Race Realism and Racialized Medicine

I came across the passage below (pp. 143-145) which brings up one of the most important problems. I came across this in the essay “Evolutionary Versus Racial Medicine: Why It Matters” by Joseph L. Graves, Jr. It is from the collection Race and the Genetic Revolution: Science, Myth, and Culture:

Thus far, health disparity research and literature has not incorporated the full evolutionary medical approach. Generally, when biology is addressed as a cause of disparity and the focus has been on genetic differences that exist between reputed racial/ethnic groups, the evidence supporting the connection has been tenuous.5 The logical errors concerning genetic causality result from either ignoring or misunderstanding evolutionary genetics. The lack of training in evolutionary biology among medical researchers and practitioners accounts for this oversight.6 In particular, biomedical scientists often confuse the existence of geographically based genetic variation as proof of the existence of biological races. They also incorrectly assume that genetic differences in loci associated with complex diseases between populations is one of the causes of health disparity.7

[ . . . ] Despite the fact that most physicians practice medicine as if biological races are clearly defined in modern humans, there are few scientists or physicians who can or are willing to construct an argument to support racial medicine. The modern medical literature still utilizes nineteenth-century anthropological categories in group studies. For example, a recent search of Entrez Pubmed (conducted on January 6, 2010) utilizing the term “race” returned 114,305 articles from the human biomedical literature. More specifically, searches on Caucasian, Mongoloid, and Negroid race returned 52,846, 22,667, and 38,792 citations, respectively. While one can still debate the utility of the term “race” in the human biomedical literature, almost no one defends the idea that nineteenth-century racial categories are legitimate or that these (Caucasian, Mongoloid, or Negroid) are of much use in twenty-first-century research.

This touches upon a similar point I previously came across in a context that had nothing to do with race and racialized medicine.

It’s not just that most medical research about race is problematic. In general, medical research is one of the most problematic fields of research. It’s not just that most medical researchers and practitioners lack training in evolutionary biology. Most of them also lack training in research methodology and analysis. Anyone can do research and many doctors are interested in doing research, but it isn’t their field of expertise. Because of this, medical research is often of a lower quality and so less reliable.

We know so little about genetics. Considering what we do know, there appears to be many people doing research who don’t even understand that small amount. Medical researchers are still using obsolete racial terms from centuries ago, really?

The context for this is race realism which reminds me of capitalist realism. The two seem to go together. Both offer a pessimism about human nature, whether seen as humans constrained to their genetics or to their greed. This kind of false pragmatism is the most dangerous thing our society faces. It blinds us to the larger reality that surrounds us. It precludes new possibilities and unconsidered solutions.

When researchers think ideologically instead of scientifically, the entire scientific method is undermined. This racial realism isn’t reality. It is an ideology about reality. The racial ideology is being used as an assumption upon which to base research instead of a hypothesis to be tested. This makes it inevitable that the ideological results sought are found. By dividing the data according to a social construct, those social constructs are reified. This is how structural racism operates.

Race realists believe genetics causes and contributes to not just race but IQ, poverty, violence, mental illness, and just about every other aspect of society. All problems are the inevitable results of inborn traits. It is a genetic determinism that often goes hand in hand with a cultural determinism, ethnicity being the connection between the two. With this worldview, there is very little to be done about any problem other than keep the genetically inferior people out of our communities and out of our country. Build walls and gated communities.

There is no room for compassion and hope in such a reactionary worldview. There are no solutions, just damage control.

The Unimagined: Capitalism and Crappiness

It’s All Your Fault, You Fat Loser!

A Dangerous Pragmatism


Centerville, IA: Meeting Point of Diversity & Conflict

Let me bring a few thoughts together:

  • Midwestern diversity
  • KKK
  • civic organizations
  • organized crime

I’ll make the connections by focusing on the example of a city in Iowa, as described in Centerville: A Mid-American Saga by Enfys McMurry.

Founded in 1846, Centerville is a small town, once at around 8,000 population and now down to around 5,000. It is located in Appanoose County along the southern border of Iowa. This is a few counties southwest of Johnson County where I live in Iowa City, the home of the Hawkeyes. And this is a few counties southeast of Madison County which is famous for covered bridges and famous for it including the hometown of John Wayne and the temporary home of George Washington Carver. This location leads to a couple of central factors.

First, it was on the edge of slavery. Some of the early residents were abolitionists. And it became part of the Underground Railroad. However, being so close to slave state, escaped slaves and free blacks weren’t very safe living there for they could be easily kidnapped.

