Southern Multicultural Traditions

I’m so often picking on Southerners, especially the Scots-Irish. It makes me feel like a bully.

The Scots-Irish are such an easy target, like any other oppressed minority group. Looked down upon even by many other Southerners, they get called rednecks, hillbilies, crackers and white trash. I try to balance my criticisms with my love of Appalachia and my sympathetic knowledge of my own family.

It isn’t hard to find those sore points in Southern culture and history. That is the sad result of being the losers in a civil war of your own making, an unnecessary war at that and worse still fought for a less than noble cause. History hasn’t been entirely kind in its judgment.

Still, the South is as much part of America as anywhere else, even with its past attempt at secession. Maybe so many Southerners ethnically identify as American or even Native American because they feel a strong need to prove their patriotic loyalty with the shadow of the past falling upon them. It might be similar to how many Irish in the North became uber-patriots following the draft riots that besmirched their image in the public eye.

The South typically gets stereotyped. Then again, Southerners have played a large part in creating and spreading many of these stereotypes, including proudly embracing them. But I’ve never been one to be ultimately satisfied with stereotypes, although I try to reveal any kernels of truth that may lay hidden within caricatured generalizations.

My studies of Southern history and culture has shown me how complex is the region. This shouldn’t be surprising for why would we expect the South to be simplistic in a way no other region is. This complexity, however, does seem to surprise many people.

There many examples of Southern complexity: Union supporters and soldiers, slave owners turned abolitionists, white agrarian socialists and black communist party members, small town environmentalists, clannish labor organizers, self-governed black towns during Reconstruction, wealthy black communities, and on and on. Because of my last post, the example I have in mind is multiculturalism in the South.

Multiculturalism is understandably identified with the North and the West Coast, but there has always been multiculturalism in the South as well. The big cities, of course, have always been cosmopolitan places tht attracted people with more socially liberal attitudes. Early on, Charleston was aready an immensely diverse place because of all the international trade that occurred there. But I had in mind the sub-region that is at the southenmost edge of the Deep South.

From Florida to New Orleans to Texas, the Spanish Empire has left a permanent impact and the French Empire also. The mestizo and creole cultures are fundamentally a part of the South as a region and integrally a part of Southern culture.

There is a monocultural set of traditions throughout the South. There is he monocultural clannishness of the rural and upper South. Also, there is a Cavalier and Barbados equivalent to the Puritan socio-political system of oppressive assimilation. But other traditions always existed. A semi-tolerant cultural libertarianism has always persisted in Appalachia and the Southern aristcrats often wished to be perceived as cultured cosmopolitans.

I particularly want to emphasize the mestizo and creole angle. When I recently wrote of a Mestizo Midlands as a multicultural ideal and reality, I wasn’t articulating a value system in opposition to the South. Rather, I was seeking a way to include the South within the broader American experience. If we are to have cultural unity in this country, we need to recognize the shared history that unites us.

Midlands Mestizo: Pluralism and Social Democracy

I’ve been struggling to get my thoughts in order about race, ethnicity, culture and nation. These can sometimes refer to the same thing, but there are many interpretive lenses and many related ideas and issues.

Colin Woodard argues that nations as ethnic cultures aren’t necessarily identical with states.

Some nations have states and some are stateless, existing within larger states that include or cross over multiple nations. Some states are based on a historically identifiable traditional ethnic culture, but during the imperial and colonial age (i.e., modern history) that became an increasingly uncertain claim. America certainly isn’t like the traditional notion of an ethnic nation-state in the way many perceive European countries, but then again one could argue that not even (most?) European countries consist of single ethnic nations.

Spain, for example, includes the separate ethnic nation of the Basque, a ethnic demographic that crosses state boundaries into France. The Basque are separate from other Spanish and French people, separate culturally, linguistically and genetically. The Basque who some suggest are Celtic have been fighting off invaders maybe since before the Roman Empire came around. There is no particular reason why the Basque should care about Spanish or French nationalism and other non-Basque ethnocentric concerns. Also, why should the Basque identify any more with the European history of Roman and German invaders to their land than they do with the Mediterranean history of African and Arab invaders?

The Basque aren’t Europeans. They are Celts and I’m sure they are proud of being so. Their ancestors were among the first humans to arrive in Europe. It’s the same reason the Celtic Scottish and Irish have fought so much with the English. It is a fight for the continued existence of their people. If there is any ethnic purity left in Europe, it is to be found with these clannish native people who live in tiny ethnic islands.

Pretty much all of Europe is a confusion of separate and intertwining ethnic groups, and even the ethnic islands haven’t survived unscathed and unchanged.

Certainly, there is no singular European people in any objective sense. Europe as seen on maps is just as arbitrary as most state boundaries. Europe only arose as an identity largely because of Roman aspirations and the later imperial aspirations of others who were likewise inspired. England and Scotland exist as separate places simply because that is as far as the Romans advanced. The same goes for France and Germany. Borders typically are the detritus of failed or waning imperialism, memories of a bygone era made to seem permanently real in the present because people (temporarily) get tired of fighting over it.

Europeans, like Americans, are neither separately distinct nor united. Rather, they are somewhere in between, a constant flux of borders and identities. Europe is just another creole society and there is nothing to be ashamed in that.

Border people can often be a particularly mixed lot. Border people survive not just by resisting but also by accommodating and syncretizing (which is why, for example, Celtic people of today are Christians rather than having remained Pagans). I have ancestors from both endpoints of Roman expansionism, on the continent and in Britain. This is why the topic has come to my attention. I hadn’t previously realized how important are border people. It is border people who prove how malleable and permeable are the concepts of borders.

A border is a meeting point and hence a mixing and joining place… or so they have been for the hundreds of thousands of years of human evolution, prehistorical and historical, prior to the rise of modern nation-states. The highly militarized borders of today are a recent invention. Such borders are unnatural, thus requiring massive amounts of wealth, technology and manpower to enforce on human reality and on the physical landscape. The toll is costly, both in terms of taxes and human misery. Such costs of maintaining borders has always been a main contributing factor in the demise of all those with imperial aspirations. It just ends up costing too much and is in the end unsustainable.

Spain and Portugal is another border region and the Basque another border people. Border people often survive and fight back by residing in mountainous or swampy areas, the  former for the Basque. The Iberian Peninsula was a place of ethnic struggle that took the form of wars between governments and religions. Most interesting were the Moors who were one of the greatest influences on the European Renaissance and hence all European culture thereafter. This is the point where Europe met Africa and back in the day Africa had some powerful, wealthy and quite advanced kingdoms.

As a side note, the original slave trade in Europe was targeted against the Eastern Europeans, i.e., Slavs; and it was justified because white skin was associated with social and intellectual inferiority (interestingly, even many Europeans today still look down upon Eastern Europeans, although they no longer see their pasty white skin as the reason). This Mediterranean slave trade of Europeans continued into the beginning centuries of the Atlantic slave trade of Africans. To give context, in 1602 John Smith, who later became the most famous leader of Jamestown (a later center of American slavery), was himself captured and sold as a slave to a Turk.

Through millennia of war, slavery and trade, the people of the Iberian Peninsula are what one might fairly call a creole society.

This could be said of countries like England as well with its mix of Celtic people, several Germanic ethnicities, the Scandinavian Vikings, the Romans (who brought with them a diversity of ethnicities in their armies and among their slaves, including Africans), and the Normans (who were Romanized Germans). The other Mediterranean people like the Iberian people have never been very good at maintaining ethnic purity with all that long-distance seafaring that regularly brought foreigners right to their doorstep. If even the British so far away from continental Europe couldn’t keep themselves ethnically pure, the Southern Europeans were truly out of luck in that department.

It’s not as if the United States invented racial mixing, the dreaded miscegenation, nor even the notion of multiculturalism. Humans have been mixing it up for millennia. This is why almost the entire homo sapiens population of the earth includes the genetics of other hominid species; it was near the Mediterranean in the Levant that homo sapiens probably first bumped uglies with the Neanderthals (Jesus, if you want some good ol’ fashioned racial purity, ya better stay away from the Mediterranean Sea, that cauldron of sin and temptation; well, ya better stay away from all large bodies of water, go to the interior and go as far North as possible or at least hide out in the mountains for even swamps can be drained). We humans will hump anything that moves and sometimes things that don’t move, although only the former tends to lead to viable offspring. This is why ethnicity is such a nebulous concept and race can seem almost meaningless at times.

Nonetheless, good multiculturalist liberal that I am, I don’t want to see the end of ethnic differences, issues of racial purity aside. At the same time, I’m not a big fan of the worst traits of clannishness such as violence, nepotism, cronyism, etc. Clannishness is the polar opposite of a social democracy. You can try to have a clannish nation-state, but it will inevitably lead to a brutally oppressive society. I love and find fascinating the diversity of ethnicities, but I want to live in a world that brings out the best in ethnic cultures, not the worst. Plus, I would add that not all cultures are ethnic cultures. A multicultural culture is a culture too and a worthy one at that.

The social and political divides in America and the Americas have their origins in the ethnic divides of Old World. The divide isn’t between whites and non-whites but between those of European descent.

There are the divides in Britain. The anti-monarchist Puritans from East Anglia who settled New England were of a more Anglo-Saxon descent and the pro-monarchist Cavaliers from Wessex who came to dominate Virginia were of Norman descent. These two separate ethnicities in England fought a civil war there and in America their descendents fought another civil war. Talk about a lack of assimilation. The clannish Scots-Irish, Scottish and Irish were also never big on assimilation; and for good reason as they found no more love here in America than they did back in Britain. In the American North, they were involved in Civil War draft riots. In the American South, they supported secession as a way of creating their own new clannish nation. Either way, not the material out of which patriotic Americans are easily made. It took centuries of weakening their clannishness before they began to lose some of their xenophobic ethnocentrism, but they still haven’t fully assimilated to the American Way and continue to pine for their Lost Cause of anti-American secession or else some romanticized ideal of their traditional culture. Give us a few more centuries and we’ll finally make good Americans out of those clannish Southerners (or not, heck if I know).

An additional European divide is less geographic, but I’ll add it here amidst these grander divides. The original European people have been swamped by the later immigrations and conquerings. These earlier people are less defined by the nation-state identities. I’ve mentioned the Basque who cross the boundary between Spain and France. More interestingly, the Irish originate from the Basque (by the way, it sounds like that although culturally similar to Celtics the Irish/Basque people aren’t genetically the same as the Celtics). The Irish are a mysterious group when considering genetics and the Black Irish, but there seems to be no absolute conclusions as of yet. Anyway, their unique origins would explain the conflict these two peoples have had with the populations that surround them. These are particularly clannish people who have attempted to maintain local self-governance and ethnic identity in the face of those who wish to impose upon them from the outside (i.e., the great empires of Spain, France and England). These clannish people declared a forceful ‘no’ to assimilation. The Basque republican independence even helped to inspire early American political thinking (see here).

Another European divide of the more starkly geographic variety is that between Northern and Southern Europe which is based on the boundary of the Roman Empire. The Roman culture has its connection to Britain with the Cavaliers who were of Norman descent and so the American South can partly be seen as the long-lasting influence of the Roman Empire which could be seen in the South’s imperialist aspirations leading up to the Civil War, imperial aspirations that spread all the way through Mexico, down into Central America and to Caribbean islands such as Cuba (Southerners dreamed big, ya gotta give them that). The American North, on the other hand, was populated by people (including Germans and Scandinavians) who were less influenced by the Roman Empire and by the Mediterranean cultures in general.

Yet another divide existed within Southern Europe. The other great power in this region were the Moors. For many centuries, they ruled Portugal, Spain, and Andorra along with parts of France and Italy. Hispania was the name the Romans gave to the Iberian Peninsula where the Moors later had their most power and influence and this is the etymological origin of Spain. The origin of the Hispanics of the Americas originates from this region of Hispanic Europe. Genetic testing even shows how different this population is from the rest of Europe.

The Southern Europe angle is so fascinating because it partly mirrors the early development of Southern North America.

The Iberian Peninsula extends south toward Africa like Mexico in relation to the black-populated Central and South America. There are the mixed-race/ethnicity Hispanics with their open range cowboy culture brought from Spain and the Romanized Germanic Norman Cavaliers with their feudalist-like slave society (ignoring the uncertainty of how many of the Cavaliers actually descended from Norman aristocracy; certainly there were plenty of actual titled British nobility among them, whatever their ancestry). One could think of the Gulf of Mexico as the American version of the Mediterranean Sea, both areas of vast multiculturalism and creole societies and both areas of conflict-ridden ethnic rivalries. And one could think of South America with its large African-descended population as the twin of Africa, both places ravaged by centuries of colonial exploitation and imperial oppression, not to mention the Atlantic slave trade.

The multiculturalism of the US isn’t a failure of having lost our supposed European traditional values. If there is a failure, it is because we mimicked the long (and often conflicted, war torn even) multicultural history of Europe. The US is the seeming inevitable extension of how Europe has been evolving over the past thousand years or so. You reap what you sow or rather what your forefathers sowed.

I want to further follow the Hispanic issue into American history, but I think the best way to do that is by considering the Quakers.

My favorite descendant of Quakers was Thomas Paine. His father was a Quaker and his mother was an Anglican, but it was his father who was the main influence in guiding his education and ensuring he had instilled him the Quaker values of plain speech and practical knowledge. Interestingly, Paine grew up in East Anglia, the original hotbed of the Puritans. It was also an area that had experienced a lot of the enclosure movement.

The enclosures were designed to end the commons. Both Quakers and Puritans put great value on the commons. The Quakers were concentrated in the North Midlands which had a long history of Viking and Norse settlements (but I noticed that Quakers also had some concentration in an area of Wales where the American Midlands socialist Robert Owen came from). The Vikings, as I recall, gave them a proto-feminism and the Norse gave them a proto-democracy. The commons wasn’t just a place for people to graze their animals and gather wood. The commons was also where the common folk met to debate and vote on issues, most often about their community. Americans were carrying on this tradition in the North during the Revolutionary Era and it continues to this day.

Paine was coming of age when the full effect of enclosures were being felt. When he visited London, he saw the masses of land dispossessed who had been forced into the cities. The commons had allowed for Lockean land rights and hence subsistence living. The enclosures left people homeless and starving. So, before coming to the colonies, Paine saw the first labor unions forming and the first working class protests.

