppressed, nor that you thought that.  I was pointing out that the way groups overcome the negative perceptions that society (every society, without exception) puts on outsiders that join them is by cultural integration, not by “movements”.  Movements have times and places with value, but in terms of actually being accepted by the mainstream, that can happen without movements, but it can’t happen without integration.

I never said the primary measure of “oppression” is statistical cause of death – I think there is an overwhelming obsession with oppression which is both unwarranted by the facts of modern reality and, regardless of its level of truth, is counter-productive overall.  What I said is that if we are honestly concerned with people’s well-being, then our efforts should be proportional to the causes of suffering. 
Even if “oppression” is rampant and everywhere and there is this enormous and unbridgeable power imbalance that everyone is born into and nearly everyone who inherits power takes advantage of their privilege to the detriment of those born powerless, even if that is true, but other factors are more significant in causing suffering among the powerless, those other factors should be the proportionate focus of anyone who claims to have their best interest in mind.
Note also, I never said it should be the only focus, I said in the original as I said here, the focus should be proportionate.

And yes, I agree: “there is no analogous protest movement against heart disease or cancer because people are not held responsible for that “ that too is a big part of what I see as being a problem, not just in this issue but in nearly every issue facing humanity; we can’t care about anything unless we have a group of humans to identify as the bad guy.  I wrote about this a lot in my first letter, (which I now remember / realize I never sent to anyone but Ellen and Becca)

”’Murica” is short for “America”, and is supposed to be the way nationalist redneck hick yokels slur the word.

Your response to my list of things that is attributed to racism prompted the response “Well, you are convincing me of the serious need for a movement that demands a lot more” followed by an example of how racism affects employment opportunity.
 I wrote the list in response to “ in my whole life, I have never heard anyone claim that "100% of bad things in the life of every black person is the direct result of the choices of white people."” But you didn’t answer my question of:
What bad thing that happens to black people doesn't get attributed to white people?”
instead adding to the list of things that are blamed on racism!
So I say still, “There is no room there for any self-determination or influence over one's life in this narrative.”

 

 "Likewise, it is the experience of racism and disproportionate obstacles to success that make people feel disempowered,"
Maybe. Or perhaps belief of it is enough.  We have seen dramatically from the Stanford Prison Experiment, Jane Elliott’s blue eyes vs brown eyes, and many smaller lesser known experiments the degree to which people will embody the expectations on them.  There are countless social experiments that show the degree to which people can be primed, how they will seek out confirmation of what they believe, of how social acceptance is the largest factor in beliefs and values, how people see what they expect to and side with those they consider their “kind”. 
If you think my extending this as logically applying to black kids internalizing what they hear is societies expectations, this specific thing has been found to be true too:
Extensive research with adults has demonstrated that the subtle activation of stereotypes can negatively impact people’s behavior and performance. For example, in a seminal paper, C. M. Steele and Aronson (1995) showed that African-American college students perform more poorly on a challenging test of verbal ability after being subtly reminded of their negatively stereotyped racial identity… This initial demonstration has been replicated and extended in a number of different domains and with a variety of target groups (see Inzlicht &Schmader, 2012, for a review). Both theory and research suggest that stereotype threat effects can occur when people feel at risk of confirming negative self-relevant stereotypes. This concern can increase arousal and consume and/or deplete cognitive resources leading to stereotype-consistent behavior, including decreased test performance ”
https://www.cairn.info/revue-internationale-de-psychologie-sociale-2014-3-page-161.htm#
The different experiences of black people who are recent immigrants speaks significantly to the order of cause and effect between obstacles to success and a feeling of disempowerment, as explained well by this person from the Caribbean who moved to the US and experienced, much more than actual racism, the absolute assurance of the black American community of how absolutely rampant it is and the degree to which it would permeate their life:

http://aidanneal.com/2014/06/29/racism-caribbeans-just-dont-get-it/
(I don’t excerpt it here because it is all so relevant and fairly short)

In other words, I think feeling unempowered is itself the single biggest obstacle, and that it comes at least as much from our insistence of how unempowered black people are than from anything “society” is actually forcing on every individual with more melanin in their skin.

 



Regarding the term “movement”:
I don’t know that it is actually a universally agreed definition that “movement” refers specifically to law and policy change.  In fact, when you first define it, you wrote “
Movements are about societal and governmental change.” Perhaps I misunderstood the “and” as being “and/or”?  What are you considering “society”?  Only government?  Private business?  Only people determined to have “power”?  Only white people?  All individuals? 
In a capitalist constitutional republic, government may have a significant amount of power, but it is limited.  Businesses are run by, and represent, individual people. 