Second, it is an agricultural area, but it is also a mining area. This meant it attracted a wide variety of people. Despite it being a small town, its early population included immigrants from more than forty countries and sixty Jewish families. The Midwest (along with the Mid-Atlantic states) has always been where most immigrants have settled. This is why this is the median center and mean center of the United States.

Between location and population diversity, this made Centerville a site of conflict, a contest between political forces and social orders. This was magnified by the vast social change that happened after the Civil War. Blacks were moving North and one of the biggest immigration waves began. Society became very destabilized. It was also a time of increasing social freedom.

There were those who took advantage of these conditions and there were those who sought to enforce new order. There were many Italians in Centerville and with them came the Black Hand which was an early mafia. There was a peak of violence at the turn of the century and then another increase during the 1920s that peaked in the 1930s — see here:

Comparison by year of USA homicide rates

The Black Hand was organized crime, but it also played a role of civic organization in the Italian community. The mafia was a central part of the social order in the region of Italy where many of these immigrants came from. It was based on kinship and shared religion. This is hard for us to understand today. Civic organizations have become tamed and mostly impotent. They are now primarily social gatherings.

The KKK also had this dual role. They held typically conservative values. They sought to defend what they saw as good about society. Like the Black Hand, they would use criminal means at times to enforce their ideal social order. During the early twentieth century, the state and federal governments were far weaker than they are today. This was still the era of the Pinkertons being hired to infiltrate and fight the labor unions. Most power was private at that time. Vigilante and mob justice was common.

It was the early 1920s when the KKK seized political power in Centerville. They used force, threats, intimidation, coercion and about any means necessary. Having gained control of both political parties, their opponents covertly created a third party and ousted the KKK from power after only a few brief years. The KKK wasn’t able to get a permanent toehold and the former members became pariah. Iowa has a mixed history in relation to blacks, at times one of the most progressive and at other times not so much. However, it appears that Centerville was never a sundown town, unlike some other southern Iowa coal mining towns. Winterset, the hometown of John Wayne, was a sundown town.

It should be noted that the KKK wasn’t exclusively focused on blacks, especially not in a town like Centerville that had no large population of blacks. They had other more important agendas such as prohibition and enforcing family values and Christian morality. The prohibition aspect probably was central in an immigrant town like Centerville that included many ethnic groups that loved their drink. Prohibition was an extension of nativism. There is a long history in America of outlawing or trying to outlaw any substance or activity that becomes associated with non-WASP groups, be they a racial or ethnic minority.

I don’t know that the KKK was involved in violence and murder in Centerville. They certainly weren’t pacifists nor did they care much about democratic process. What can be said is that they thrived during violent times of social upheaval.

The following peaceful era of the mid-twentieth century was a rare moment during a century of great violence. We are only now getting back down to those low violent rates. There is an interesting difference, though. The middle of last century was a time of extremely low immigration, but these past couple of decades have had extremely high immigration. So, the violence rates don’t correspond to the immigration rates.

The KKK, of course, associated the violent social disorder to immigrants and blacks. On the other hand, immigrants and blacks might have associated violent social disorder with groups like the KKK.

After the boom era of coal towns like Winterset, I imagine much of this history of diversity and conflict has been forgotten. The patriotism of war and the Cold War era oppression led to some combination of chosen assimilation and forced assimilation. It is just another majority white rural small town, although it does have almost 4% minorities which in a town of 5,000 is a couple hundred people.

I find it interesting that those original immigrant families from so many different countries are now simply considered white. I’m not sure the KKK would be entirely happy about that, but then again neither would the Black Hand. Both the WASP Americans and the ethnic Americans lost the battle for the soul of America. The winner is some new weird amorphous white American, a mutt that is a little bit of many things and nothing in particular.

This is how multiculturalism slowly becomes monoculturalism. I suspect the same fate will happen to the new generation of ethnic outsiders in America. In many regions of the US, regional identities dominate. But in the Midwest, to become assimilated simply means becoming American. That is the role of the Midwest, the Heartland of America. It is where multiculturalism is embraced and where it comes to die. No amount of diversity can defeat this process. There is a faith in this American assimilation here in the Midwest. Bring us your huddled masses and we’ll make Americans out of them. There may be some violence in the process, but unless you want to become Amish the process is near inevitable.

America is where the world comes together. What new thing will be born from this?

Racist Ideology within Racial Terminology

“History has shown that even acknowledging that race has both a social and a scientific meaning cannot disconnect the concept from its typological and racist past (or present). Despite the best intentions of many scientists and scholars, race will always remain what Ashley Montagu once called a “trigger word; utter it and a whole series of emotionally conditioned responses follow.”41

“We are a genetically diverse species, and there is meaning in that diversity. But we as a species seem thus far unable to reliably distinguish between the scientific ramifications and the social meanings of human difference. Race is an historical, not a scientific, term. Yet, until the scourge of racism is eliminated from our lives and institutions, developing methods unburdened by racial ideology to study human difference will be an impossibility.”