I bring this up because the same conservatives who wrongly argue about the tragedy of the commons also argue about tighter border control. The conservative mind loves boundaries and wants everything enclosed and controlled, typically by the perceived moral elite (and failing that, the political and plutocratic elite, same difference right?). The fear was that if the common people were democratically allowed to govern themselves and control their own lives they would mess everything up and destroy all that is good about society.

Quakers for their time were quite liberal which in their case meant they had great faith in the common people (and, from the common people’s perspective, an unwillingness to govern others). This is the basis of the pluralistic Midlands that combined pansy liberal values such as feminism and pacifism with more hardcore liberal values of left-libertarianism and direct democracy. The love of democracy, especially social democracy, is what eventually allied the Midlands with Yankeedom, but Midlands never fully got on board with the Puritan-originated melting pot assimilationist program.

Pluralism is an odd way to do borders. The Quakers neither sought to enforce borders nor to destroy them. They simply left them up to communities. So, in the Midlands, you will find ethnic enclaves and islands while also finding varying degrees of mixed up populations. It was the ideal of freedom of association (or not if one so desired).

The Midlands became so important to American identity, the Heartland, because of the way it moderated the extremes and lessened the distance between differences.

The Quakers weren’t against assimilation, just against oppressively enforced assimilation. In the end, the Quaker Midlands (with some major help from New Netherlands/New York) have been more successful at assimilating ethnic immigrants into American society than either the oppressively enforced assimilation of New England or the oppressively enforced assimilation of the Deep South. The Midlands inspires ethnic immigrants to assimilate themselves by making clear to them that they aren’t the enemy and that they have a place in American society. Build enough public institutions like public schools and most people, the clannish aside, will assimilate themselves in a generation or two, sometimes several generations.

The Midwest is the Midlands which was settled by the Quakers who were middle class immigrants from the English Midlands. Hamlin Garland referred to the Midwest as the Middle Border. That captures the essence of some truth. Between Yankees and Southerners, Midlands is part of the region of the original Middle Colonies (along with the former New Netherlands colony). It was the border territory between settlements and frontier, eventually extending by way of immigration and settlement patterns down into upper Texas and up into lower Canada (the only cultural region that connects South and North). This is the Middle West, between the East Coast and the West Coast, the flyover country one passes over going from one place to another. It is the middle of America, including the geographic center of the contiguous United States along with the median and mean center of the United States population.

The Middle Colonies and the Midwest is so symbolically important in American history for many reasons. It was a meeting point of empires with the Penn’s Quaker colony with its largely German immigrants, the Dutch colony of New Netherlands with a diverse population, the New Sweden colony that later was incorporated into New Netherlands, and the Native American allied French Empire extending along the edge of the Middle colonies. It was also where most new immigrants arrived and settled or else passed through on their way westward. It is where some of the most centrally located multicultural big cities: New York City, Philadelphia, and Chicago (all three in the top 5 most populous cities in the US).

This middle region of the US is where cultures mixed. It has maybe the most ethnic enclaves and ethnic islands in the entire country. The only other region that competes is that of the Northern border region of the Spanish Empire, the region where met Hispanics, Native Americans, French, Africans, and all the mix of people going west and south from the British colonies.

Spain and the Spanish Empire played a similar role of a meeting ground of peoples and cultures.

As I’ve pointed out, even before they sought to colonize the Americas and import African slaves, the Spanish people back in Europe were already mixing it up. Beyond the Basque, there are numerous native ethnic groups with their own non-Spanish languages. Even the Roma are considered a native people in Spain where they live as an autonomous community in Andalusia. Spain has a multicultural tradition that has existed for a long time and continues to this day:

“As of 2010, there were over 6 million foreign-born residents in Spain, corresponding to 14% of the total population. Of these, 4.1 million (8.9% of the total population) were born outside the European Union and 2.3 million (5.1%) were born in another EU Member State.[1]

“Because of its location in the Iberian Peninsula, the territory comprising modern Spain has always been at the crossroads of human migration, having harboured many waves of historical immigration. The Spanish Empire, one of the first global empires and one of the largest in the world, spanned all inhabited continents and throughout the years people from these lands emigrated to Spain in varying numbers.”

I wonder if this history as a geographic crossroads helped Spain become such a major empire controlling so many different ethnic groups and mixed populations. As a people, I’d assume they had a fair amount of familiarity with dealing with diversity along with the related issues of inter-ethnic conflict, pluralistic tolerance and national assimilation.

Their way of dealing with it, however, doesn’t seem to be exactly like how the English dealt with it in their similar history of diversity. I’m not overly familiar with the Spanish Empire, but I have been reading more about Hispanic culture here in the Americas. Among the Hispanic population, there is the idea of mestizo which as a general concept is less about the crossbreeding of supposed separate races than it is about the cultural culmination where ethnicities meet. In discussing this in Mestizo Democracy: The Politics of Crossing Borders, John Francis Burke pointed out a false dichotomy that typically polarizes debate (Kindle Locations 180-184):

“As was the case with the individual v. community dichotomy, assimilationism v. separatism presumes there are only two possibilities-a universal, uniform community identity or particular intense cultural identities. Behind this presumption lies the notion of cultural identity as a possession to be preserved and not as a fluid relationship in which a culture is both affected by constant new influences and, reciprocally, affects or shapes those influences. Just as the intersubjective basis of human relations dissovles the wall between the individual and the community, so the logic of distinguishing a universal generic community from particular dense cultures disintegrates once we acknowledge that cultures continually interpenetrate and transform one another and that any articulation of a universal political community is connected to this vibrant interchange among its particular cultural groups.

Burke then concludes the chapter with the following (Kindle Locations 282-286):

“A just unity-in-diversity thus entails the pursuit of the following two questions. What are the conditions under which diverse cultural groups can even begin to dialogue? How can marginalized groups gain genuine access-without emasculating their respective cultures in the process-to the political, social, and economic decision-making structures that in large part affect their destinies? Given the import of such questions, a mestizo democracy is hardly a saccharine celebration of multiculturalism. Rather it is a politics of “crossing borders” that considers how cultures can realize their respective distinctiveness in interaction with other cultures while simultaneously engendering a just, substantive political community in which the dignity of `others’ is not marginalized.”

As is made clear, Burke isn’t just talking about the relationship between Americans and Mexican immigrants. It’s also about Hispanics who have been here since before the Texas Revolution and the Mexican-American War. It’s even more generally about every ethnic group, including those of European ancestry and those who are first generation immigrants from all over.

The problem with Borg-style assimilation is that even most white Americans of colonial era ancestry don’t want to be told that they will be assimilated and that resistance is futile. I dare you to go to some small rural Southern community and tell the people there that in order to be real Americans they have to fully assimilate to the standard culture, lifestyle and way of speaking as shown on US mass media. I double-dog dare you!

This is why I speak of pluralism, whether done in the style of mestizo or the middle colonies. I’m fond of the Midlands style because it is an example of unity-in-diversity that exists at the heart of the American identity. This pluralism isn’t a foreign concept. It is America itself, if anything is America at all.

Even we white people are more genetically mixed up (not just among European ethnicities) than we’d like to admit, but it isn’t the end of the world. We’ve survived as a country this long and so far our diversity has been our strength. What does race even mean in the land of the American mutt?

I was noticing an article about Vanessa Williams who in American society is considered African-American (for example, a big deal was made at the time that she was the first African-American to be crowned Miss America). In the article, it describes the results of genetic testing she had done. Her results were: “23% from Ghana, 17% from the British Isles, 15% from Cameroon, 12% Finnish, 11% Southern European, 7% Togo, 6% Benin, 5% Senegal and 4% Portuguese.” She is almost evenly split between European and African genetics, but she does look like what people in America think of as black with darker skin and thick dark hair. Nonetheless, it would be about as correct to call her a European-American. If you were to compare her to a full-blooded African, she would look quite European indeed.

Are our arguments about race really about percentages? So, if a black person or Hispanic person can prove they have more than 50% European genetics, we’ll let them into the white club? If so, there are a lot of people perceived as non-white who should be considered white. However, if having a drop (or even quite a few drops) of non-European blood means a person isn’t white, we’ll have to kick a bunch of Americans out of the white club.

If it isn’t about race but some judgment of an ethnic culture as inferior, then why do we continue to allow rural Southern Scots-Irish to be a part of the American experiment. Objectively speaking, they are dragging us all down. They’ve resisted assimilation, just as white Americans accuse minorities. They are violent, just as white Americans accuse minorities. They have massive social problems, just as white Americans accuse minorities. So, why are so many white Americans, specifically conservatives, reluctant to fairly bring the same accusations against another so-called white American group?

I’d argue that even Hispanics are more assimilable than the Scots-Irish have proven to be. The Scots-Irish at least received the benefit of the doubt and we tried to assimilate them. Few white Americans ever gave the Hispanics such benefit of the doubt extending over the centuries. How can Hispanics prove they are American enough when the bar keeps getting raised for them according to the typical racist double standard? Besides, it was we white Americans who invaded their land first and annexed it with Hispanics already living there. Why are we white Americans complaining about people remaining on their people’s land after we’ve taken it?

Let me continue my thought by quoting from an HBD article:

Law Alone?
by Audacious Epigone

“The paradox presented here for many like myself is that the places inspiring the warmest feelings and that I would like most to live in are the places that tend to put the least effort into maintaining what they have. It’s tragic. It doesn’t strike me as overly cynical to presume that this is almost inevitable, as though liberalism doesn’t know when or where to stop and just keeps cruising along the progressive highway past the promised land and over the cliff. [ . . . ]

What of birthright citizenship? Our own 14th amendment has been read by the courts in such a way that if one is able to spawn somewhere in the country, through hook, crook or otherwise, then said spawn is, jus soli, a child of the land he was born on.”

To my mind, this is the voice of someone who just doesn’t get it, not to say that I don’t sympathize with the complaint (yes, the evolving multicultural world has lots of problems).

I would argue that the reason those countries inspire the warmest feelings is because they are open societies (i.e., liberal democracies). Take the liberal away by making them closed societies and what makes them great in the first place would be almost instantly destroyed. This is all the more true for the US which was closer to being an ethnic nation-state prior to the European invasion and it’s been going in the opposite direction ever since.

I have one ancestor (of European descent) who was born in Kentucky before the American Revolution. This was at a time when the British had a treaty that forbade settlers from living there. So, not only were some of my white ancestors illegal immigrants, but they had an anchor baby as well.

My ancestors were far from unusual. It was because of all those law-breaking immigrants, especially the Scots-Irish, that the British (and later the US government) struggled to maintain order and maintain the border. Those early Scots-Irish make the worst Mexican undocumented workers of today look like angels. If not for those trouble-making rebellious clannish ethnics, it is a lot less likely that many of the wars and revolutions would have happened here. We might now be as peaceful and moderate as Canada without those violent, crime-ridden Scots-Irish constantly forcing the hand of authority. I’ve entertained the idea that a significant part of the Civil War was a clannishly ethnic refusal to assimilate, specifically as the South lost political influence and the Northern Melting/Stew Pot American Dream became predominant. Even so, these centuries later we Americans finally assimilated the Scots-Irish, more or less. In doing so, we broke their clannish spirit by making them Americans and they are nearly respectable at this point. If we can assimilate the Scots-Irish, we can assimilate anyone.

I’m picking on the Scots-Irish just to make a point, but I have nothing against them any more than I have against any other ethnicity. Every immigrant group has its strengths and weaknesses. The strength of America is precisely because we have a diversity of strengths and hence don’t share the same weaknesses. Besides, it’s kind of pointless talking about Scots-Irish or Hispanic or whatever. Most Americans have a little bit of many ethnicities in them.

If we white Americans WASPs don’t like multiculturalism, then we should give back to the Dutch, Swedish, French, Spanish and Native Americans their respective colonies and territories. Otherwise, shut up and be a good American mutt, whether a mutt in terms of genetics or cultures. Or else don’t and instead be a clannish regionalist (or even isolationists like the Amish), yet another good ol’ American tradition. I suppose we have space for all types here in America.

Live and let live, like good Quaker Friends.

Here are some posts that have got me thinking lately, the first four being from hbd chick and involving my discussions with her in the comments section:

Additional thought the day after writing this:

I’m a Midlander and so I’m biased. I declare this without apology. I’m proud that the Quaker pluralist vision has become so dominant in America and that the pluralist American Dream has become so widely influential in the world. I’m a proud American, dammit!

I like this American experiment that has been going on for centuries now. Why stop it now because the world is changing? America has always been about change, for good or ill. We’ve been dealt this hand and I say let us play it to its conclusion. It’s an experiment, after all. What fun is an experiment if you end it before you find out how it turns out?

Otherwise, I have no strong opinion about ethnocentric nation-states. I don’t care if other countries want to try that experiment. More power to them. I love experiments of all kinds. Let us have a contest. They with their ethnocentric experiment and we with our pluralistic experiment.

I’d point out that all the great empires were multiculturalists in their own way. I’m not a big fan of empires in and of themselves, but I suspect it is too late for the US to be anything other than an empire at this point. Our forefathers made their choices and we (and the coming generations) are forced to face the consequences. Maybe we can be a new kind of empire. The US has definitely stepped up its game from previous attempts at imperialism.

I feel a bit parochial in my defense of the Midlands. I’m not a clannish regionalist, but neither am I a devil-may-care universalist of the mainstream liberal variety. I like my region, partly because it doesn’t hold itself above all the other regions.I like the very idea of regions along with the uniqueness and diversity that goes along with them Why does arguing for the merits of one thing seem inevitably to make one appear as disparaging all else? That is the opposite of what I’m trying to do with my vision of the Mestizo Midlands.

So, I mean not criticism of the ethnocentric among us, in the larger world or even here in the good ol’ US of A.

Part of me is with Paine (and some other founding fathers) in feeling like a citizen of the world. To be an American is to be something greater and more inclusive than a mere citizen of a nation-state. America is the only country in the world that includes large numbers of people from nearly every country and ethnicity in the world, excepting a few isolated tribal people maybe.

I should mention that this post has nothing directly to do with the larger perspective of HBD proponents, beyond the brief mention of HBD with one quote, most especially not directly about the views of hbd chick, although discussions with her motivated some of my thinking. The HBD view of culture is slightly different than how I’m using it here. I’m not really talking a whole lot about such things as family patterns or even the more intricate details of geography and its impact.