When Critical Mass rides bikes in mass, they aren’t demanding government or business do anything, the goal is awareness and visibility and respect by drivers, by random individual people.  Does that not count as a movement?  Given that this isn’t a communist country, should “governments” and “employers’ be a single category?   Government never mandated weekends.  Governments also have no direct control over who individual people choose to hire.
 
"I would not automatically assume that when people point to (especially poor) blacks having less access to health care, they are necessarily implying that it is due to deliberate racism, per se…  since such a large proportion of black folk are impoverished, it easily explains why black people are being affected/dying at greater rates than white people"
One of the things I’ve been saying all along is that class and race are not interchangeable.  If the effects are not caused by “deliberate” racism, but are secondary effects of poverty which disproportionately affect people who inherit poverty, then there is no advantage to framing it in racial terms.  If we address the wealth inequality that leads to disparate outcomes, the problems go away.  There is something vindictive in the apparent, usually unspoken, feeling that if we don’t make it racial, efforts to fix it might accidentally help out some white poor people too.  There seems to be an idea that if something helps everyone, then it “doesn’t count”, because its not “reparations”.  If the net result is that all individual people – including black people – are better off, what the hell does it matter?  How does it make the world a better place to call the list of effects of poverty on health “systemic racism” and then focus on making people less racist – rather than focusing on reducing toxic industries, the distribution of hospitals and supermarkets, public transportation, etc?  These are all things that government policy can directly control!  The “movement” rarely raises those issues, and if it does it is exclusively in the context of “institutional racism”, with the implication that racism itself is the thing that needs to be addressed, that if only “institutions” would stop being so “racist” all those problems would go away, and the thing I keep saying is that eliminating “racism” would not end ANY of the things you list as the effects of wealth inequality on health outcome, whereas addressing wealth inequality would address all of them.

And again, this framing of issues as issues of race I absolutely do believe has very significant effects on how young people growing up exposed to them build their self-identity.  Of course it does!  I’m not just talking about BLM, that’s a tiny part of it.  I’m talking about how literally every issue, every problem facing a black person is attributed to racism.  That seems like an extreme statement, but what is the exception?  I’m talking about the entire message, the  statements that “everyone knows” about police bias (even when the statistics don’t bear it out), the blaming of employment, health, representation or lack there of on TV shows, the condition of inner cities, segregation, every disparity, is attributed to racism, and only racism.

 

 


"conditions in the black community are that they are a consequence of societal neglect because people do not care enough"
What does this mean!? 

This is like when people who want more gender equality make statements like “society doesn’t value women”.  It’s a nonsensical statement.  “Society” doesn’t mean “government” or “powerful, influential men”.  Society means people.  The collection of all the individual people.  There is no single unified monolithic entity with its own independent thoughts and actions whose name is “society”, there is just a collection of individuals, with individual lives making individual choices.  Women are half of all people.  The statement “society doesn’t value women” is itself a product of deeply ingrained sexism, because the statement implies that women aren’t people, that they aren’t ½ of what the word “society” means.  And similarly, “societal neglect” because “people” don’t care enough doesn’t make any sense.  Which “people”?  The dichotomy between “black community” and “people” implies that the black community isn’t made up of people.  All individual people prioritize in order of relatedness - themselves first, their children second, their partner and immediate family 3rd, their community 4th, whatever they consider “their people” 5th (by race, culture, religion or nation), humans 6th, mammals 7th, vertebrates 8th...

All the members of society prioritize their own community over other people’s community.  This being capitalism first, and a federal republic second, there is generally no focus on neighborhoods beyond the city level.  There is no federal bureau of individual neighborhood welfare. 
The single largest factor in the conditions in any community is the collective actions of the people that make it up.  If you want “people” to care about a neighborhood, where “people” is code for “white people” you don’t do it by emphasizing how those people over there are a different people from you, and you shouldn’t hate them.  Neglect is not hate.  Neglect isn’t even discrimination.  Neglect is just prioritization.  People will always prioritize themselves first.  Which means the way you get “people” (white people) to not neglect certain communities is to make them part of those communities. 

"Yes, it has as much to do with class as race, but after several centuries of blatant racist atrocities, it is no wonder that black people think in racial, not just class terms."
Yes, I never said I don’t understand why people (not just black people, all the self-identified anti-racists and “woke” people and progressives) put everything in racial terms, I am just saying it is counter-productive.

