An Apology and a Clarification

“You can’t be neutral on a moving train.”
~ Howard Zinn

I called someone, a blogger named M.G,, a racist in a recent post. Actually, I called her blog post racist. In my post, there were quite a few discussions about racism and related topics. None of them seemed overly fruitful.

The least fruitful part was the discussion of the word itself. I was noting how odd it is that conservatives (and the conservative-minded) will criticize political correctness, except when they wish to use it themselves. I’m not a politically correct guy, but neither do I want to be mean-spirited. I wish to apologize for being mean-spirited.

Yes, M.G. made a blog post that was racially biased. Then again, we live in a society that is racially biased, pervasively and systemically. Going by studies, it is fair to say we all are racially biased to varying degrees and in various ways. It seems unfair to pick on M.G. who probably has no intent of being racist, just simply expressing a common attitude in our society.

Maybe it was wrong for me to call M.G. or rather her blog post racist. I could have called her racialist instead which some prefer. Racism implies intent to be racist whereas racialist is simply being racially biased. But that seems like pointless nitpicking. Tim Wise argues that intent is irrelevant or rather the specific intent is irrelevant. In terms of real world results, it doesn’t necessarily matter if your intent is to be racist or your intent is to not admit to the racial bias in yourself and not confront it in society; both end up supporting and promoting the continuation of racism. The real world results are what I care about, not what some blogger chooses to post.

In the comments section of my post (and in the post following it), I admitted to being an asshole. Or to put it in more polite terms, I was being mean-spirited. I was in a bad mood. I’m never far away from a bad mood as I’ve dealt with severe depression for a couple of decades now. It is a side of my personality I struggle with. I don’t like being mean. I don’t like being argumentative, critical and accusatory. My bad moods are my own problem.

However, I would argue, as Mark Fisher argues in Capitalist Realism, that mental illness like poverty and oppression are pervasive and systemic issues that get blamed on individuals, i.e., the externalization of costs translated into individualistic terms. This is a point that directly relates to what I’ve been trying to communicate to others. This is also why it is unhelpful to pick on individuals with racial bias. We are all products of our society. We need to put the focus on the source of the disease, not the symptoms. But we also need to realize that we are all part of the problem. We can’t just blame others. We have to take responsibility, myself included.

I apologize to any individual I picked on in that post, M.G. in particular. And I apologize to anyone involved for my overly confrontational behavior, my sometimes rude language. But no apologies will be offered for my passionate defense of truth (truth as I see it), even though it often leads me into conflict.

Now for the clarification.

In that same recent post, I also stated something that wasn’t stated as well as it could have been. It ended up being a distraction from the point I was trying to make. Here is what I wrote:

“We also know that poor rural Southern whites are the most violent group in America.

The key word here is ‘group’. This statement is true or false, depending on how groups are being defined, how the demographics are being divided.

If you divide people by race, blacks are the most violent group. But what is this group?

Blacks in America include a vast diversity. Some are Northerners and others Southerners. Some are urban residents and others rural. Some Christians, some Muslims and some not either. There are African immigrants who have no European genetics and no history of slavery. There are mixed race people from countries all over the world and so with different historical and cultural backgrounds. Then there is the historical population of American blacks whose ancestors were slaves, but the Gullah in South Carolina are quite different from the African Americans of New Orleans. One in ten of African Americans have more European genetics than African genetics; and so why aren’t they grouped with whites instead?

By shifting away from race, we can look at regional and area populations as I was doing. According to Culture of Honor by Nisbett and Cohen, another view of violence can be seen if we break things down into more specific details.

The South is more violent than the North. Some argue this is because of the South having more blacks, but what the authors found is that the precise regions of high violence are those with the fewest blacks and with the least history of slavery. The region in question is the rural South, typically associated with Appalachia but including what some call Greater Appalachia, mostly the Upper South extending over to the Ozarks. Appalachia and the Ozarks have a long history of violence. They were the most violent areas during the Civil War. This population has a tradition of vigilante justice and blood feuds.

The border areas between Kentucky and Tennessee has the highest historical rates of violence in the entire country. It is the most violent area in the rural South. The rural South is the most violent sub-region within the South as a region. And the South of course is the most violent region in the US. I might also add that the US is one of the most violent Western countries and one of the most violent developed countries in the world.