I tend to come from a view that sees culture as an unknown factor. We don’t know where it comes from for its origins are in the mists of prehistory, but we can speak of what maintains culture in the present (and speculate about the known history).

I’m a namby-pamby liberal in my love of vague concepts like ‘culture’. I see human nature and human society as an amorphous set of factors. We can speak of concrete correlates to culture, but they aren’t culture. The closest metaphor is the difference between hardware and software, however extremely imperfect that metaphor is.

Let me put it like this. In hunting, you want to capture the prey your after. So, you follow the signs such as animal poop. But, as Pat McManus wrote, “Well, you can’t eat sign.”

Vigilante Superhero

Matt Cardin posted a video of a short film about a ‘superhero’. It is very interesting and high quality. I wouldn’t mind seeing a full length movie based on this character, especially from the vantage point of the criminals he preys upon.

I’ll make a quick comment and then you should go watch the 9 minute video.

Matt Cardin, in his typical fashion, focuses in on the idea of this superhero as a Fortean figure. I like that angle, but that isn’t what came to my mind while watching it. I immediately thought of George Zimmerman killing Trayvon Martin out of some misguided notion of vigilante justice.

This short film brings up a useful hypothetical scenario.

What if there was a vigilante superhero who had no accountability to any authority, who could not be caught, stopped or even questioned? What if this superhero was more about taking action and sometimes got sloppy about targets, sometimes killing innocents and bystanders? What if s/he profiled his targets and disproportionately killed people of a certain race, age, gender and dress?

Basically, what if someone like George Zimmerman had superpowers and a secret identity?


Race, Ethnicity, Culture: Discuss!

Race, ethnicity, culture — how do we speak about such things? Or better yet, how can we and how should we? What is the relationship betwen these factors? How do we make sense of them in our mixed up modern world?

Also, what about the related issues of nationalism, nativism, regionalism, clannishness, ethnocentrism, racism and assimilation? And what about the corrolaries of internationalism, immigration, universalism, pluralism, multiculturalism, mestizo, mixed race and co-existence?

I have a few dozen books I’ve been reading, skimming or which I will soon get around to. I can feel a very long post brewing in my brainpan. But my thoughts aren’t yet fully formed. At present, I find myself contemplating not yet answered questions and open-ended speculations.

The closest thing I have to a conclusion so far is that, well, it’s complex.

This post is me throwing the issue out there. Anyone who wants to catch it and run with it, I welcome your paticipation. I’d very much appreciate any input that will move this topic forward out of its morass of inherited prejudices, unquestioned biases, unaware assumptions, and oversimplified thinking. If no one jumps in to offer their insight and wisdom, I guess I’ll have to contemplate upon it by my lonesome self.

I will eventually get around to posting my clarified thoughts on the matter, but I want to leave it there for the time being.

Trayvon Martin, George Zimmerman, & the Issues Being Discussed

The political football of the moment is the case of Trayvon Martin having been followed/stalked, shot and killed by George Zimmerman. So, let me punt.

The issues surrounding the case interest me. The case itself less so. But if not for the case, these surrounding issues would unlikely see the light of day in the MSM. This is a rare opportunity for public discussion when nearly the entire nation is paying attention, not that the issues suddenly are any more important than they are at any other time.

It’s hard to know how to talk about this subject. There are so many angles one can consider.

I’ll focus on the angle that has been my focus lately in general: race, ethnicity, culture, regionalism, clannishness, violence, culture of honor, North vs South, etc. Well, it is the focus that has been on my mind for these past few years.

What has come up in the internet chatter and the talking head babble is a constellation of factors with varying degrees of relevance or irrelvance to the case at hand (depending on one’s perspective and emphasis): neighborhood watch groups, self-defense pleas, stand your ground laws, castle doctrine, vigilante justice, gun ownership rights, concealed carry, gun violence rates, crime, legally-sanctioned vs non-legally-sanctioned violence/homicides, racial profiling, gated communities, and I’m sure many other things as well.

From what I understand, the police inform neighborhood watch groups to not carry guns. Police also tell them not to follow and confront people. George Zimmerman basically did everything he shouldn’t have been doing from a genuine self-defense perspective, although following random strangers around at night while carrying a concealed weapon isn’t illegal however inadvisable the behavior and however questionable the intentions/ethics. Well, killing defenseless and innocent minors is generally frowned upon in our society.

Zimmerman was some combination of overzealous and paranoid, whether or not one sees this as justified (by whether one shares such a overzealous, paranoid worldview). He might have genuine reasons for his fears (everyone has reasons for everything they do, morally worthy reasons or not), but that is true for people with fears that don’t lead them to shooting and killing people. Fear and homicide don’t inevitably go hand in hand. In this case, it was more than just fear. Zimmerman was frustrated and angry as well.

He had been upset because he didn’t think the police were doing their job, but he felt better when the police helped him out with the neighborhood watch group. His original criticism of the police was so strong because of the tension in the local community with crime. As he explained to the police dispatcher shortly before shooting Trayvon, “These assholes they always get away.” And there are multiple witnesses to there being racist sentiments in his family which is evidence for how we should interpret statements like this combined with his having a history of calling the police to report suspicious people who were mostly black. Anyway, he made sure Trayvon didn’t get away, even when all Trayvon was trying to do was get back home to his family.

Stalking and killing innocent people in your neighborhood is hardly an effective method of making your community safer. Just speaking for myself, I’d feel less safe knowing a gun-carrying homocidal paranoiac like Zimmerman was living in my neighborhood freely walking about with a concealed weapon ready to shoot anyone he meets based on his subjective feelings of fear… but that is just me.

This is an obvious case of vigilante justice. When put in those terms, most people immediately think of it as a moral judgment. I, however, simply am using it as a description. Almost anyone could envision a scenario where they would deem vigilante justice to be justifiable, morally even if not legally; assassinating Hitler as a straightforward example; a wife shooting her life-threatening abusive husband is another example that most people could accept or at least understand. Those who support Zimmerman see his seeking vigilante justice as perfectly reasonable and even admirable, although among his supporters not all are completely willing to get on full board with the overzealousness of his application of vigilante justice.

Many gun rights proponents often argue that there would be less crime if there were more people with guns. So, in this case, if both Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman had guns, then they could have had a stand-your-ground shootout which would have been the ultimate form of justice; may the fastest draw win. From what I’ve recently read, it sounds like the stand your ground laws have many unintended consequences. They’ve been successfully used as a self-defense plea by gangsters involved in gang fights and by those who left the scene of a confrontation only to later return with a gun to kill the person.

I was also recently once again looking at violence rates and murder rates in the states which fits the typical North/South divide. I would point out that an act of violence that leads to death isn’t technically murder when it is legally sanctioned or doesn’t lead to criminal prosecution. I’m sure police violence isn’t even included in the stats on violence rates. Only if the police were brought to trial and prosecuted would that particular incident of police violence be included with all the rest of the violence. This is significant as particular places are known for having more violent police forces than other places.

Also, vigilante justice and violence in general is more condoned and more common in the South (whether the condoning makes it common or the commonness leads to it being condoned). As explained by Sheldon Hackney, “In the South, there’s just more folks who need killing.” I came across an example of this. Someone was explaining how, in Texas a half century ago, a standard argument for a defense lawyer wasn’t to claim that his client didn’t kill the person but that the murder victim was of low character and had it coming to them. This argument apparently was convincing to juries at the time and led to many innocent verdicts. Such a legal defense is based on a cultural expectation that vigilante justice should be upheld by the court of law.

One sees an echo of this older Southern legal tradition in how the Zimmerman case proceeded and concluded.

I see examples of this kind of thinking in my own family.

My mother quickly went to the defense of Zimmerman. Her family is of typical Appalachian stock.

My maternal uncle Bob owns and carries guns. The last time I saw him, he told of a situation where his gun came in handy. He lives out in the country and someone knocked on his door late at night asking for car help. He went out to help the guy, but made sure to bring along his gun concealed from view. He was met by a bunch of young guys who threatened to rob him and so he pulled out his gun. They left quickly. Even though he is a hardcore Christian, he openly admits that he wouldn’t think twice about killing someone who had it coming. The important point is that he is a hardcore Christian of the Southern fundamentalist variety.

Violence as a way of maintaining order was more normal for my mother’s family. Her father would beat her and her brother to punish them. My mother and uncles lived in fear of their father, but it did maintain order in an authoritarian paternalistic kind of way.

I don’t know what my father thinks of the Zimmerman case. His view might be similar to that of my mother, but his family is a more mixed background which is demonstrated by another incident.

My paternal grandmother was born and raised in the South and her family have been in the Deep South for centuries. She moved to the Midwest when she married my paternal grandfather who was a Northerner, born in New Jersey but raised on an estate on Long Island Sound in Connecticut. My father’s parents were arguing once when he was a child and my paternal grandmother ended up shooting a gun into a chair. My paternal grandfather could get angry and moody, but he never turned to violence. That is Southern meets Northern in a nutshell.

My father takes more after his own father and his father’s Northern attitude. My dad has considered buying a gun. My dad has some right-wing tendencies such as in fearing the breakdown in society. He realizes that if society were to breakdown there would be riots and looting. One might want to have a gun in this kind of situation, but then his Northern Christian sensibility kicks in. He realizes that he wouldn’t want to be responsible for killing his own neighbors merely to protect some food. It seems unChristian to him, but killing people is perfectly Christian to the Southern fundamentalist worldview.

Read or watch some of the End Times apocalyptic entertainment put out by fundies. I have and it is a scary world as seen through their eyes. If I saw the world that way, I’d carry a gun too.

My worldview leans toward pacifism which makes sense as I born in and lived most of my life in the Quaker-founded culture of the Midlands. It’s a live-and-let-live community-minded semi-libertarianism. Like the rural South, the rural Midwest has a majority white population that is religious, supportive of gun rights and do indeed own lots of guns. Unlike the rural South, the rural Midwest has low rates of gun violence in particular and violence in general. The rural South has the highest rate of violence in the entire country. It also has higher rates of suicides, ‘accidental’ deaths, wife beatings, child abuse, etc. The South is just a dangerous place all around, whether you wish to ascribe that to a culture of honor or to clannish genetics.

Here in Iowa, I have coworkers with guns, some for hunting and some for self-defense. I have one coworker who is in the National Guard and carries a gun with him. That doesn’t bother me in the slightest. I’m a liberal-minded gun rights proponent, but like a good Midwesterner I also advocate for a peaceful, safe and orderly society. The high rate of violence in the South is a foreign mentality to me. I just don’t get it.

The problem isn’t necessarily the laws themselves for the laws merely are an expression of a culture. You could have a stand your ground law in Iowa and it probably wouldn’t lead to more violence as it seems to have in Southern states. So, maybe laws like this throw gas on the fire, but they didn’t start the fire.

What this recent case brings to public attention is how different the South is from the rest of the country. For a non-Southerner visiting the South, it is truly like visiting a foreign land. It isn’t dissimilar to visiting Mexico. In both cases, there is a higher chance you might get killed, even if you’re just walking down the street minding your own business.

Related to the North/South divide is the race issue.

Black culture is stigmatized as being inherently violent. This is the justification for racial profiling, as argued by those on the right. However, since white rural Southerners are the single most violent regional demographic in the US, why don’t they get profiled? If gangsta rap music is judged to promote violence, why don’t we judge redneck country music the same way? Country music is often about immoral behavior: extramarital affairs, drunkenness, fighting, etc. The older country music and mountain music can be extremely dark. So, why this racial double standard?

I was walking to my parents’ home the other night, not unlike what Trayvon Martin had been doing. It was getting a bit dark and I’m typically a bit scruffy looking. It’s an upper class neighborhood that has had some crime. The scenario was quite similar to what led to the Trayon killing, but the difference is that I’m white and I live in relatively peaceful Iowa. As a white person, I felt as safe as if I were sitting at home behind a locked door. I walked past kids and adults, none of whom knew me nor did I know them, yet no one looked at me suspiciously, followed me in a car or stalked me on foot.

Even in liberal Iowa City, racism takes its toll – as I’ve written about before: John Bior Deng: R.I.P. and John Bior Deng: Racism, Classism.

Obviously, it isn’t just about the Florida case. It is about the Southern culture that promotes vigilante justice and makes unjust violence inevitable. Maybe even more importantly, it’s about this country’s unresolved race issues which go hand in hand with this country’s unresolved regional issues. Even if the law was properly applied in this particular case, we obviously need to fix our legal system to ensure that it is a justice system. An unjust law fairly applied doesn’t a just society make.

We as a society still have a lot of soul-searching to do, if there is ever to be justice in this country. A truly just society isn’t defined by those who have it coming getting punished with death but rather is defined by the innocent not living in fear of those who think they have it coming.

* * * *

In researching this case and the issues involved, here are the interesting things I found:

As it is, and in spite of his acquittal, George Zimmerman’s life has been changed for ever. He is in hiding, a marked man now a target for a hothead’s vigilante justice – what he was accused of meting out to Trayvon Martin.

“That we can get a verdict like this, not because the system has broken down, but the system worked exactly as it was designed,” Oliver said. “How does 2013 Florida have a law that seems cut and pasted from 1881 Tombstone? Because – let’s be clear here – according to current Florida law, you can get a gun, follow an unarmed minor, call the police, have them explicitly tell you to stop following him, then choose to ignore that, keep following the minor, get into a confrontation with him and if at any point during that process you get scared, you can shoot the minor to death and the state of Florida will say, ‘Well, look, you did what you could.’”,33126/

But thanks to these dumb-as-dog-shit laws, while the defense had to introduce some evidence that George Zimmerman acted in self-defense, they didn’t actually have to completely convince us of it. All they had to do, according to the undoubtedly moronic but explicitly written Florida statutes, was create a “reasonable doubt” as to whether he acted in self-defense.

Does that make sense to me? Absolutely not. But I was put in the position to decide whether the prosecution was able to present a case that proved that George Zimmerman was not acting in self-defense when he shot and killed Trayvon Martin. And based on the guidelines, which all of us thought were pretty ludicrous and sort of made us question the entire U.S. justice system, the prosecution didn’t do it.

I know it’s easier for all of you who are enraged at us to look past the details. After all, putting yourselves in our position would force you to try to understand how brutally complex, and legitimately dysfunctional, the legal system truly is. And why do that when you can just call us unsympathetic monsters?