A Short History of the Race Concept by Michael Yudell (p. 27)
from Race and the Genetic Revolution: Science, Myth, and Culture

To merely speak of race is to inevitably and automatically elicit or even express a racist worldview, no matter your intentions (including for anti-racists). It has so far proven impossible to separate race and racism. The earliest use of race in relation to humans had a racist purpose. That purpose became built into the concept itself, built into our entire racially ordered society that justified that concept.

Study after study has demonstrated how common is racial bias and prejudice in our everyday thinking and behavior, not to mention the pervasiveness of structural racism. It is all around us and within us. We aren’t normally conscious of this. It is just what happens when you are enculturated in this kind of society and indoctrinated in this kind of political system. When a racial order has existed for centuries, it doesn’t disappear in a single generation (or two or three) just because we had a civil rights movement.

There are only two results that can come from speaking of race.

First, as I’m pointing out here, to use race (even if only with code words) is to evoke a racist worldview. With this first option, you don’t even need to speak of race directly in order to elicit the corollary racial bias and prejudice. It is already in place. You simply must not challenge it. The racism is in-built not just into the overt language of racism for the race-tinged terminology and the racial framing is always shifting (politicians, for example, have become talented in using dog-whistle politics, Reagan having been the master). That is where its power lies.

The second option is to speak as openly, clearly and bluntly as possible. No unquestioned assumptions. No code words. No political correctness, whether of the liberal or conservative variety. Like Rumplestiltskin, the power resides in knowing the name of something and stating it. This is why not speaking of race or speaking around race empowers rather than disempowers a racist worldview. The greatest fear of those most invested in a racial worldview is an open and honest discussion of race and racism. That fear must be confronted. We live in a world ruled by fear and ignoring it won’t make it go away.

I advocate for the second option. No more hiding behind words. Instead of using language to obfuscate, let us use language to communicate and discuss.

Generations at the Age of Twelve

Let me continue with my thoughts about generational change and conflict which was itself a continuation of my thoughts about the Ku Klux Klan and the Lost Generation. This is one of those topics that gets caught in my craw.

I had two basic thoughts in response to what I’ve already written.

First, I was considering what it is that form’s a generation’s worldview. It is a confluence of events. There are cycles that seem to endlessly repeat (or, if not precise cycles, history does rhyme to an impressive degree). Still, no generation is ever the same as what came before. There is a unique moment in time, an era of childhood, a beginning point that forever shapes the collective mindset of an entire generation (at least within a single country and, increasingly so, within the larger world during this new era of globalized mass media).

Second, I was considering the present older generation and why it is so easy to see them as stalling progress. The situation we find ourselves in is somewhere between a stalemate and outright dysfunction. As a society, we can’t seem to resolve the simplest of issues, much less move forward in a productive fashion. This becomes increasingly relevant as my generation and the next takes on the reigns of power.

The first thought leads into the second.

So, about the first thought.

As I explained with the KKK post, it isn’t as if the members of the KKK (the ‘Klansmen’) were evil incarnate. Most of them were normal people doing normal things. The Second KKK in the 1920s was mostly a civic organization. Yes, it was a racist civic organization, but so were many others. Back then, especially among older whites, you would have been outside the norm to not have been racist.

Klansmen probably wouldn’t even have thought of themselves as racists. Most people don’t define themselves in terms of negatives. Racism was just the cultural background they were born into. It was the world of their childhood.

Childhood is that time of key formative experiences. It creates what we consider normal and acceptable. It is what we look back upon often with fondness and sometimes with righteousness. Even if our childhoods were bad, it is easy for people to not understand why younger generations should have easier childhoods that will make them soft and weak. Whatever the case, we don’t tend to be very objective and neutral about our childhoods.

I just finished listening to the audiobook version of Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine:

“a 1957 novel by Ray Bradbury, taking place in the summer of 1928 in the fictional town of Green Town, Illinois, based upon Bradbury’s childhood home of Waukegan, Illinois. [ . . . ] The main character of the story is Douglas Spaulding, a 12-year-old boy loosely patterned after Bradbury. Most of the book is focused upon the routines of small-town America, and the simple joys of yesterday.”

Bradbury would only have been 8 years old in 1928, but the fictionalized boy was 12. That is a mythical number of a complete cycle such as 12 months. In the child’s world, life revolves around summer. The end of summer in the novel is symbolic of the end of childhood with the last moment of childhood at age twelve. That last moment of childhood is the end of one period of life and the beginning of another, the ending of elementary school and the halfway point of primary education, halfway point on the way to full adulthood.