Broken down in this way, rural Southerners are the most violent group as a specific (sub-)regional population taken in toto. This also happens to be one of the whitest areas of the entire country.

How we group people determines what data we include and exclude. It determines what we see and don’t see, how we interpret and what we explain away.

With my statement, I was trying to demonstrate this point. If you divide people differently, you get different conclusions about who is most violent. I don’t think it is any more helpful to group all whites together as to group all blacks together. This is a point that most HBDers understand, whether or not they would make the same point as I’m making with the data.

My purpose certainly wasn’t to pick on poor whites simply because they are violent. I don’t want to pick on any poor people, no matter race, ethnicity or region. My fundamental purpose was to put the focus on poverty itself and the history of oppression behind it.

Here is the takeaway message:

All personal problems are also public problems.
All public problems are also personal problems.

This mixing causes life to be messy. There is a lot at stake in our daily interactions. Issues of emotion and miscommunication are to be expected.

I didn’t write this post in hoping to change anyone’s mind or to appease my critics. I simply wanted to communicate myself more clearly. I didn’t want to end with a sense of unresolved conflict, at least on my end. These are my final thoughts to the discussions in that post. I don’t want to be in the role of endlessly explaining all of this. If someone doesn’t see it as I see it, then so be it.

13 thoughts on “An Apology and a Clarification

  1. “Broken down in this way, rural Southerners are the most violent group as a specific (sub-)regional population taken in toto. This also happens to be one of the whitest areas of the entire country.”

    Could you show me the study that proves this? I tried googling but couldnt find anything.

    • Sure. I can offer you what I’m basing my conclusions upon. I just so happened to write a long comment in response to someone else about this very issue:

      I think I make a good case. But as I said to the other person, you can judge it for yourself.

      Also, please don’t think I’m attacking Southerners or poor rural Southerners. I have great sympathy. Much of my family is Southern, half of them coming from poor people from the Upper South. I lived in South Carolina and North Carolina for many years when I was growing up.

      It is actually because of my sympathy that I care so much about the social problems in this region. The most sympathetic portrayal I’ve ever come across is by Joe Bageant. He explains why we should care about these people.

        • Hello again, goodspeed!

          Your comment was waiting my approval. That happens with all comments with links. Strangely, wordpress forces me to even have to approve my own comments with links before they show up in the comments section.

          I’d gladly try to answer your query. I don’t know offhand which research paper is the source. I’d have to look through the book to find which one it is.

          I’ll get back to you tomorrow, one way or another. I have a 13 hour work day ahead of me. So, I’ll be mostly occupied.But if I get some free moments this evening, I’ll skim the relevant sections.

          By the way, thanks for asking nicely.

          In the other post, someone was rudely demanding answers and then was rudely refusing to accept answers when offered. That gets tiresome. I like to discuss, but I don’t like to argue, especially not pointless argument. I know arguing brings out the worse in me and it seems to bring out the worse in others. It creates an attitude of trying to win by defeating one’s opponent instead of mutually seeking to better understand a topic.

          Our of curioisity, are you familiar with human biodivesity (HBD)? Have you read hbdchick’s blog? She has done a lot of research to show the correlation between clannishness and violence. She focuses a lot on marriage patterns and family structure. She even has a post about Nisbett an Cohen’s Culture of Honor, but she theorizes the cause is genetic rather than cultural.

          I’m a big fan of cultural explanations, but hbd chick makes a good argument.

          • “Our of curioisity, are you familiar with human biodivesity (HBD)?”

            “Have you read hbdchick’s blog? She has done a lot of research to show the correlation between clannishness and violence. She focuses a lot on marriage patterns and family structure.”
            Yes, I check out her blog every week.

            “I’m a big fan of cultural explanations, but hbd chick makes a good argument.”
            Yeah. Truth be told, Im actually very convinced by the genetic explanations given by HBD bloggers but I still dont want to believe that enviroment counts for so little. So now Im looking for plausible alternative explanations.

          • “I’m actually very convinced by the genetic explanations given by HBD bloggers, but I still don’t want to believe that environment counts for so little. So now Im looking for plausible alternative explanations.”

            It is good to keep in mind that HBD theory is mostly lookingat correlations. It is very difficult, however, to scientifically prove that a correlation is a causation. The HBD genetic hypothesis (or hypotheses) is plausible, often compelling in its explanatory power. But there is so far little in the way of scientific research for much of it.