Look, I’m not an idiot. I know George Zimmerman shot an unarmed teenager to death—he admitted to it, for Christ’s sake. Zimmerman followed an innocent 17-year-old (we couldn’t take into consideration whether or not Martin was racially profiled, by the way, which was yet another little legal gem that was handed our way), called 911, was told by the operator not to pursue him, but instead began a physical altercation that ended in the young man’s death. And the state of Florida stipulated that, from a strict legal standpoint, George Zimmerman did nothing wrong.

Pretty fucking dumb, right? Trust me, we tried looking at this thing from every angle while we were in deliberation for 16 hours. There’s no way around it.

The “Zimmerman mindset,” as Alexander calls it, is composed of more parts than mere racism. Another part of it — equally dangerous, if not more so — is the paranoid, self-important vigilante mindset that drove Zimmerman to completely ignore the advice of authorities, forget the local cops even existed, and go off on his own tear and get himself into a lot of totally unnecessary trouble, just because everyone has told him, and he’s told himself, that a man has to “stand his ground” and “retreat” of any sort is bad, even when basic common sense demands it and there’s really nothing to gain by fighting.

This wan’t just a triumph of racism, it was a triumph of juvenile libertarianism over sensible use of state power, brittle macho belligerence over prudent choice of where to make a stand and when to step back for safety’s sake. It was a triumph of childish, selfish emotion over any sort of adult reason or responsibility.

Funny how you don’t hear the Second Amendment fetishists saying that this tragedy could have been averted if only Martin had been armed and able to defend himself!

By now, if you’re even slightly in tune with issues of guns and gun violence, you also have heard a lot about the shooting of Trayvon Martin, the 17-year old boy who was innocently walking through his gated neighborhood when a self-appointed neighborhood watch man, George Zimmerman, armed with a concealed weapon and feeling empowered by Florida’s “shoot first” law, took it upon himself to trail and then accost Trayvon, against the advice of 911. When the boy put up a fight, armed with nothing more than a can of tea and a bag of Skittles, Zimmerman shot Trayvon dead.

There are so many red flags with this case that it boggles the mind, such as the fact that Zimmerman had a violent past but was allowed to carry a concealed weapon anyway, the way Zimmerman ignored the 911 operator and felt obliged to get into an armed confrontation with the boy despite the fact that police were on their way, the assumption by the police of Zimmerman’s innocence, the assumption by the police of Trayvon’s guilt, the apparent stereotypes that Zimmerman had of Trayvon based on the boy’s clothing and skin color, and the lack of an arrest of the shooter.

But at least as disturbing to me as any of those things is the root of the issue, the one thing that led to the confrontation in the first place: the desire by a man with a concealed weapon to play “Wyatt Earp” and be a freelance policeman. People carry concealed handguns for two main reasons: fear of others, and a sense of self-empowerment. Fear of others can quickly become paranoia, and a feeling of self-empowerment can sometimes push people over the edge into irrational behavior in a crisis situation. Both of these things likely happened in Trayvon’s situation. Add to this the recent study that people who hold guns are more likely to imagine others being armed with guns. This, too, apparently happened in Trayvon’s shooting, where Zimmerman is heard on the 911 call saying that he thought Trayvon was holding something suspicious, like a gun.

There is an irrefutable fact: the average citizen with a conceal carry license is not even remotely trained like a policeman. They aren’t as versed in the laws, they haven’t been trained in crisis intervention, negotiation tactics, or how to remain rational or steady in a shootout, and they likely haven’t had as much practice with their weapon. Training requirements are little to none nearly anywhere in America for them, and they are less accountable to anyone for their potentially lethal decisions than law enforcement professionals. So the pro-gun daydream of saving the day with their guns is a potentially lethal one, not just for the criminal or the gun owner, but also for anyone who happens to be around them when the shootout happens.

I can understand the frustration felt by the citizens of Dorena. They just want to feel safe. Sadly, bond measures intended to fund law enforcement in this area almost always fail, and they are particularly voted against by rural voters like those in Dorena. If they want to improve their safety, arming everyone around and forming posses to come to the rescue of a victim isn’t the answer, as Trayvon’s family can now attest. The answer is better funding to improve the number of deputy patrols, as well as the many non-armed options to hardening their homes against invaders.

There are very good reasons why we have police forces instead of relying on vigilantes to protect our communities.

But thanks to Florida’s incredible sunshine laws, we know a few relevant things about Zimmerman.

In July 2005, he was arrested for “resisting officer with violence.” The neighborhood watch volunteer who wanted to be a cop got into a scuffle with cops who were questioning a friend for alleged underage drinking. The charges were reduced and then waived after he entered an alcohol education program. Then in August 2005, Zimmerman’s former fiance sought a restraining order against him because of domestic violence. Zimmerman sought a restraining order against her in return. Both were granted. Meanwhile, over the course of eight years, Zimmerman made at least 46 calls to the Sanford (Fla.) Police Department reporting suspicious activity involving black males.
We also know that Witness No. 9 accused Zimmerman of molesting her when they were children. The relative’s revelation is appalling but irrelevant. What most folks don’t know is that Witness No. 9 made an explosive allegation against her cousin. “I know George. And I know that he does not like black people,” she told a Sanford police officer during a telephone call in which she pleaded for anonymity. “He would start something. He’s a very confrontational person. It’s in his blood. Let’s just say that. I don’t want this poor kid and his family to just be overlooked.” At the end of the call, Witness No. 9 urged the officer to “get character reports from other people and see if he’s ever said anything about black people, about being racist or anything like that because I guarantee you there’s somebody out there who will say it.”
That phone call was significant because it was placed two days after Zimmerman killed Trayvon and a couple of weeks before the case drew national attention. Witness No. 9 wasn’t seeking attention. “I’m a mom,” she told police. “I can’t stand seeing that some kid got shot and killed over a stupid fight, especially one that my [redacted] … because I know who he is.”
George Zimmerman is the one who stands accused of second-degree murder. He, not Trayvon Martin, is the one on trial starting June 10. And who Zimmerman is more relevant to the proceedings than who Trayvon was.

A 2012 study by PBS’s Frontline is getting a second look post-Zimmerman’s exoneration, and it reveals that if you’re going to kill in self-defense in America, you’d better be white. By analyzing data from a study by John Roman, senior analyst at the Urban Institute’s Justice Policy Center, Frontline found that in “Stand your ground” states, white people who kill black people are 354 percent more likely to be found justified in their killings. And it doesn’t get much better in non-“Stand your ground” states, where that number goes down only to 250 percent.

But even when it comes to black-on-black crime or black-on-white crime, a black defendant is unlikely to get a self-defense ruling in his or her favor, whether or not the state has “Stand your ground” laws on the books

Our results indicate that Stand Your Ground laws are associated with a significant increase in the number of homicides among whites, especially white males.According to our estimates, between 4.4 and 7.4 additional white males are killed each month as a result of these laws.We find no evidence to suggest that these laws increase homicides among blacks.

What’s more striking in these data than the pre-/post-comparison is the sharp contrast between SYG and non-SYG states. Could it be that the SYG states are more inclined to pass such laws because they’re inured to a relatively high level of violence already?

• Those who invoke “stand your ground” to avoid prosecution have been extremely successful. Nearly 70 percent have gone free.

• Defendants claiming “stand your ground” are more likely to prevail if the victim is black. Seventy-three percent of those who killed a black person faced no penalty compared to 59 percent of those who killed a white.

• The number of cases is increasing, largely because defense attorneys are using “stand your ground” in ways state legislators never envisioned. The defense has been invoked in dozens of cases with minor or no injuries. It has also been used by a self-described “vampire” in Pinellas County, a Miami man arrested with a single marijuana cigarette, a Fort Myers homeowner who shot a bear and a West Palm Beach jogger who beat a Jack Russell terrier.

• People often go free under “stand your ground” in cases that seem to make a mockery of what lawmakers intended. One man killed two unarmed people and walked out of jail. Another shot a man as he lay on the ground. Others went free after shooting their victims in the back. In nearly a third of the cases the Times analyzed, defendants initiated the fight, shot an unarmed person or pursued their victim — and still went free.

• Similar cases can have opposite outcomes. Depending on who decided their cases, some drug dealers claiming self-defense have gone to prison while others have been set free. The same holds true for killers who left a fight, only to arm themselves and return. Shoot someone from your doorway? Fire on a fleeing burglar? Your case can swing on different interpretations of the law by prosecutors, judge or jury.

• A comprehensive analysis of “stand your ground” decisions is all but impossible. When police and prosecutors decide not to press charges, they don’t always keep records showing how they reached their decisions. And no one keeps track of how many “stand your ground” motions have been filed or their outcomes.

Comments Section – InsiderMyself wrote:


“Because of the heat of the moment and stand your ground, he had a right to defend himself.”

Look what happened. Even the Times is now writing “stories” about how this law was not used here. “It’s not about stand your ground”. Bullhockey! The judges instructions to the jury are based on the LAW. And a juror said it did matter.

So why is the Times saying otherwise?

Former Sen. Durell Peaden and Rep. Dennis Baxley, two of the authors of Florida’s controversial Stand Your Ground law, are arguing that George Zimmerman lost the right to claim protection by way of self-defense the moment he went after Trayvon Martin, and insist that the legislation itself isn’t to blame for Martin’s death.

He has no protection under my law, Peaden told the Miami Herald.

Clarification: The PBS/Frontline study referenced above was conducted over a year ago; at the time, lawyers for George Zimmerman were relying on SYG for their defense, hence, John Roman’s quote above. By the time of the trial, the defense strategy had been changed to the standard “self-defense.” However… as stated in the article linked below on the issue of race and SYG:

George Zimmerman killed a 17-year-old boy he’d stalked for being ‘suspicious’ (a black teenager in a neighborhood where there’d been some problems… also known as “racial profiling”), provoked an altercation, shot the boy to death and then got off scott-free based on the parameters of Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law. Yes, Zimmerman’s lawyer dropped that particular defense and went with plain old “self defense” instead (getting out of your car and following someone is, by definition, not “standing” your ground) but the very existence of the law pollutes the way people view murder “unavoidable” shootings. Particularly when a black person is the victim.

The Times searched major Florida newspapers and found at least 93 cases in the past five years in which the new law was a factor. Those are just the confrontations that made the papers.

In 57 of them, those who used force were either not charged with a crime or the charges were dropped by prosecutors or dismissed by a judge before trial. Seven other defendants were acquitted.

Some people fought off intruders in their homes or businesses, which would have been allowed even before the “stand your ground” law.

The use of force resulted in 65 deaths.

Did the law empower the users of force to shoot? Could the tables have been turned on the shooters? If not for the law, would any of those 65 people still be alive?

How can anyone know?

What is known: Reports of justifiable homicides in Florida have spiked.

For the first half of this decade, the state counted an average of 34 justifiable homicides a year, as few as 31 and as many as 43.

That continued in 2006, the law’s first full year.

But the next three years brought these numbers:

2007: 102.

2008: 93.

2009: 105.

The first six months of 2010: 44.

They still wonder. What was wrong with Rodney that evening? Why was he acting out of character? The autopsy showed that his skull was fractured. Had he been beaten? Did he run into the trailer in fear for his life?

“It came close to killing my parents,” said Cox’s sister, Terri Cox Lavery, 44, who still combs through the police reports seven years later, looking for answers. “My mom, just this year, has gotten some of herself back.”

Her family, many of them former military, owns guns. Her husband has a permit to carry a concealed weapon. They believe in the right to bear arms and to protect your property.

“But if someone seems disoriented,” she said, “I’d like to think that we would, at a distance, first attempt to give some kind of aid and set some boundaries and call for help.”

They all agree that it’s especially insulting and hurtful that Rodney’s death is used by politicians as an example.

“The people who used this incident to pass that law, they’re not even on course,” said Autry, Cox’s uncle. “They’re not even close.”

Yet his lawyer could argue, invoking Stand Your Ground, that his client, outside the home, in the dark, waiting in ambush, “had the absolute right to defend himself inside his own home.” Before 2005, such an inside-out defense would have been dismissed as absurd. No longer.

Of course, this was just some a petty criminal, shot and killed in the act. An ex-con on probation working his way to his next conviction. Not a very sympathetic victim. But there was a time when one measure of a civil society had to do with the value it assigned to the life of even a common thief. When civil society restricted the use of deadly force to extreme, fearful, unavoidable circumstances.

Read more here:

However, where the results get really interesting is when we look at the male population of gun owners. Here’s the results that should interest you about the rate of gun ownership among me. The two highest rated sub-populations regarding gun ownership are:

Married southern men : 64%
Non-Hispanic southern white men: 61%

By contrast:

Non-southern married men: 48%
Non-Hispanic, non-southern white men: 45%

Further more, no other region of the country comes close to the South in terms of guns ownerhip. Here are the rates of gun ownership, which combine both male and female gun owners, among the various regions of the country:

Southern residents: 38%
Midwestern residents: 29%

Western residents: 27%

Eastern residents: 21%

That’s a big difference. It may reflect a cultural difference among the various regions, or it might reflect that many states outside the South have stricter gun laws. There’s no way to know, unfortunately, just based on Gallup’s raw data. However, Gallup’s data does show that women, married or not are more likely to own guns if they reside in the South versus other regions of the country.

I’ve driven through Sanford a number of times, when I was living in Jacksonville, FL. Don’t know much about it, specifically. I had a friend who lived in the town just to the north, Deltona. This part of Florida is called North Florida, and snarky comments from the rest of the South aside, it is very much part of the old South.

I have gone to the beach on the Fourth of July and seen Confederate battle flags. I have seen them on people’s trucks in Orlando, the urban center which is near Sanford. Driving North on 75 towards the Georgia border is the largest flag I’ve ever seen, fluttering over the freeway. Another Confederate flag (the first time I saw it, it froze my blood and my wife asked me where I’d taken her–she’s Black).

This is a part of Florida where, about a decade ago, a farmer was convicted of driving in to Jacksonville and offering jobs to homeless men, then keeping them imprisoned on his farm, charging them more for room and board than he paid them, and not letting them leave until their debts were paid.

In Florida, we have a “stand your ground” law. That is, you are not required to attempt to escape before you use deadly force against another. The Sanford police are attempting to say it applies, though Zimmerman is the pursuer, not the pursuee. He was the one with the gun. And I have little doubt that if it had been me walking through that neighborhood, not only would I still be alive, Zimmerman wouldn’t have bothered with me nor called the police.