 

I disagree with your interpretation of history, that “ "It has been movements and demands for systemic changes (along with unions, who likewise make systemic demands) that have given us so much improvement in the lives of poor and middle-class Americans today” I think the biggest contributor, by far, to improved conditions for all classes is simply technology.  After that, as much as I don’t think it is worth it, it is true that capitalism creates wealth much better than any other system, and while it does not distribute that wealth fairly, it does to an extent raise up every level.  It raises the rich higher and faster, but it raises the middle class beyond where it would be without it, and to a small extent even the poor.  The Great Depression affected such a wide swath of American’s, at all levels, that it didn’t take massive protests to push through. The government is made up of people, of citizens, and they don’t automatically want to make all people suffer just for it’s own sake, so sometimes they (we) do things to try to support the people. The 40 hour week was a central demand of organized labor for 150 years, but it was the New Deal that made it a reality.  Another factor is our outsized military, and how it helps secure foreign markets and cooperation. 

And we don’t actually have better pay, when adjusted for inflation, working hours, benefits, and number of household members working.  The single largest factor in the increase in household income is the percentage of married women who entered the workforce.  It’s the combination of inflation making dollar numbers bigger than their values, plus technology and outsourcing making stuff cheaper, that makes it seem like we have better pay.  Ultimately the extent to which pay increases or decreases is simple economics: number of workers who can do a particular job vs number of jobs to be filled.  The harder a job is to fill, the higher the pay, which is why skills and education makes a difference.  If a job is terrible enough, like coal mining or oil drilling, it tends to pay well too.  Of course, being capitalism, if you can get a percentage of money other people earn, like by being a boss or an owner, you make the most of all.  If a job can be outsources or done by robots or anyone who can walk and talk, it pays very little.  There is essentially nothing a social movement can do to change that, short of getting shorter working hours enacted (say, a 20 hour work week), because if the price of labor goes up, employers just find alternatives, like investing in robots or hiring overseas.
While you draw a distinct line between political movement directed at government policy and attempts at social change, I don’t think there is such a clear line.  There were abolitionists in white society and in government hundreds of years before the civil war, never mind the civil rights movement.  Boycotts are against private industry, not government, and even marches that end at city hall or the white house are intended to be public, to gain the visibility of ordinary people.  Police oppression may have been the issue that galvanized gay rights activists, but the pride parade is not directed at any particular policy, it is a demonstration to random ordinary people how many there are and that it is not associated with shame or guilt.  As much as the push for marriage equality way directed toward a government policy, the public push for it itself helped sway public opinion, with its focus on gay people not being depraved sex fiends, but rather relatable ordinary family people, and that in turn helped change the minds of enough people that it influenced government, which is afterall, more or less a democratic institution.  If the goal was just government policy, movements could be entirely expressed by letters and visits to representatives and get-out-the-vote efforts.  Publicity stunts like cafĂ© sit-ins and bus boycotts were always as much about generating public support by making prejudice obvious and impossible to ignore.  Which is as it should be, since, like “society”, “government” too is just made up of people.  While inherited wealth is disproportionately represented in government (because that’s who society picks), more than half of presidents do not come from the upper class by birth, and (almost) none of them inherit the job title the way most societies though history have done it.  Elections means that even systemic change largely follows the will of the people, even if it sometimes acts just slightly before the majority has changed its mind about a particular issue.  Just in general, I think we tend to frame everything as though we lived in a world of dynastic kings and nobility, peasants and slaves, and it just isn’t the reality of the world we are in.

29 September 2020

Bigger concepts: Why the anti-racism movement isn't helping end race inequality PART 2 (Part 5 of a series on race based on emails to my family)

 “almost everyone can do something.”


I absolutely agree!
Where we disagree is I don’t think going out and demanding other people do something is actually “doing” something.  I believe, strongly, that every activist and ally MUST “be the change they wish to see” FIRST.  If a person is not willing to actually do anything in their own personal life that supports what they claim to want to happen in the world, they are basically full of crap and have no credibility.  No one should listen to them, not policy makers, not people in power, not political rivals;

no one should believe they are sincere, because they aren’t.
The event that disillusioned me from “activism” was going to a protest against
Iraq war II, the theme of which was “no war for oil.”
I was literally the ONLY person to show up by bicycle.  There were no BART commuters or electric car drivers.  Every single other person went to this “no war for oil” protest in their gasoline powered cars. And they all shared a sense of outrage, of self-righteousness, of moral superiority, which none of them had earned. The war is to ensure they can keep putting oil in their cars!  Standing around holding a sign telling government to do something is NOT “doing” something.  If every citizen went out to protest, but kept driving gas powered cars, the oil industry will keep on making money, and the government will continue supporting it.  If zero citizens go out and protest, but also zero of them buy gasoline, almost overnight the oil industry begins to die, we have no use for
Middle East or Venezuelan or protected Alaskan oil, and both war and climate change halts in its tracks.  