            Plausible explanations are dime a dozen.

            One of the main things I like about hbd chick is her intellectual humility, an attribute I immensely respect. She regularly admits that what she is doing in her blog isn’t science. It is immensely interesting, just not science. Hopefully, it will inspire some studies. But until then, we all are largely speculating here in the blogosphere. Like my own blogging, all that hbd chick can do is present her best case and let others be the judge.

            It seems to me that HBD likely has at least a piece of the puzzle. But I don’t know how big a piece it is. My suspicion is that it is far from being the whole picture.

            An example of this is the IQ issue. Many HBDers tend to focus on the likes of Jensen while ignoring or dismissing other researchers and theoreticians. I see this as problematic. It is easy to focus on the data that agrees with your own viewpoint. But I think it is more interesting to look at the profusion and confusion of data, the complications that force us to think more creatively about possible explanations.

            I don’t know the answer, but I know there are many competing scientific theories. Some support HBD and some don’t. For the IQ issue, you can explore that which challenges HBD. I’m not all that well read about the subject, but here are some interesting books I’ve come across:

            What Is Intelligence?: Beyond the Flynn Effect
            by James Flynn

            Myth of Intelligene
            Patrick Winn

            I’m in the process of reading both of these books, but I’m easily distracted. Even though the IQ issue isn’t a main focus for me, I’d like to have a better handle on it. Besides those, I noticed some other books that might be helpful reading material:

            Intelligence and Human Progress: The Story of What was Hdden in our Genes
            by James Flynn

            Human Intelligence and Meical Illness: Assessing the Flynn Effect
            by R. Grant Screen

            You could also look at other issues as well. There are many many scientific theories about how environmental factors cause or contribute to all kinds of human behaviors, traits, problems, etc. There is no lack of diverse scientific theories base on diverse research. If you’re looking for plausible environmental explanations, they shouldn’t be hard to find. but you’d need to look outsie of HBD blogs.

            There is a lot of interesting research on such things as cultures of honor and cultures of trust, probably many other cultural factors as well. And there is a ton of research on parenting styles, peer influences, social prejudices, institutional biases, pollution, nutrition, poverty, economic inequality, socio-eonomic mobility, etc. Put all of those environmental factors together and you have plenty of data to explain a lot of things.

          • I’m working right now. My job is as a cashier in a parking ramp. In between customers, I’ve been giving this some thought.

            It occurred to me about a difficulty in discussing this. Our minds easily fall into dualistic frameworks, in this case between environmentalism and hereditarianism. I havne’t yet come to a clear opinion about or complete understanding of the interactionist position, but it obviously allows for more complexity and nuance in theorizing (compared to strong environmentalism and strong hereditarinism).

            Part of the problem here is the chicken or the egg scenario. Is environment causing changes in genetics or vice versa?

            One could argue that hbd chick’s hypothesis is fundamentally environmentalist. Before outbreeding could alter genetics, there had to be an environmental cause that changed mating/marriage patterns. One major environmental cause hbd chick considers is manoralism where lords externally enforced changes onto a population. Another major environmental cause was the church outlawing cousin marriage. As for the clannish people, it was their environment (culture and terrain, whether mountains, swamp or desert) that allowed them to resist these other environmental factors and simultaneously forced them into isolation which environmentally increased their inbreeding.

            In this way, the genetic changes are a result of the environmetal changes that came first. Only after this did other environmental changes follow as secondary results, seconday to the genetic results.

            This shouldn’t be a surprising way to look at human evolution. We don’t have to ask about whether environment or genetics came first. We know that environment came first. Genetics was a result of a long chain of evolutionary changes that preceded the human species. The environment is what created genetics in the first place and has shaped it ever since. This is basic evolutionary theory.

            Genetics is simply an extension and maifestation of the environment. In reality, genetics isn’t separate from the environment. It is just one aspect of the environment. Culture is another aspect.

            It is simply a matter of how some aspects of environment influence and change other aspects of environment. Still, it is all one inseparable environment, no matter what name you give it or how you theoretically divide it up.

            The debate between HBDers and some others isn’t environment vs not environment. It is rather about how fast environmental changes can happen. HBDers tend to see a massive lag time in the changes to the genetic component of the human environment. But the jury is still out on how fast genetic changes can happen when impacted by other environmental factors. We know from animal breeding that it can theoretically happen very quickly. Nonetheless, we aren’t talking about human breeding. So, the question is are there environmental factors that could mimic the fast genetic changes observed in breeding.