But the murder of Black men by white authorities is not a crime in Florida. Not even in South Florida, the supposedly liberal part. Not even when, like ‘BG’ Beaugris, they are executed while lying on the ground.

Dumb kids are gonna be dumb kids no matter where or when, but does being a dumbass warrant a death sentence by private individuals, “just because?” Zimmerman, Martin’s murderer, hasn’t exactly won much public support. But “the homeowner” who gunned down Morrisson in the middle of the night for being on his porch? Holy Moly has there been an outpouring of support for him. A simple smell test can tell you a lot about what these murders were about. Imagine it was a white kid gunned down on a black homeowner’s porch. Perhaps some of the emminantly reasonable objections to this scenario would go like this: “Did the homeowner really have to kill this kid?” “This is not what the castle doctrine was intended for?” “Couldn’t the homeowner have retreated inside his house behind a locked door and called the cops?” Unfortunately, this is not what happened.

A study released in 2006 by Duke University on attitudes on race in Durham, N.C., a city with one of the fastest-growing Latino populations in the country, found that an overwhelming majority of Latinos — 78 percent — felt they had the most in common with whites, while 53 percent of them felt they had the least in common with blacks. So it would make sense for those respondents to act with the same assumptions about blacks that they perceive are held by native whites. In fact the Latino respondents, many of them immigrants from Mexico and Central America, actually reported higher negative feelings toward blacks than most native-born whites. Nearly 60 percent reported feeling that few or almost no blacks were hard-working or could be trusted, while only 10 percent of whites held that view.

On the other hand, almost three-quarters of blacks felt that Latinos were hard-working or could be trusted. Black Americans appear to view Latinos as more like themselves. “Blacks are not as negative toward Latinos as Latinos are toward blacks because blacks see them as another nonwhite group that will be treated as they have been,” said Paula D. McClain, the lead author on the study. Even as blacks worry about losing jobs to new immigrants, they are less supportive of harsh anti-immigration laws, she said, “because they know what laws have done to them.”

[ .  . . ]

In this atmosphere, blacks are the target of the highest number of hate crimes in the United States, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation — higher by a wide margin than any another group of Americans by race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation or disability. While blacks make up 12.6 percent of the country’s population, they were 70 percent of the victims of racial hate crimes in 2010.

WHATEVER role caste may have played in the Trayvon Martin case is unknowable, and it is far too early to tell whether Mr. Zimmerman will be arrested, tried or convicted. But that encounter unfolded in Seminole County, where Latinos have overtaken African-Americans as the dominant minority group, rising to 17 percent from 11 percent in the last decade. Blacks now make up 11 percent and whites, 66 percent. The area had a history of vigilante justice long before the new arrivals, dating back to 1920, when blacks in the nearby town of Ocoee were burned out of their homes after two black men tried to vote.

The murder and the verdict proved that Black males were born suspicious. Black masculinity is what some fear the most. Fear is why we have to go way out our way to be as approachable and as safe as possible. A flawed society and system are reasons why I have to appear safe. Black masculinity is why there are systems in place to bring us down, which is why Trayvon was doomed before he was born.

There always has to be some reason why a Black male dies at a young age. If a Black male dies, you often see gangs or drugs as the main factors to their demise as if he provoked his own death. The same has been said against Trayvon. By his appearance alone, he was destined to die? He only defended himself against a man stalking him, but since Trayvon chose to fight, he somehow chose his fate.

If you take a look at his supposed drug use, remember that the last three of our U.S. Presidents smoked weed AND cocaine. President George W. Bush was arrested for a DUI. Former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger smoked weed. Using drugs is not a factor; it’s a Black male using drugs that’s the problem. Even with Trayvon’s not so squeaky clean record in school, it was impossible for Zimmerman to be aware of that on that day. What Zimmerman perceived is what many perceived: a walking monster.

The fact is that teenagers often do dumb things. We’ve all done it; however, those dumb things should not be cause for murder. Teenagers do dumb things, and then they grow up, and start to do less dumb things.

Trayvon did what you’re taught to do and that was self-defense. The case also proves that Black males cannot engage in self-defense because it will always be their fault.

A Black death is always arguable. Thus is why there are so many reasons as to why he and many like him should’ve died. It is why I know that if I were killed in the same manner some would believe that it was my destiny because of the body I’m in and where I come from. When Emmitt Till’s killers were acquitted, one of the jurors said “If we hadn’t stopped to drink pop, it wouldn’t have taken that long.” There isn’t much difference with Emmitt and Trayvon. No matter how Black males strive to be a productive member in society, that same society will strive to condemn you, so what can we possibly do to not seem like a threat?

The classic study of the subject is by Richard Nisbett, a social psychologist at the University of Michigan. In his paper “Violence and Regional Culture,” published in the American Psychologist in 1993, Nisbett examined the higher rate of violence in the U.S. south, which he notes has been established since the time of revolution. After considering possible explanations having to do with poverty, slavery, and even the region’s hotter climate, he found a different answer in a cultural vestige of pastoralism: a deep “culture of honor” in which residents place an extraordinary value on personal reputation, family, and property. Threats to these things provoke aggressive reactions, leading to higher rates of murder and domestic violence. Here is how Nisbett himself explains it:

Southerners do not endorse violence in the abstract more than do Northerners, nor do they endorse violence in all specific forms of circumstances. Rather, they are more likely to endorse violence as an appropriate response to insults, as a means of self protection, and as a socialization tool in training children. This is the characteristic cultural pattern of herding societies the world over. Consistent with the culture-of-honor interpretation, it is argument-related and not felony-related homicide that is more common in the South…

There is another sense in which the culture of honor might turn out to be self-sustaining or even capable of expanding into mainstream culture. The culture is a variant of warrior culture the world over, and its independent invention countless times (Gilmore, 1990), combined with the regularities in its themes having to do with glorification of masculine attributes, suggests that it may be a particularly alluring stance that may be capable of becoming functionally autonomous. Many observers (e.g., Naipaul, 1989; Shattuck, 1989) have noted that contemporary Southern backcountry culture, including music, dress, and social stance, is spreading beyond its original geographical confines and becoming a part of the fabric of rural, and even urban, working-class America.

Perhaps for the young males who adopt it, this culture provides a romantic veneer to everyday existence. If so, it is distinctly possible that the violence characteristic of this culture is also spreading beyond its confines. An understanding of the culture and its darker side would thus remain important for the foreseeable future.

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Iowa Biking & Rural Politics

My brother, Nate, and I were bicycling on Iowa’s country roads. We were on a day outing. We met in the Waterworks Prairie Park by the Iowa River, from where we traveled to a nearby town (Hills, Iowa) and then crossing Coralville Dam. On the way we passed farmland mixed with housing, and we talked as we cruised along. Healthy exercise and fresh air.

Iowa is one of the best states in the country for bicyclists, including professionals wanting to train, which is why there is such things as Ragbrai here (my brother has been biking a lot in preparation for that particular event). The reasons Iowa is great for biking is because of how the roads were planned in mostly square sections that goes back to the earliest settlements and farmland (Iowa was the first state or one of the first to be planned out in this manner). This type of planned community structure and civic infrastructure is part of the Midwestern DNA, unlike the haphazard (and litigation-prone) metes and bounds system that defined the early development in the South (legal problems with land ownership were behind Daniel Boone and Abraham Lincoln’s family leaving Kentucky).

The other thing Iowa is known for are all these small towns that are regularly situated in the counties, even in rural areas. Many of these farm towns have died out or are in the process of dying, but many of them still survive. The surviving farm towns, besides the county seats, have often had to reinvent themselves or else become ghosts of their former selves. Even with the rural population drain, the massive road infrastructure is maintained because it is required for the movement of farm equipment and farm produce.

One of the results of the rural population drain is that many of the young have left. Those left behind are older and getting older every year. These small towns are typically filled with fewer young families, especially as the family farms have been bought up by large corporations.

This has created many small communities with little sense of the future. The old people there remember the way things used to be. They fear and resist change, but in doing so they are typically unwilling to invest in the future. Some of these towns essentially collectively commit suicide because the problems they face are so great and no one wants to take responsibility to invest in the next generation that is likely to move away. It is a vicious cycle of self-destruction or else, in some cases, an unavoidable downward spiral.

The shrinking populations have a cascade of effects, but let me first describe how it used to be.

Iowa counties were designed so that any farmer could drive his horse-drawn wagon to the county seat and back in a single day. The Amish living here still travel by wagon, and under these conditions their traditional communities thrive. Counties are relatively small, but many counties used to have a number of towns where basic needs to could be regularly taken care of. In a typical town, there would be such things as grocery and farm supply stores, farmers’ markets, gas stations, repair shops, public schools, public libraries, etc. These were very civic-minded places, somewhat modeled on the New England ideal of local democracy.

The heart of the counties are the county seats where the courthouses and such are located and where parades and fairs are held, but the heart of communities used to be the public school and the downtown. The pride of any decent-sized town was the local high school football or baseball team. However, to save money, many of the small schools have been shut down and replaced by centralized larger schools where kids are bussed in from far away. This has had a terrible impact on these traditional farm communities. All that is left of many of the remaining towns are the houses surrounding a now mostly emptied downtown with a few struggling businesses. The Walmarts have put the final nail in the coffin of most of the small downtowns.

This has been true all across the Midwest. My dad grew up in Alexandria, Indiana. It was once declared Small Town USA. In the decades following the post-war boom era, factories have closed down or laid off workers. My uncle has remained their because of his love of the place, but he struggles to make money with his dentistry business. Most of these small towns used to have dentists and doctors with offices in the downtown, but rural residents these days typically have to travel a lot further than they used to just to get basic healthcare, if they get it at all.

To make matters worse, meth addiction has become an epidemic in the rural Midwest. Meth is a drug that grows amidst desperation, spreading that desperation further like weeds that even Roundup can’t kill. The best options available in such a desperate environment is to work at the slaughterhouse or work at Walmart or else work multiple jobs trying to support your family which leads you to be tempted by meth to give you that extra boost when you have no energy left. Of course, you can also go into the meth making business itself as meth can be cooked up easily in any kitchen or trailer.

Desperation also breeds politicians like Steve King. He is congressman of a district in western Iowa, the epitome of everything I describe. That district has the oldest average age of any population in the entire country. The reason Steve King is such an asshole is because he represents ornery old people who live in dying towns where there is absolutely no hope for the future. You have to have pity on a population so distraught that they would repeatedly vote for someone like Steve King. That is a group of people begging to be put out of their misery. They are angry at a world that has left them behind and they have every reason to be angry, even though in their anger they embrace a demagogue who can’t and won’t solve their problems.

These aging rural folk mostly come from farm families that have farmed for generations. They are the last of their kind. In many cases, their family land has been sold and their children have left them. Society no longer has any use for them and so they have no use for society. The shrinking few of the next generation that have stuck around aren’t following in the family tradition of being independent farmers. Jefferson’s yeoman farmer vision of America is a thing of the past. These last rural holdouts embrace reactionary politics because they are fighting for a lost cause. Only in fiction are lost causes ever noble.

Reactionary politics doesn’t result in constructive and sustainable policies. Fiscal conservatism becomes the rally cry of communities in retreat, communities full of people who have lost faith in anything greater that can be achieved. Building and maintaining town infrastructure is something that is done when it is seen as an investment that will one day payoff. To the reactionary mind, though, all change is seen as loss and destruction, even when it involves basic maintenance and simple improvements. Normal government functions become battles to be endlessly fought against. Local democracy can’t survive under such conditions, and so the remnants of civic-mindedness devolves into struggles for power. If the only self-respect in one’s view is resistance and refusal, it will be seized with a death grip.

Nate and I were discussing some of this on our jaunt about the countryside.

He lives in one of those small towns, West Branch. It used to be a very thriving town since the railroad used to pass right through the middle of it, but the tracks have been pulled up and it has partly become a bedroom community of Iowa City (where the University of  Iowa is located and where I live). West Branch is the boyhood home of Herbert Hoover, the 31st US president. There is a federal park there that includes Hoover’s boyhood home and some other original buildings, and the park brings in some money into the town.

Having been in West Branch for many years now, my brother has gained an inside view on what goes for small town life these days. His town lacks the desperation of some towns as there are jobs to be had in the larger, more prosperous cities nearby. I doubt there are many people left in West Branch who make a living by farming their own land. Still, the old families remain and they try to maintain their grip on their community.

This plays out in a number of ways. The older generation resists improving anything for fear that it will attract more people to move into town. They’d rather let the town crumble than risk it growing into something new, prosperity and hope for new generations be damned. Others in town, often newcomers like my brother (and all families are newcomers who haven’t been there for generations), want to improve the town for they are mostly young parents and young professionals who are hopeful about the future.

It is a battle of the old power elite against the rising of a new generation. The old power elite consists of a group of families that have had immense influence. They hold many of the political positions and they treat the volunteer fire department like a private club. These families are represented by a generation of old white guys, many of whom are in their 70s. They are known as the ‘Dinosaurs’. The mayor died last year. Some of the older city council members don’t have have many years left before retiring, going senile or dying. It is a government run by nepotism and cronyism, a typical good ol’ boys network.

West Branch is a perfect example of fiscal conservatism. There is always money for the fire department, of course. It is the pride and joy. Otherwise, there is never money for anything and there is great resistance to raise taxes. Even when a federal grant was available, they wouldn’t take it to fix the sidewalks. Part of the reason was because the federal government has requirements about how work is contracted out which means they couldn’t use their typical practice of cronyism. So, the sidewalks go on crumbling.

The local government is governed by those who don’t want to govern. They see their sole purpose is to obstruct progress and maintain their control, and they have been very good at achieving this end.

For some reason, the city government likes to give public property away. They gave away the city park to the Herbert Hoover National Park because they didn’t want to spend the money to maintain it such as keeping it mowed, but now every time they want to have a public event at the former city park they have to get permission from the local representative of the federal government. They were donated a large old building and the property it was built on, a former retirement home as I recall. The land was worth $100,000 and the building was worth a $100,000. They gave it to one of their cronies for $5,000 which means the city took a loss of $195,000 and that is a lot of money for such a tiny town. Their justification was that this crony sometimes did volunteer work for the city. I wish someone gave me $195,000 when I volunteered.