Many stories focus on this magical time of life, this point of transition. Stand by Me begins with the voiceover, “I was 12 going on 13 the first time I saw a dead human being.” Like Dandelion Wine, this is a story about the ending of childhood and the emergence of adult awareness which is most poignantly made known through death. 12 and Holding is yet another story about the dual themes of age 12 and death.

Maybe one can tell a lot about an individual or a generation in considering what the world was like when they were twelve.

For example, Reagan was twelve in 1923. That is that same quiet period as the setting of Dandelion Wine. It was the 1920s, a carefree time following the end of WWI and before the beginning of the Great Depression. I’m sure Bradbury used 1928 as signifying that innocent moment prior to 1929. The whole country was innocent. WWI would have seemed like an anomaly and anyway it was a war far away that never had much directly to do with the United States, especially for a child who would have had no memory of it at all. WWII and the Cold War were a long way off in the future.

Both Reagan and Bradbury remember childhoods during the 1920s in small towns in Illinois. Reagan considered that to be a formative period of his life. His home at age twelve supposedly is the only house he mentions in any of his books. The 1920s was a time of peace and optimism. Magnified by the memories of a pleasant childhood, Reagan carried that sensibility into his adulthood. And it was that sunny optimism that made him so popular.

Reagan spent his childhood going to school. Many of the Lost Generation, instead of schooling, spent their childhoods working whatever jobs they could find. Unlike Reagan and his cohort, the Lost Generation had less of a childhood to reminisce about. Spending age twelve in a factory or a mine would give you a different worldview for the rest of your life. The Lost Generation was unique in this way. Even the generation before them didn’t have this experience for, in their childhoods, they didn’t know mass urbanization and mass industrialization. So, neither the generation before nor the generation following could understand what the Lost Generation had lived.

Similarly, although to less extremes, Generation X had a relatively difficult childhood and young adulthood.

At age 12, the Cold War was still going on and the oppressive Cold War culture (e.g., comic book codes). As I’ve often pointed out, GenXers childhood was unique in many ways. We were the most aborted generation ever and so a small generation between two large generations. In childhood going on into young adulthood, my generation experienced high rates of poverty, child abuse, homicide, suicide and unemployment. When we were young, society stopped being oriented toward and accommodating of children. Restaurants became less welcoming of young families and less tolerant of the antics of children. Very little entertainment was made for kids and plenty of entertainment was made about evil and possessed children, rebellious and violent teens, and nihilistic and self-destructive young adults.

When most Americans were experiencing economic good times, there were two specific demographics that were hit hard in the last decades of the 20th century: GenXers and blacks. Both demographics experienced high rates of unemployment, poverty, homelessness, and incarceration. If you were a GenX black, it would have felt like the whole world was against you for everyone would have seen you as nothing but a gangsta and a drug dealer. The GenX black was the ultimate scapegoat of our society.

At age 12, GenXers saw a cynical age of greed, oppression and ignorance. That is what many in my generation came to expect as normal, just the way the world is. As a small generation, it didn’t feel like there was much we could do about it. Many of my generation embraced this worldview and so we became the generation with the highest support of Reagan. Cynical realpolitik and Wall Street greed seemed to be the name of the game. We put a very different spin on Reagan’s optimism, though, for we were better able to see through it. Optimism simply meant survival of the fittest and fuck the downtrodden. A not very nice ideal, but nice ideals were for wimpy flower children of the ’60s. That is what we learned from Alex P. Keaton from Family Ties.

That is the sad result of my generation. We played the game that was presented us, but not all of us wanted to play that game. The only other choice was to drop out entirely or at least psychologically. The advantage my generation has had is that many of us always knew it was bullshit. We never swallowed the lies to as great an extent as the older generation. Reagan actually believed what he said, an actor who became the role he played: first a cowboy, then a corporate spokesperson, and then a politician. His optimism was self-delusion. My generation at least had the sense to realize that there were alternative viewpoints.

Still, it will require a more demanding vision of the generation following mine to have a chance in hell of challenging the 20th century status quo that now bleeds into this new century.  GenXers are too mired in the Boomer worldview that has dominated our entire lives, especially for older GenXers. We are more a generation of doomsaying prophets than inspiring visionaries. The main thing my generation can do is to starkly portray and grimly explain the reasons we got here. I’m part of a generation of clowns for only clowns can speak the truth, not that speaking the truth is a requirement of being a clown.