            This is an area where there hasn’t been a lot of research. But there are some enticing considerations. Viruses are known to remove and splice new DNA into cells. This potentially could cause abrupt evolutionary changes in genetic-related behaviors (evolutionary leaps?). There is a lot we don’t know right now about human evolution. But there is supposedly evidence that human evolution might be speeding up.

            Ignoring the potential extremely fast changes, I see no reason that the few centuris of American history aren’t long enough for some major genetic changes. Certainly, the closest we’ve ever come to human breeding is slavery. Slave owners often decided who breeded with whom, sometimes this meant his impregnating his own slaves and other times it meant choosing a breeding male.

            Also, the relative freedom of movement for immigrants and settlers meant that the American population was a self-selection breeding experiment of the likes rarely if ever seen before. On top of this, there have been an immense array of envionmental factors in American society. The rural South, for example, isn’t just defined by who settled there but aso by who chose to leave; hence which genetics and genetic-related traits remained and which left the population. War, job opportunities and other environmental factors have all had an impact. Plus, there has been a constant influx of diverse genetics from all over the world.

            It is all very interesting. Obviously, there is a lot more going on her outside of and behind the genetics element.

            How do you see it? Have you come to a personal opinion?

          • “How do you see it? Have you come to a personal opinion?”
            Well, these days I assume that every human trait is influenced by both the enviroment and genes; how much of each depends on the trait of course, but my starting point is 50/50 until Im convinced otherwise.

          • Id like to add that HBD is definitely complicated and many times it is hard to separate genetic and enviromental influences when comparing traits between populations.

        • Looking back at your comment, I realized that you maybe didn’t follow my line of thought as I tried to explain in this post. I seem to be having much difficulty in communicating well. If I’ve learned anything at all from my recent experiences in interacting with people online, it is that I need to keep working on my communication skills.

          I was speaking of rural Southerners as an entire regional population, mostly focused on what is called the Upper South or Greater Appalachia. This can be generalized to the entire rural South because of similar demographics, but I was centrally thinking of the more specific region so as to be able to make comparisons between total regional populations. This is what I meant by “in toto”.

          The reason for this is because the Upper South and the rural South more generally is a demographically distinct population. In terms of my own interests, this is the highest per capita concentration of Americans who claim ancestry from Scots-Irish, Scottish and Irish. It (probably) is the singlemost Celtic and clannish regional population in the US.

          This interests me because a large part of my family comes from the Upper South, specifically Appalachia. My interest is more personal than theoretical. Hence, my approach is more about understanding the human reality than about trying to win a debate.

          I doubt there is a single research paper that proves my conclusions, although there is much supporting data. My understandings are based on numerous books, articles, research papers and blogs. Besides the authors I mentioned, I’d also recommend David Hackett Fischer and Colin Woodard. I’d definitely recommend hbd chick’s blog and a few other HBD blogs. As for research, there are a ton of interesting studies comparing and analyzing US states and regions.

          It may seem like I was making a simplistic argument, but I wasn’t.

          Even violence is a more complex subject than most people realize. It goes way beyond mere homicide rates. Some other relevant aspects of violent behavior are self-violence and risk-taking that leads to self-harm and/or harm to others. This incldes suicides, suicide by cop, ‘accidental’ deaths, fast driving, drunk driving, aggression, ‘self-defense’, fights, feuds, vigilante justice, child abuse, spousal abuse, animal abuse, bullying, etc. There is a lot of research about this and hbd chick often discusses it.

          I’d make one particular point in relation to this. Those with high rates of one kind of violent, risky behavior tend to have high rates in some other kinds of violent, risky behavior. Whites do have higher suicide rates than blacks, but interestingly both suicides and homicides are higher in the South as also are such things as ‘accidental’ deaths.

          Determining who is most violent is a difficult task. Looking at regions or races potentially can be helpful in narrowing the focus and so simplifying the analysis, but doing so may be deceptive and certainly can lead to skewed conclusions. Is it that poor urban blacks and poor rural Southerners are inherently more violent (and inherently are inferior because of their high rates of social problems)? Or is it that poverty and violence are some of the predictable results of oppression of and/or prejudice toward minority groups, whether a black minority or a Celtic minority?