They don’t like the idea of public property. I guess it sounds too much like communism. If they could give the entire town away, they might consider it as long as it went to a member of one of the old families. As libertarians like to say, government is the problem. These Dinosaurs are taking seriously the idea of shrinking their local government so much that it can be drowned in a bathtub. Some might call that self-destruction, but they would consider it a victory.

Like many conservatives, they see salvation in big business. The West Branch city council gave TIF agreement to a company with the promise that they would hire 100 residents. The company didn’t live up to their end of the deal when they laid off some people, but they gave the excuse that it wasn’t their fault because of the economy. So, the city council extended their TIF again. Only after the company broke their promise a second time did the city council revoke the TIF. Meanwhile, the city loss massive amounts of money in the taxes not paid.

If you add up all the money the West Branch government has given away or lost, it might add up into the millions. However, whenever any citizen group or committee seeks to do anything productive, the city council and the mayor will claim there isn’t enough money. That is fiscal conservatism for you.

The government of this town does the absolute minimum that it can get away with while keeping taxes as low as possible for town residents. They can get away with this partly because they live in the same county as the more prosperous Iowa City which means they get more county funds than they pay in county taxes. All of this pays for the public schools in town and helps pay for other basic maintenance. All that the West Branch government has to concern itself is that its few streets have their potholes filled and the snow plowed in the winter. The sewers probably need replacing and water pipes break every so often, but the infrastructure works well enough most of the time. The neat thing about infrastructure is that once it is built it can be neglected for decades before it becomes so big of a problem that it can no longer be ignored and shunted off onto the next generation.

A town like West Branch is a metaphor for our entire country. Like the rest of the country, it isn’t a bad place to live. The old white guys in West Branch government are like the old white guys in government everywhere else. This old political elite is part of a very large generation, the Baby Boomers (although the oldest of them are Silents or on the cusp), who have held onto power so long because they were followed by an extremely small generation, GenXers.

Many people, especially conservatives, like to idealize rural life. These days, though, rural life goes along with a lot of dysfunction, the side effects of globalized capitalism. Nearly everything is being concentrated into ever growing corporations, farms being no exception. Small independent farmers and business owners are becoming a rare species, the family farm and business rarer still. With factory farming, the land is being farmed even more intensively which means even less sustainably. I often doubt that we are on the road to long-term prosperity. It can feel that we are as much fighting against so-called ‘progress’ as we are looking for a progress worth fighting for. It is hard to blame old rural people for lashing out at a world they no longer understand.

I don’t think it is all doom and gloom, though. There are still plenty of small independent farmers fighting the good fight. Some have gone organic in looking for a niche market to make enough profit. There has been a growing market for locally grown produce. If the Amish can thrive in this modern society, there are far from being without hope. Besides,  even small towns like West Branch have their up-and-coming young generation looking to the future rather than the past. overwhelmed as they may seem by the old folk.

We typically look to the big cities on the coasts in determining the winds of change, but there remains a significantly large part of the US population living in rural states and not all of them are aging reactionaries. Driving through Iowa, one still sees plenty of progress. Many rural people gladly embrace new technology such as putting up wind turbines or renting their land out for those who put up wind turbines and beneath these behemoths the cows graze. Iowa is a leader in wind energy and most data shows the state doing relatively well compared to the rest of the country. The rural states to the west of the Mississippi fared extremely well even during the economic downturn. The economy could entirely collapse and there still will be a demand for corn, soy and wheat.

More important to my mind, I would note that the Midwest has been for a very long time one of the breeding grounds for progressive, populist and even radical politics. That fiercely independent spirit remains, even if the older generation has forgotten about it. If I were too look for the direction this country is turning toward, I’d probably look to a state like Wisconsin. The battles of local politics can be as inane as national politics, but I think the local politics might have more impact than we realize.

Truth Can’t Be Silenced: A Public Shaming

I was having a discussion with B Hector of Eureka, California. The discussion was in the comments section of his review of the book Boss Rove: Inside Karl Rove’s Secret Kingdom of Power by Craig Unger.

I disagreed with him and he disagreed with me. It is a normal debate. We both presented facts and analyses in the attempt to prove our respective perspectives. All that was fine. I don’t mind disagreement and I was feeling halfhearted about the entire argument.

In my mind, it isn’t for those involved to declare a debate victor. The point of book reviews and comments sections is so that anyone can come along, listen to all sides, and decide for themselves. That is the heart of democracy: open and honest discussion.

However, B Hector felt like I had “hijacked” his review. I had offered facts he couldn’t refute. It annoyed him that I wouldn’t just give up and admit he was right. In his own head, he knew he was right. It frustrated him that outwardly he couldn’t prove to others that he was right, at least not anyone who didn’t already agree with his view.

In his last comment, B Hector wrote that he wished I would just delete my comments and go away. Realizing I wouldn’t willingly silence myself, he deleted his review and hence deleted the entire comment section with it. That demonstrates a low moral character. He dishonored himself with such intellectual dishonesty and weakness. By that action, he inadvertently admitted he lost the debate.

He should feel ashamed and so I write this post in hope of publicly shaming him. I will post a link to this post in the comments of all of his reviews and anywhere else I can find his writings online. B Hector will think twice before ever trying to silence someone again. This is is what is called a learning opportunity.

By the way, he immediately re-posted his review on

He thought he was being sneaky. I just now finished linking to this post on all of his reviews. I’d like to see him delete them all in trying to destroy all evidence of his shame. If he does and posts them once again, I shall comment on all of them again. There shall be no escape from public shaming for B Hector. The only way he can silence me now is to completely silence himself.

Ah, sweet Justice!

This bothers me because of the principle of it.

I would never do this to anyone else. I’ve never deleted an review because I didn’t like the comments. I will always own up to what I write and defend it fairly. If I turn out to be wrong, I’ll own up to that as well.

Even in my own blog, I rarely delete comments. I occasionally delete someone’s comments for their acting troll-like or just being annoying, but even that is extremely rare. I even allow many obvious troll comments because it is obvious what they are and so no harm can come of them. Most of the comments I delete are spam and I delete them because they have even less value than the most irritating comments of a troll.

The comments I will never delete under any circumstances are those that are part of a serious discussion, even when it turns into an ugly argument. I might get mean in response, but I won’t silence my opponent.

Out of curiosity, I looked at B Hector’s profile.

Let me show you a comparison between his quality as a reviewer and my quality as a reviewer. On all profiles, it has a section titled: “Helpful votes received on reviews:” which is followed by a percentage and the precise number of helpful votes vs total votes. In B Hector’s profile, it shows “40% (89 of 222)” which means that most people who vote on his reviews don’t find them helpful. In my profile, it shows “73% (235 of 322)” which means that most people who vote on my reviews do find them helpful, almost 3 out of 4 in fact.

I highlight that piece of data as it demonstrates a simple point. I strive my best to offer quality in all that I write, whether reviews or comments on reviews. Just the other day, someone (going by the name of Nancy Talbot Doty) wrote the following in response to one of my comments:

“Actually, I think I’d prefer to read a book by Benjamin D. Steele–whoever that is.”

I looked further at B Hector’s profile. There is another section titled “In My Own Words”. Here is what he wrote of himself:

I like a lot of things in this life: Books, Games, Friends, Family, Computers, Finance, Travel, and much more. I’m a passionate person who puts 110% percent into anything I do. I’m a slow starter but I’m great under pressure. I have a talent for analyzing things and this is why I excel in finance. Competitive to a fault, sometimes winning seems more important to me than breathing. Sharing ideas is like heaven.

Did you catch that telling detail? He said that he was:

“Competative to a fault, sometimes winning seems more important to me than breathing.”

That is the the type of thing I would never write because it goes against every bone in my body. If I had to rewrite that sentence to apply to my self, I’d have to state it thusly:

Truthful to a fault, sometimes truth-seeking and truth-telling seems more important to me than breathing.

B Hector thought he could silence me, but I refuse to be silenced.

I was able to save his review from disappearing by way of a cache found on both Google and Yahoo. Unfortunately, the cache only has the first page of comments and so the last two pages are permanently gone, the second page being where I made a long comment listing the data, quotes and links that I used to back up my argument. Even the remaining first page of comments will eventually become inaccessible as cache, but the following will forever remain on my blog, a testament to truth not being silenced.


Rove is what is wrong with Republicans, October 31, 2012
By B Hector

This review is from: Boss Rove: Inside Karl Rove’s Secret Kingdom of Power (Hardcover)

Karl Rove represents everything wrong with the Republican party. While Reagan proved the efficacy of conservatism in practice and in the war of ideas, people like Rove and the Bush’s have taken the Republican party back to the pre-Reagan era where Republicans meraly offer a slightly left-wing alternative to the Democrats.

I know Democrats will scoff at this idea but let’s look at Bush’s major policy achievements.

He passed a tax cut. That’s conservative.

Now let’s look at his other domestic achievements.

Medicare Part D
Ethanol Subsidies
No Child Left Behind
5,000 new regulations.

None of that is even remotely conservative and add to that the failure on the debt and you have a president who in a lot of ways was left of center and in a few ways was right of center. I would also like to point out that he attempted to put 2 Texas cronies on the supreme court and it was conservatives who stopped him.

Rove is the ‘architect’ of this modern flavor of Republicanism and until our party tosses people like him overboard, we’re never going to be able to make an effective argument for limited constitutional government.

More specifically, this book offers a clear example of how people want to win elections a lot more than they care about a particular ideology. Rove is powerful insomuch as he is able to assist these people with winning. It’s really quite disgusting. Even Rush Limbaugh regurgitates Rove’s talking points because he believes it’s going to help win elections.

Comment Section:

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Showing 1-10 of 20 posts in this discussion

Initial post: Nov 28, 2012 12:54:17 PM PST
Joe Bagadonuts says:

This is a concept that I have tried to explain to Democratic voters since the day the Democrats started vilifying G.W. Bush. Bush’s time in office, with the prodding of Rove, did more for the liberal agenda, than even the 8 years of Clinton! So why did Democrats hate the Bush administration? Because their party leaders told them to. Simple as that. If Karl Rove would of been advising Clinton during his presidency, the liberal agenda would of been more predominant in the 90’s. Karl Rove is a RINO.
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In reply to an earlier post on Nov 28, 2012 2:37:04 PM PST
B Hector says:

Joe, you know more about this crap than 99% of the country. These people know superficial and empty cliche and nothing more. Just trying to get people to stop looking at politics like it’s the NFL is impossible. Yay, go Blue team! Boo Red team! It’s disgusting.

Posted on May 19, 2013 5:12:39 PM PDT
Benjamin D. Steele says:

Reagan and Bush used deficit spending to grow the military. Both cut taxes, although Reagan also increased taxes numerous times. Using Starve the Beast strategies, Reagan created the permanent debt and Republicans have grown it since. Only Clinton left a surplus which Bush jr wasted with tax cuts to the rich which exacerbated the economic crash.

I recently wrote about the ideological confusion of Americans, especially partisans:

Part of the problem is that most people are utterly ignorant about liberalism and conservatism. Liberalism doesn’t mean being for all big government and conservatism doesn’t mean the opposite.

If Republicans were for small government, we wouldn’t now have the permanent debt we have. So, any rational and informed person wouldn’t assume that Bush was promoting a liberal agenda. The question wasn’t big government as even Reagan promoted big government. The question is what kind of big government. Reagan and Bush pushed for big military. Bush also pushed for government money to support abstinence-only sex education. Furthermore, conservatives in general love to spend money on prisons and the alphabet soup agencies. They might use anti-government rhetoric to privatize much of this but this just funnels our tax money into the private sector. These are part of big government including the privatization with its often no-bid contracts, but they aren’t part of standard liberal ideology.

I say all of this as a non-partisan. I hate party politics. But I also hate ignorance (including in myself which is why I’m constantly reading about and researching topics to educate myself). Nonetheless, I can’t blame most Americans for being ignorant (for I also spent most of my life ignorant about ideologies, parties, demographics and public opinion). The MSM and Washington politics doesn’t represent the American people, actually they regularly misrepresent the majority. Research has shown that most politicians don’t even know what their own constituents want for the American public is far to the left of the ruling elite.

In reply to an earlier post on May 24, 2013 1:28:56 PM PDT
B Hector says:


Reagan believed in small government. It’s bizarre to me that anyone even believes otherwise. You even admit that his defense spending increases were undertaken for the express purpose of weakening the financial stability of the welfare state. That does not make Reagan a believer of big government. That makes Reagan a practical person. As far as his tax increases go, come on… separate yourself from the so-called ignorant, but you name tax increases while ignoring the massive tax decreases. So either you’re guilty of ignorance, or you’re dishonest.

At the end of the day, the president is not a dictator. The president has to work with a whole host of people all of whom have a thousand different opinions on a thousand different subjects. To this end, you have to credit the person with what they are trying to do. Did Reagan attempt to pull the country toward principles of smaller government? He clearly tried and succeeded. Did Reagan try to make significant spending cuts? Yes, he definitely did. He failed because he didn’t have the support of people like the Bush’s and Dole.

This is my problem with opinions like yours. You parade around as if you’re somehow more enlightened than other people but you’re really just parroting left-wing misrepresentations. Either way, does it matter? There are millions and millions of regular people in the Republican party who truly believe in limited constitutional government. Those people understand that they must fight their own party in many cases. That’s why you have a Grover Norquist and his pledge.

In reply to an earlier post on May 24, 2013 5:04:38 PM PDT
Benjamin D. Steele says:

I was merely sharing facts. Everything I stated was true. As a famous person once said, facts are stubborn things.

There is a difference between political rhetoric and political action. Reagan chose to grow big government by growing the military. In fact, he personally pushed to give the military more funding than the Pentagon even requested. If not for this political action, the permanent debt wouldn’t have been created under his watch. No one forced him to do it. It was a choice based on Starve the Beast ideology. The problem is the administration didn’t have the foresight to see the possibility and subsequent consequences of a permanent debt.

The Reagan administraton also aligned itself with Pinochet, a fascist dictator. Furthermore, many scandals happened under Reagan’s watch, such as the Iran-Contra Scandal.

The problem wih people like you is that you offer speculation and excuses in place of facts. If someone was genuinely a proponent of big government, they wouldn’t vote for a party that has a history of growing the government and growing the debt. They’d instead vote third party. I vote third party. Why vote for the lesser of two evils when you don’t have to vote for evil at all?

You can make excuses all you want, but actions (and their results) speak louder than words. But if you’re satisfied with a lack of results, more power to you.