Personally, I find hypocrisy to be worse than simple inaction – at least the conservatives who want cheap oil are honest about their priorities. 
Similarly, putting up a sign in the window about supporting diversity, or having a bumper sticker, or even going to a protest, is not “doing” something.  It’s telling other people what type of person you are, it is declaring a team, an identity.  At best it is asking other people to change what they do.

When these same people’s actions in their personal lives all serve to maintain the status quo, then the symbolic claims of support are not only hollow and hypocritical, they are as gross as the oil protestors who buy the products they are protesting.

Of course it is “natural” to want what ever is best for one’s own children.  Just as it is natural to discriminate against people that are classified as someone not one’s own “tribe”.  Ensuring what’s best for one’s children could include bribing their teachers, or murdering their rival students.  As a society, we collectively decide what things (which are completely “natural”) are unacceptable, for the good of society as a whole.  It is natural to want to harm someone physically because of a verbal insult or disrespect.  It is natural to discriminate.  It is natural to want to take things from others, or to take advantage of those who have less power than you.  If we thought we should allow everyone to do whatever they naturally feel like doing, then we wouldn’t have any laws at all.  Murder and theft and rape and violence are all natural, and all unacceptable. Every society decides collectively the degree to which individuals are required to forgo their own personal preferences for the collective good.  Most other developed nations restrict the degree to which a person can privilege their own children above everyone else more than the US does, with the predictable result of us having the most inequality – and consequently the most crime and violence - of any developed country.

 

Actions that are the ideal for one’s own children, like moving to the neighborhoods with the best schools, paying for private schools, paying for college, leaving property and cash to heirs, etc, has a much bigger overall negative impact on society as a whole than the positive impact it has on individual people.  Most of the developed world does not allow the amount of privilege we allow.
And yet, the very people who talk the most about privilege and how unfair it is have literally zero to say about real, tangible ways they could personally give it up.
Helping ones own children is literally the very definition of privilege, and equality is not possible while some people are privileged.  If an individual isn’t willing to give up these very tiny things, then they don’t really want equality at all.  It makes no sense to claim to want equality for all children – except my own, for whom I want the best.  If everyone is going to prioritize what is best for their own individual children, we may as well all stop pretending to want equality, because no one else is going to listen to demands to give something up made by someone who won’t give it up themselves.  If everyone gets to do whatever is best for their kids, people born into more wealth will always do better on average, and people born into poverty will always struggle more, and the cycle began by slavery etc will continue for the rest of time.

 

-                                           

 

If the goal is to help people who are at a disadvantage in life, it’s important to be able to let go of figuring out who to blame and who benefits, and instead focus on what is actually going to effectively address the root issues.  Weeds that aren’t dug up by the roots always grow back.  Illnesses in which only symptoms are treated don’t go away.  First we have to understand what the core issue is, and then focus on addressing that.
The core issues that are blamed on the “symptom” of “racism” are cultural segregation and intergenerational wealth inequality.

 

When I talk about “integration”, I am not just talking about living in the same neighborhood. 

I am talking about complete integration, geographic, yes, but more importantly cultural.  Life integration.  The only way to combat our natural tendencies to reject “otherness” is to reject that a particular demographic defines “other”.  In other words, not defining ourselves by random genetic demographics, whether they be race, or religion, or national origin in the first place.  I’m talking about not just having different “races” in the same workplace or schools, but different people eating the same food, playing the same music, wearing the same clothes, speaking the same language, and actually interacting with each other. 
No, this is not something that can be directly legislated, but it is something that activists can and do influence.  Right now much of that influence is directed at enhancing and encouraging differences and separation, sometimes directly (campaigns against cultural appropriation, “gentrification” in cities with rent control), other times indirectly, (emphasizing police shootings to the point where the general public believes there to be a disproportionality that doesn’t reflect reality, pushing for “black” media etc. rather than integration into “mainstream” - legitimizing the false idea that “black” is actually a “type of person”).  Just like having window signs and bumper stickers and influencing media presentation is all aimed not at law but at individual people, so too could we, hypothetically, focus those efforts on changing society in a way that would actually be meaningful and productive. 