          It would be a lot less shocking conclusion (maybe more shocking for some) that desperate poor people with few opportunities often turn to violence, that those raised in areas with lots of social problems tend to as individuals to grow up to have lots of social problems. This seems to be the obvious possibility that our society does everything to avoid confronting.

          I’ve made my case as well as I can at present, but neither side can absolutely prove their preferred explanation. It has taken me decades of reading and discussion to get to my present understanding, limited as it is. To more fully explain my viewpoint would require me to write a book with possibly thousands of quotations, references and citations. Alas, all I have time for is writing a blog. So take it or leave it.

          I’m not sure what to tell you. Assessing such diverse data requires a fair amount of subjective judgment. Defining terms alone is challenging: how demographics are being divided in order to create groups, who is included and excluded; what kind of violence are considered or how to aggregate different measures of violence; et cetera. I’d love to see a single study that deals with all this complexity, but I don’t know of such a study.

          I can easily get drawn into arguments, but I’d rather not. I’d prefer to try to understand as well as I’m capable and seek discussion with those also interested in understanding. The problem is that I’m not a scientist or an expert of any kind. Most of the people I discuss these topics with aren’t either.

          If you genuinely want to understand such things, you have your work cut out for you. I wish you luck.

          Anyway, there was a point behind my original statement that led to all this discussion. I was trying to commnicate the situation of there being a lot of data out there, a lot of confounding factors and more unknowns than you can shake a stick at.

          As I keep repeating, it is complicated. But some people don’t like complicated. There is nothing I can do about that. It isn’t my responsibility to attempt the impossible task of uncomplicating a complicated reality.

          Last of all, if you disagree with me, that is fine. I suspect there will always be disagreement about issues such as these. When even scientists are still debating opposing theories, it is unlikely the answer is going to be found in a blog discussion.

  2. For anyone who is interested, I’m starting to think that I need to wrie an entirely new clarification of my clarifiation. All of this discussion has caused me to consider the issue of violence more fully.

    I was perusing various books related to violence in the South. And ya know what? It’s complicated. I came across some data that makes me feel tentative about conclusions at the moment. I’ll need some time to sort out my thoughts in order to be able to offer a worthy response to those who have challengd my original claim.

    Be patient. I’ll need to gather my sources so that I can offer precise data about all the aspects of violence, at least in terms of regions and when available in terms of race as well. I’m not sure any absolute conclusion is possible, but I’ll try to analyze the data as best I can.

    For the time being, I publicly retract my original statement. My tentative assessment at the moment is that it is partly true and partly false, depending on which kind of violence one is considering. Beyond that, I’m not sure an aggregate measure of violence is available for comprison which would allow for a full and final judgment.

  3. “Id like to add that HBD is definitely complicated and many times it is hard to separate genetic and enviromental influences when comparing traits between populations.”

    I sometimes hear statements made by particular HBDers that sound a bit on the side of scientific reductionism and genetic determinism. I’m wary of that tendency in HBD. I think HBD overall is more nuanced than that, but not all HBDers are as nuanced in their thinking.

    According to the research I’ve seen, genetics is potential. That potential does have limits, but we haven’t yet entirely figured out what those limits are. I don’t see all of the research supporting the strong HBD position of genetics being severely constrained in expression. Genetics, in a way, is nothing more than potential without other environmental factors to make it express one way or another.

    Environment is a powerful influence. For example, some research has shown peers have more influence on children than do parents, except I suppose when parents isolate their children such as with homeschooling.

    I may have genetics that predispose me to liberalism, but I also had very liberal environments growing up. I see a lot of traits in my dad that seem potentially liberal and yet he grew up in a more conservative environment. Moving to right-wing South Carolina brought out a right-wing side in my dad. Even so, that liberal potentiality often pops up as semi-libertarianism. Unlike me, my dad didn’t grow up in a liberal environment and so his liberal potentiality has never fully expressed.

    Is my dad an actual conservative or an unexpressed liberal?

    It has been shown that genes don’t necessarily become expressed without specific environmental factors. Many conservatives are walking around with genes that correlate to higher rates of liberalism, but these people would never know this potential exists within. These people pass these liberal genes onto their children who, if they experience a liberal environment, will then express liberalism. Also, the children with liberal genes inherited from liberal-expressed parents are less likely to become liberals themselves if they don’t experience a liberal environment.

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