I’ll make a last comment about Reagan as a great conservative president. Ike was a better example of a conservative.

Reagan was a Hollywood elite who was the head of the actors’ union. As governor, he passed the most liberal pro-choice bill prior to Roe v. Wade. As president, he was the first to invite an openly gay couple to stay over night at the White House.

Reagan was a liberal progressive who became a cynical neocon. Not much of a conservative, certainly not a great conservative. He talked a good game. He knew how to give a speech. He was an actor, after all. He played a role well, but it is hard to know what he actually believed.

By the way, I would criticize Obama for similar reasons.

In reply to an earlier post on May 24, 2013 5:21:11 PM PDT
B Hector says:

You stated it was done for the express purpose of shrinking other parts of the government. So yeah, I agree, he was trying to kill the beast. That doesn’t prove he was some form of neocon. If he was attempting to grow the military solely for the sake of growing the military I would agree with you. But that wasn’t the only purpose as you yourself stated.

I’m not offering speculation at all. There are many many examples where Reagan tried to cut spending and fought for it only to have his own party standing with his opponents. This is historical fact so there’s no speculation required. He shut down the government fighting for budgets that never passed. He made deals for spending cuts that Democrats reneged on.

Sadly these things are lost to history and you get people (like you)arguing baseless talking points. As previously stated. You don’t know as much as you think you know. If you did you wouldn’t base your opinions on the altered Reagan narrative the modern liberal loves to regurgitate.

“Reagan was a liberal progressive who became a cynical neocon”

That’s only true if everything is black and white.

Let me guess. You’re one of these crackpots who thinks Obama isn’t an extreme leftist because we’re not all driving solar-powered cars, we don’t have single-payer health, and the top marginal tax rate isn’t 80%.

I’m guessing you’re a fan of Gnome Chompsky, too.

In reply to an earlier post on May 24, 2013 5:40:56 PM PDT
Benjamin D. Steele says:

You have to be truly deluded to tbelieve Reagan was a conservative and Obama is a left-winger. You may personally like the former and personally dislike the latter, but that isn’t the issue. You never even tried to disprove the facts I shared. Like a good partisan, you simply ignore the inconvenient. Your nly argument is that Reagan really wanted to be a genuine conservative, but no one would let him. I say this as someone who respects an old school conservative, that which Reagan was far from being.

The two things Reagan tried to accomplish and succeeded is grow the military and grow the debt. No speculation is needed to state what he did accomplish. A lot of speculation is required to argue what he might have actually wanted to accomplish, beyond mere speechifying.

You believe Reagan meant every word he said, despite his failing to live up to his own words in real world deeds. I’m not as generous and forgiving or, one might say, not as naive.

In reply to an earlier post on May 28, 2013 10:26:27 AM PDT
B Hector says:

Your hypothesis only makes sense if you view the world through the lens of your extremist mind. Again, I’m guessing you’re a fan of the gnome.

In reply to an earlier post on May 28, 2013 3:40:57 PM PDT
Benjamin D. Steele says:

Your hypothesis only make sense if you only care about words rather actions, claims rather than facts, promises rather than deeds. Contrary to your hypothesis about my hypothesis, I’m not an extremist. I’m actually a moderate. Most of my political opinions are in line with or not far off from the majority public opinion. It is because I’m a moderate that I have little interest of most left-wing radicals and right-wing reactionaries. Reagan actually was fairly moderate by today’s standards, but he has oddly been coopted by the far right. I’m no fan of Reagan and don’t wish to claim him. I only wish to have discussions based on objective appraisals. But each to their own.

In reply to an earlier post on May 28, 2013 3:54:11 PM PDT
B Hector says:

You don’t know as much as you think you do. You’re buying into a narrative that’s a complete lie. If you want facts all you have to do is look at tax reform. What Reagan did was as conservative as you can possibly get. Reagan also continued the deregulation efforts of the latter half of the 70’s which is also conservative. Increasing the size of the military is also very conservative. He was also a major social conservative. He wanted to abolish the department of Education, only to be shot down by Republican moderates.

It’s just funny because your beliefs don’t stand up to anything and that’s because they’re baseless. You’re buying into a fictional narrative expressly intended to portray modern Republicans as extreme. All you have to do is look at Reagan’s views on school prayer and abortion to understand you’re mindlessly buying into a narrative. All you have to do is research what Reagan had to do to flatten the marginal tax rates. That was not an easy thing. It took a few years of battling to get that bill passed.

Reagan’s administration also invented the modern methodology used to ensure that liberal justices could not sneak their way into the supreme court during a Republican presidency. For someone who prides himself as being somehow more enlightened than your average American voter, you’re really failing by buying into propaganda. The guy wanted a constitutional amendment that would have made it legal to pray in public school. Sorry, but he would be considered a right wing extremist or as you say, reactionary and the fact that so many people like you can be so easily duped by some talking points is pretty pathetic.
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To Not Feel, To Not Care, To Not Know

This relationship of racism and lack of empathy is sad beyond comprehension. Talk about empathy isn’t just a philosophical debate or an academic exercise. White privilege is a very real thing with real impact on real people in the real world.

One of the benefits for whites of white privilege is that people, both whites and blacks, not only take your pain more seriously but they perceive it as being greater and more real than the pain felt by blacks. Racial prejudice is internalized and becomes unconscious. It’s just there, hidden and below the surface, but the effects are real and the consequences are great

This probably relates to why jurors, both white and black, punish blacks more harshly than whites for the exact same crimes. To say someone doesn’t feel pain strongly is to imply that they are less human, less worthy. Scientists used to do dissect living and conscious animals because they believed animals didn’t feel pain.

Empathy and the lack thereof is the core issue upon which so much else pivots.

Here is the article that brought so much sadness to my thoughts:

I Don’t Feel Your Pain
A failure of empathy perpetuates racial disparities.
By Jason Silverstein

Read that article and then read a post I wrote last year:

Republicans: Party of Despair

Considering conservatives have been shown to have a less inclusive sense of empathy, is it surprising what results from when they gain political power? Or to return to the issue of white privilege, which party in recent generations has fought against civil rights and racial equality? Also, might empathy inequality be at the core of economic inequality?

It reminds me of something said by Tim Wise (see the video at the end of my post, Knowledge Doesn’t Matter). What white privilege ultimately allows is for one to be ignorant of privilege itself. It isn’t just about not feeling and not caring. It is about not even knowing, ignorance of even one’s ignorance. Complete blindness and numbness, no voice to be heard, as if the uncomfortable reality didn’t exist. Like the three monkeys with hands over ears, eyes and mouth.

IQ Dilemma: Inconvenient Correlations, Uncomfortable Data

I was having a discussion with another blogger, Staffan in his blog Staffan’s Personality Blog. His blog was recommended to me by a human biodiversity (HBD) proponent, I believe it was JayMan in a comment in HBD Chick’s blog. I commented on several of Staffan’s posts, but the longest discussion was in his post about studies on intelligence, religion and ideology.

I pointed out the numerous studies that show a correlation between liberalism and above average IQ. Staffan is unconvinced. He doesn’t like Kanazawa and so thinks criticisms of one researcher disproves all other research by other researchers, a line of reason that I don’t follow. He seems to refuse to take the other researchers seriously, even though the criticisms toward Kanazawa don’t apply toward them or their  research. It comes down to Staffan believing all psychological research is biased toward liberalism and so can be dismissed nearly out of hand.

I’ve criticized this criticism before. The conservative bias about the existence of a liberal bias seems to fall apart under scrutiny, especially the claim about psychology. But maybe I’m missing something.

There are two sets of data that are obvious and yet don’t quite connect for people like Staffan.

Most psychologists are liberal. Most scientists, most academics, most well educated people in general identify as liberals, express liberal views and support liberal policies; in particular social liberalism that most closely correlates to the liberal-minded traits such as openness. However, it doesn’t occur to Staffan to wonder why psychology attracts liberals in the first place or even why higher education in general might not just attract but encourage a liberal mindset.

Liberals, along with having above average IQs, unsurprisingly tend to be above average in education and wealth. To remove the liberal part from the equation, most people who are above average in education and wealth unsurprisingly tend to have above average IQs.

This could be explained simply from a perspective of poverty.

Poor people tend to be socially conservative and so easily swayed by the rhetoric of conservative politics in the US, and because of this not as many poor people self-identify as liberal even among the subset of the poor that tends to vote for Democrats (yes, around a third of Democrats self-identify as conservative and, surprising to some, only around a third self-identify as liberal). Poverty and poverty-related factors have been proven to inhibit cognitive development which is shown in IQ tests, and lower IQ leads to lower rates of higher education. Wealth and wealth-related factors have been proven to increase cognitive development which is shown in IQ tests, and higher IQ leads to higher rates of higher education.

All of this is well known. It’s proven in numerous studies and sets of data, both correlationally and causally.

It would be strange if the average liberal who is wealthier and more well-educated (than both the average American and the average conservative) turned out to not also have an above average IQ. That would be one of the strangest discoveries in all of social science research. What would make liberals somehow different from every other comparable group? Considering so much research shows a correlation between liberalism and higher IQs that fits the expected pattern, it would require massive alternative data and careful analysis to explain this bizarre phenomenon, if it were to exist. No such data or analysis is offered by Staffan.

Conservatives love to point out that poor blacks have lower IQs. Yet they suddenly become righteous when it is pointed out that poor conservatives also tend to have lower IQs. Conservative political correctness police are no better than their liberal counterparts. To get at the real point, poverty sucks which is something liberals have been saying for generations. But it isn’t to argue that liberals have any reason to be proud simply for being among a privileged demographic that has experienced less poverty.

The other factor that correlates to lower IQ is authoritarianism. As much research has shown, conservatives and right-wingers in the US show higher rates of authoritarianism whereas liberals and leftists in the US show lower rates of authoritarianism (and I suppose the same would be found in other liberal democracies). Once again, going by the known data, it would be logical to conclude that American conservatives with a higher average rate of authoritarianism than American liberals would have a lower average IQ than American liberals. In different societies, different correlations would be found. For example, communists in authoritarian communist countries unsurprisingly show higher rates of authoritarianism; and if it were studied, these authoritarian communists would probably have lower IQs. It would be surprising to find some other result.

As poverty sucks, so does authoritarianism. Like a good liberal, I’d love to end both of these plagues upon humanity.

Staffan’s response, once again, is that psychologists are biased liberals and so all the massive amounts of research on authoritarianism can be dismissed as biased. This verges on denialism, but Staffan doesn’t quite go down that road. He does seem to hold some basic respect for science. The problem he faces is that he can’t square all of the data with his preferred assumptions and conclusions. In our discussion, he has yet to comment on the studies I presented to him that weren’t referred to in his post. The debate can’t go on until he does.

This kind of debate can and does just go around in circles.

The interesting part to me isn’t whether the correlation exists. It is becoming increasingly convincing that we are beyond that point. We have good evidence that it exists. What interests me is why and how it exists. What might be the causation behind the correlation? Or is their any direct causal link at all? Can it be explained away by confounding factors and circumstantial conditions? Maybe it is just an artifact of the data, but considering the data is large and growing: How did such an artifact arise so consistently and pervasively in this data from our society, consistent and pervasive across decades of data sets collected by numerous researchers and other data gatherers, some of whom gathered data without expectation of later researchers finding this particular correlation?

The point being that we won’t find anything of worth if we stop at mere dismissal of the correlation. If one wishes to disprove that correlation, then more power to them. But no one yet has disproven it, much less fully explained it. There are hypotheses that have been presented to explain the correlation and these hypotheses are falsifiable. Go forth and falsify them, if you can.

This is where my frustration stops me short for I don’t know how to continue this kind of discussion. It doesn’t seem to go anywhere and frustration begins to bring out the worst in me, and I already feel like I’m being mean to Staffan who is a perfectly nice guy as far as I can tell. I don’t want to judge Staffan or people like him. I want to explore ideas and data with intellectual curiosity and hopefully intellectual humility.

Maybe I’m wrong about significant parts of my analysis. That wouldn’t surprise me. But the debate-ending response I receive just doesn’t satisfy me. Claims of liberal bias are unfair and ultimately unhelpful; I would go so far as to call them unfounded to any great extent. Each study must be taken on its own terms and not waved away with one’s hand. Is that asking too much?

I could go in more depth with my analysis, but I’ve already explained my view in Staffan’s blog. Instead of restating everything I wrote in the comments section of Staffan’s post, I’ll just offer the comments themselves below (which do repeat some of what I wrote above).

What point I’m trying to make?

I was just trying to describe the confusion of ideologies in the US. I was also trying to show how labels are in some ways arbitrary. It isn’t the label that defines the person but the person who defines the label. Liberal and conservative meant something quite different when my grandparents first was eligible to vote which isn’t that long ago in the big picture.

Liberalism used to be a very large and inclusive category. Old school Republicans like Eisenhower and Nixon would speak positively of liberalism. These days it has become a very narrow term. I don’t know if it has narrowed in definition, but it has narrowed in demographics.

Liberal as a label isn’t comparable to conservative as a label. Conservatism has become an amorphous category. If given a forced choice, most Americans will identify as conservative. But if asked about particular issues, most Americans will more often state support for liberal issues. This is what is called symbolic conservatism. So, conservatism includes both those that support the most radical of right-wing politics and those who support standard liberal politics.

As for those who identify as liberals, they are more comparable to the demographics of libertarians. Both groups are a smaller portion of the population. Both tend to be above average in wealth and education. It would be surprising, going by these demographic facts, if they weren’t above average in iQ. Wealthier, well-educated people in general tend to have higher IQ for a host of reasons as I’ve pointed out, many of which are environmental. Also, wealthier, well-educated people have more opportunities such as legacies that allow them to go to the best ivory League schools. Furthermore, both liberals and libertarians tend to be socially liberal and measure high on liberal-minded traits such as openness to experience.

So, maybe it isn’t that liberals and libertarians are inherently smarter in that these labels don’t magically confer intelligence. It’s just that because of present societal conditions the wealthier, well-educated demographic tends to identify as either liberal or libertarian. I guess you could call this an artefact, but I doubt it is because of wishful thinking.

Is there a reason you’d think people who are above average in wealth and education wouldn’t also be above average in IQ?

The tricky part, as always, is determining the reasons for the correlation and whether there is a causal link between the factors or to some other factor.