 

No, I’m not suggesting that government pick a spouse for each individual.  However, societies have always placed rules, some legal and formal, others merely social pressure, on who can and can’t marry.  We as a society decide the degree of relatedness that is legal to marry: some states first cousin is OK, others it is not.  In some cultures that’s completely normal, in others, even if it is legal it is looked down on.  Some cultures have allowed uncle, aunt, and at times even siblings to marry, while others that is a violation of law, social norms, or both. There is a reason to avoid not only family, but members of one’s own community, as over generations the effects of breeding with even distant cousins adds up. In fact, generations of breeding with distant cousins leads to more negative health outcomes than a single generation of siblings in-breeding.
Adoptive siblings have no genetic risk factors from having children together, but are banned from marriage anyway. We decide the age at which people can marry, with cultures varying widely in both time and location. A 50 year age gap is perfectly legal, but strongly frowned upon socially. Interracial marriage was one illegal. The purpose was specifically to prevent integration by those who felt race was a real thing.  Before the attempted genocide in
Rwanda, people in intergroup marriages were labeled as “traitors”.
It is well known that more genetically diverse parents lead to healthier better offspring
http/://theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2015/jul/02/diverse-parental-genes-lead-to-taller-smarter-children-says-extensive-study

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/04/160413135710.htm
There is no reason this scientific fact can’t be promoted publicly, whether by government, activists, or both, along with pointing out the enormous social benefits –like it being the single most effective (and, I believe, the ONLY) way to fully end racism.


The Indian caste system never had anything to do with race or physical appearance, it is determined strictly by family lines, and was kept in existence by strict segregation and rules against inter-caste marriage.
Today, despite formally abolishing the caste system, in practice it still remains.  Many prominent public figures, including the supreme court, publicly declared inter-caste marriages to be in the national interest, and in 2006 state governments started offering cash incentives - currently between about $3000 and $6000 (about 6 month’s income) to any bride or groom marrying someone of the lowest caste.
https://www.outlookindia.com/website/story/govt-to-give-rs-25-lakh-incentive-to-every-inter-caste-marriage-involving-a-dali/305229
https://www.newindianexpress.com/states/karnataka/2020/jan/30/in-five-years-three-fold-rise-seen-in-inter-caste-marriages-at-karnataka-2096421.html
https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/hyderabad/govt-incentive-for-inter-caste-marriage-enhanced-to-rs-2-50-lakh/articleshow/71849880.cms

 All this to say, it is not at all as crazy as you make it sound to suggest that law and / or social pressure might have some influence over who people consider to be within their pool of marriage candidates. Of course they do! They always have.    

The percentage of people who are willing to marry someone of a different race than there own is much smaller than the percentage who are willing to have different race neighbors…

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2013/05/17/5-insights-on-the-racial-tolerance-and-ethnicity-maps-from-an-ethnic-conflict-professor/?arc404=true

(open in incognito / private tab to bypass paywall)

 

 … which itself is smaller than the number who specifically think discrimination is a good thing. 

And as long as that is true – that people who claim not be racist still use race as a factor in determining who they would consider marrying - the support of “allies” is nothing but words, and the effects of racism will stay alive. 

 

Right now there are all sorts of personal choices that America shames as being racist – explicit discrimination, of course, as well as more subtle things, using certain words, flying certain flags, voting for certain politicians, wanting to be around a certain race, being a little too proud of a heritage that includes oppressive ancestors.  What I’m saying is, if a person lives in a city where 20 or 40 or 60% of the people look different than themselves, and they choose to create more purebred children, they should be added to that list of people and called out for the racists that they probably are. 

 

If a white person has a white partner, and they then choose to “do whatever is best for their kids”, they are the source of the next generation’s “white privilege”, and they need to be called out for it - especially when they are among the people decrying that privilege in self-righteous rallies and petitions.  They claim to want equality for all, but in reality they want to privilege a few white kids above everyone else (their own), which makes them the very embodiment of systemic racism.

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/jul/12/egalitarians-be-warned-wealth-begets-wealth

 

Disparity would be a very easy issue to fix.  We just have to figure out what the root issue actually is, and be willing to make the (small) personal sacrifices it takes to fix it.
Until then, we are treating symptoms, often in a way that makes us feel better in the short term while letting the disease grow stronger.