“I do actually believe people with higher education and income have higher intelligence. I just haven’t seen credible statistics that says liberals are smarter.”

The data I’ve seen shows that liberals tend to be more well educated and wealthier than the average American. College professors, college students and the college educated are disproportionately liberal. It is also known that higher education correlates to higher IQ. So, it would be bizarre if most average liberals (or libertarian) got their above average education without being above average in IQ. That would be counterintuitive and contrary to the pattern fitting other well educated groups.

There are many lower class conservatives, but because of the rhetoric since the Reagan era the lower classes have mostly stopped identifying as liberals at all. They might call themselves independents, moderates or progressives, just usually not liberal because that label has become stigmatized in the mind of the average American. As such, there would appear to be a lot less distance between the average liberal and the liberal elite than there is between the average conservative and the conservative elite.

This can be seen in the parties. Back during the Reagan administration, many moderates, independents, liberals and union members voted for Reagan and identified as Republican. It was a really broad party back then, as it had been in the decades before that as well. Surprise, surprise, the Republicans at that time had a higher average IQ than did the Democrats. Today, however, Democrats have a higher average IQ. Also, today, the Republican Party is no longer a big tent party that is inclusive of anyone other than conservatives. Why did the Republican’s average IQ go down as their rates of conservatism went up?

There is something interesting about Democrats these days. The Democratic Party is now broader than the Republican Party, even as those who identify as liberal have narrowed. Only about a third of Democrats identify as liberal, another third as moderate and the rest conservative. Minorities have lower average IQs and are more socially conservative than most Americans and at the same time they tend to vote Democrat. This mean that the non-conservative non-minority Democrats must have very high average IQs to make up the difference and still maintain the higher average IQ than Republicans.

I don’t know entirely what that might mean. I’m not a Democrat and don’t feel any need to defend them. But the data seems to confirm that something of relevance is going on.

“But those knowledge quizzes Pew do are always won by people who vote Republican. Not to say that’s the final word but there is reason to be suspicious because their is a media bias.”

There are several distinctions to be made.

Democrats aren’t the same as liberals since there are nearly as many self-identified conservatives in the Democratic Party as there are self-identified liberals. Democrats include the most well educated and the least well educated, but the least well educated Democrats are also the ones least likely to identify as liberal and more likely to identify as conservative.

If you look at those political knowledge quizzes, you’ll see that groups that are known to be extremely liberal do very well on them. For example, the audiences of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are always at the top of the most informed about politics.

If you look at other data, you’ll find that Republicans and the audiences of conservative shows often show high rates of being informed. The interesting part, though, is that they also show high rates of being misinformed. This is called the smart idiot effect. They tend to watch tons of political shows and they know a lot of information, but they unfortunately aren’t good at discerning between what is true and what is false. So, it isn’t just that there are both Republicans who are very well informed and others who are very misinformed. Rather, Republicans are more misinformed precisely to the degree they are informed. That is mind-blowing!

You don’t find this same high rate of smart idiot effect among liberal groups. this might relate as well that the most liberal demographic (i.e., the youngest demographic) get more of their info from alternative media than any other demographic. Part of this difference is because conservatives are a relatively older demographic who rely more on the established mainstream media. The younger generation is way more socially and fiscally liberal on most issues, way more critical of capitalism and way more supportive of socialism. Furthermore, the younger generation along with higher rates of alternative media consumption have higher rates of college education.

I’m not arguing low IQ liberals don’t exist. Besides, if it becomes a label that more people identify with beyond those who are above average in education and wealth, then the average IQ of liberals would probably decrease some or quite a bit (while the rate of the smart idiot effect might increase). Broaden the demographics behind a label and the IQ range will likewise broaden, specifically in this case among the less well educated lower classes and minorities.

Related to party politics, consider geographic regions and areas. Conservatives are disproportionately found in the South and liberals disproportionately in the North. It was through the Southern Strategy that the Republican Party took over the South. The average IQ in the North is higher than the average IQ in the South. Or look at this in terms of rural and urban. The rural areas tend to be more conservative and have lower average iQ and the opposite for urban areas.

If you’re interested to know why and on what basis I make the above analysis, here are a variety of things that inform my views:

“Data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health) support Kanazawa’s hypothesis. Young adults who subjectively identify themselves as “very liberal” have an average IQ of 106 during adolescence while those who identify themselves as “very conservative” have an average IQ of 95 during adolescence.”
“Most (62%) identify themselves as liberal… most highly educated group (49% have a college degree or more)… Liberals are second only to Enterprisers in following news about government and public affairs most of the time (60%). Liberals’ use of the internet to get news is the highest among all groups (37%).”–and-reality

I wanted to clarify one thing. I don’t think we are fundamentally disagreeing. Like you, I have great interest in personality, moreso than politics. I’m not an ideologue, but I do see politics similar to culture as a useful lense to explore psychology.

I don’t care about liberalism in and of itself. And the so-called liberal elite often irritate me. I agree that the average liberal, the average conservative, and other relatively more privileged people have no reason for being proud of achieving more than those with fewer opportunities, resources and advantages that come from upper class social capital.

Besides, I’m more interested in general liberal-mindedness, upon which all social democracy is dependent upon. Even the average modern conservative is more liberal-minded than the average conservative of past centuries. Liberal-mindedness does correlate to liberalism but not perfectly or absolutely.

My father is a conservative, especially fiscally conservative, with libertarian tendencies. He worked in the business world where he had a successful career, but ended up being a professor. Two things stand out about him, as relevant to this discussion. I’m sure his IQ is well above average. And he has great capacity for liberal-mindedness, most certainly above the national average.

I must give credit to my father for my own liberal-mindedness. My parents were going through a liberal phase of their life when they raised me, although they have never identified as liberal. Even more significant, they raised me in one of the most liberal Christian churches in the US, Unity Church which is New Thought. My father says my mother even was pro-choice when she was younger, but se denies it now. I have to at the same time also give my parets credit for my conservative streak.

People are complex, way more complex than political ideologies and religious theologies. Still, within that complexity, patterns can be detected.

“Those studies and articles don’t say much.”

They say no more nor less than any other scientific data. Dismissing them out of hand isn’t helpful. Kanazawa’s study is just one among many. I even purposely quoted that article about his study because it pointed out that his data was confirmed by other data.

“Would a psychologist (95 percent of which identify as liberals) pick up on that and make a study on it?”

Yes, most academics, scientists and other well educated people identify as liberal. And yet you oddly find it surprising that well educated people have above average IQs. Ask yourself why, in the first place, conservatives are on average less well educated, specifically in the context of higher education having an extremely strong correlation to higher IQ.

I have nothing against Gary Lewis’ study. However, as far as I can tell, it only dealt with certain factors of religion and not conservative vs liberal.

Many religious people are liberal, especially greater social liberalism among the religious who are middle class and upper class. Also, even though in the US there are a lot of poor religious people, those who attend church most often and are most involved in religious activities the most tend to be those who are wealthier and hence who are more well educated. So, there is a very mixed demographics in religion that isn’t found within, for example, contemporary American liberalism.

Gary Lewis’ study doesn’t speak to this greater complexity of the relationships between religion, ideological labels, socio-economic status, and cognitive development. I would also add the issue of psychological traits. The real issue I’m trying to disentangle here has to do with this larger context of factors.

In the US, liberals unlike conservatives are disproportionately found among the middle to upper classes which correlates to above average education and IQ. If you just look at middle to upper conservatives, you would expect to also find above average education and IQ. Ditto for any similar wealthier group. You’d have to explain why what applies to all other wealthier people doesn’t apply to contemporary American liberals who tend to be wealthier.

This ideological pattern of demographics in the US may not fit the pattern found in other countries. Maybe liberals elsewhere don’t tend to be above average wealth, education and IQ. That would then require an understanding of what liberalism is in different contexts and whether there is any general cross-national pattern at all to be found between ideologies and other factors.

I feel wary about generalizing too much. A lot of research I’m familiar with has come from studies done in the US, but American demographics and ideologies aren’t representative of the rest of the world. For example, research has shown that there is a greater correlation with authoritarianism among American conservatives. This isn’t to say that there is anything inherently authoritarian about conservatism in general, but that the issues movement conservatism has emphasized in America has drawn into the ranks those who rate higher on authoritarianism. Nonetheless, there are conservative traditions that are explicitly non-authoritarian.

As I’ve pointed out, I have a conservative streak. The type of conservatism that I’m fond of has more to do with agrarian traditionalism, specifically as described by Wendell Berry. The problem with American conservatism is that it doesn’t tend to be very traditional. A distinction is that mainstream American conservatives tend to be very supportive of capitalism even when it is destructive of traditional values such as a place-based sense of community and localized kinship social order.

I don’t know about liberalism, but I know there is a similar thing with data about left-wing politics. In the US, left-wingers tend to rate low on authoritarianism. But in communist countries, left-wingers have measured high on authoritarianism. And I’d be unsurprised if left-wingers in authoritarian communist countries had lower average IQs than left-wingers in non-authoritarian countries.

I think you are seeking to criticize from the wrong angle. Religiosity can’t be used as a proxy for conservatism nor liberalism a proxy for atheism. You need studies that specifically include all of these factors and seek to discern the causal links.

“How much they say is a matter of quality and it’s clear that Kanazawa did several things that reduce quality – the age of the interviewees, the one-dimensional measure of religiousness, measuring intelligence with vocabulary.”

I offered this link which is of an article written by a conservative:

From that link, you will find the link to the study itself:

In the blog, the author explained about the quality of the study:

“Yes, they used different types of intelligence tests; verbal and spatial. Yes, they corrected for socioeconomic background. Their replication was in the UK and USA.”

Along with other caveats, he offers this important detail about the study:

“It is important to emphasize that the authors do not posit an independent direct causal connection between low I.Q. and more reactionary attitudes towards race and homosexuality. Rather, they start out with a model where low cognitive ability people are drawn (or remain in) to conservative orientation, and this is further correlated with these specific racial and sexual attitudes. Like almost all psychology you can’t get the causation airtight (if you are a hardcore Humean you could probably say this for everything), but the correlation is suggestive in light of political and psychological models.”

T’his is basically along the lines of what I’ve been saying. Correlation between higher IQ and liberalism (or just liberals in certain countries) is not the same thing as causation. But the correlation still remains and appears to have good studies backing it up.

I offered another blog about yet another study. Here are the links to both:

As the blogger notes:

“The paper describes a meta-analysis based on data from three studies that employed the same set of psychological measures. Twenty-two of these measures were selected, drawn from four domains: personality, social attitudes, values, and social norms. While the paper finds strong support for the hypothesis that low cognitive ability is associated with high conservatism it doesn’t make any statements about causality.”

Once again, causality is the tricky part. Nonetheless, it is irrelevant for the point I’ve tried to make in my comments. I honestly admit to not knowing for sure why this particular correlation continually is found in so many different studies. I think many people get upset because they read into this an argument for causation, but that doesn’t seem to be what most researchers are proposing at this point.

A third link I offered is of an article that appears to refer to the same study as referred to in the first link above:

From that article, a critic points out the correlational nature of such research:

“Hodson and Busseri’s explanation of their findings is reasonable, Nosek said, but it is correlational. That means the researchers didn’t conclusively prove that the low intelligence caused the later prejudice. To do that, you’d have to somehow randomly assign otherwise identical people to be smart or dumb, liberal or conservative. Those sorts of studies obviously aren’t possible.”

That could be seen as a criticism, but from my point of view the correlation alone is interesting. Notice that even a critic like this admits that the correlation was demonstrated by the study. His criticism is that there is a lot of complexity involved and also other similar correlations might be found with other extreme ideologies.

I was thinking of a way of getting at a place of agreement between us. In my previous comment, the last quote was of a critic. He made a good point about low IQs maybe being correlated to extreme ideologies in general, whether right-wing or left-wing. That seems a key point to my mind.

From what I can tell, both of us agree that there is a distinction between being conservative and being right-wing. In the US and similar countries, however, conservatism and right-wing ideologies have become conflated. But the same thing hasn’t happened as much in recent history with liberalism and left-wing ideologies because Cold War fear-mongering has caused liberals to disown and distance themselves from left-wingers, although this might be changing now with new criticisms against capitalism arising in the mainstream again.

Going by this, the reason lower IQ would be correlated to conservatism is because conservatism has become correlated to right-wing ideologies. So, it might actually be right-wing ideologies that is forming the correlative bridge between lower IQs and conservatism, and hence no direct or even indirect causal link may exist between them.

What extreme ideologies may signify is simply authoritarianism. In the US, conservatives on average measure higher on authoritarianism than liberals. This is yet another one of those correlations with no certain causal link. At the same time, liberals and left-wingers in the US measure low on authoritarianism, but the opposite is found in authoritarian left-wing countries. The key component seems to be when a particular ideological movement becomes conflated with authoritarianism and hence conflated with extremist ideologies.

We’d need to look at countries where right-wing ideologies and fiscal conservatism don’t dominate. In an authoritarian fiscally liberal left-wing country, I suspect that the minority of counter-cultural ‘conservatives’ would have above average IQs. Maybe it could be as simple as low IQ people in general just like to fit in with the dominant ideology of their society or are less likely to think outside of the dominant ideology of their society.

At present, the right-wing ‘conservative ideology of capitalism dominates nearly all of Western civilization and most of the rest of the world through globalization. So, one would expect to find the high IQ people disproportionately opposing or standing outside of this dominant ideology. It could be a mere historically contingent condition of the ideological spectrum.

Does that make sense?

medieval manoralism and the hajnal line

I learned more by reading this blog post, an article really, than I’ve learned from most teachers I’ve had. This is the type of analysis I absolutely love. It gave me a framework to look at the world differently.

hbd chick

so instead of watching the super bowl, i made you guys this map:

i bet you’re thinking that that’s the hajnal line (again). but it’s not! (or is it?) no — that is a map of the spread and extent of manorialism during the medieval period as drawn by moi and based on the info in my friend, mitterauer’s, “Why Europe?”.

i know! it looks just like the hajnal line!:

manorialism got started amongst the franks in austrasia (big green blob on the map) “around the middle of the seventh century, or somewhat earlier.” it spread westwards and southwards along with the expansion of the carolingian empire and the ostsiedlung. and it seems to have been brought to britain by the anglo-saxons; there’s evidence in the law tracts for manors in wessex (other green blob on the map) by the end of the ninth century.

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