In my second to last post (of which this post is a continuation), I somewhat simplistically implied that it was Boomers were mucking up the work. To be fair, as explained above, older GenXers are also to blame. Some would even see older GenXers as part of the older generation now ruling politics, rather than as being of the same generation as younger GenXers:

“If Mannheim’s Germans constituted a political generation because in their plastic years they experienced the Napoleonic Wars, the men and women who today dominate American politics constitute a political generation because during their plastic years they experienced some part of the Reagan-Clinton era. That era lasted a long time. If you are in your late 50s, you are probably too young to remember the high tide of Kennedy-Johnson big government liberalism. You came of age during its collapse, a collapse that culminated with the defeat of Jimmy Carter. Then you watched Reagan rewrite America’s political rules. If you are in your early 40s, you may have caught the tail end of Reagan. But even if you didn’t, you were shaped by Clinton, who maneuvered within the constraints Reagan had built. To pollsters, a late 50-something is a Baby Boomer and an early 40-something is a Gen-Xer. But in Mannheim’s terms, they constitute a single generation because no great disruption in American politics divides them. They came of age as Reagan defined a new political era and Clinton ratified it. And as a rule, they play out their political struggles between the ideological poles that Reagan and Clinton set out.”

That fits some of my experience. All of history is continuous. Disruptions are perceived which depends on the experience of those perceiving. If generations exist, it is because they share a common perception of historical events. Simply sharing the same historical period would not be enough.

However you dice the generations, the older demographic dominating politics has been creating dysfunction. I think we can all agree on that much.

So, why are the older folk mucking up the works?

It’s not just that there was a baby boom. No doubt we are experiencing the slow digestion of the elephant in the python, but there is more to it. An elephant, of course, is a difficult thing for a python to digest. More importantly, why does the elephant keep struggling so much in the process? The elephant in question obviously doesn’t want to be digested and is far from giving up the ghost.

This older generation isn’t simply in the way of progress. More specifically, this older generation is resisting progress and reacting to it, fighting it tooth and nail. They’d rather shut down the government than have an honest discussion about our collective problems. It isn’t even as if they are genuinely against government as government grew bigger under their watch than ever before.

There is a lot going on with that generation. They were a more monocultural and whiter demographic. As I’ve pointed out before, they were born at the lowest point of immigration in the 20th century and I’m not sure when it had last been that low. The conflict they grew up with wasn’t between natives and immigrants but between American whites and American blacks, especially between whites from the Northern states and blacks from the Southern states. Still, even between whites and blacks, there was a sense that the country was progressing to some extent, even though less quickly for blacks.

This generation couldn’t understand what followed nor sympathize with those who were negatively impacted. This is why many older blacks also came to support tough on crime laws and the War on Drugs, despite the fact that blacks were being harmed by it and black communities were being destroyed because of it. These older people remembered a world that no longer was and they couldn’t understand why it couldn’t remain that way. They had to blame someone. The young were one useful target, young blacks being one of the best targets of all. This is why someone like Bill Cosby can say idiotic things about poor black people.

It’s also a class thing. The economic divide didn’t just grow between whites and blacks. It also grew within the races. The middle and upper class blacks found themselves disconnected from the experience of most blacks. You would think not being accepted into mainstream white society would make older and well off blacks sympathetic to the plight of young blacks, but apparently that often isn’t the case. The power of a generational worldview can be even greater than the solidarity of race, especially for blacks who never were the exemplaries of solidarity as were the Germans, Irish and Italians.

The younger generation in general and minorities in particular, who have been hit hardest by mass incarceration, don’t receive much sympathy. Their lives have been destroyed. In response, their families and communities offer them nothing but shame. The Civil Rights movement was never good about helping the worst off among blacks.

As mass incarceration continues, a new generation is growing up either incarcerated or with the fear of incarceration. Even if not incarceration, society is offering them little to hope for. GenXers were at that magical age of twelve when all this began. Millennials at age twelve saw it continuing. Now a new generation will be coming to that age in a few years and likely it isn’t going to end anytime soon. The event of 9/11 was simply used as justification for more of the same and worse still. We will have several generations who knew nothing but a police state ever increasing in its oppression.

When will a new generation come along who will be able to fondly remember the age of 12 as a time of peace and optimism?

The Shame of Iowa and the Midwest

I’m a Midwesterner and specifically an Iowan. Like anyone else, I have a natural tendency to defend this place I consider home. Take for example when a commenter, Skepoet, said in a comment that the Midwest lacked diversity. I responded with pointing out a multicultural tradition in the Midwest.

At the same time, I always want to be as honest as possible, with myself as much as with others. I’ve come to realize, from further study, a major part of history outside the South that demonstrates how pervasive racism is in our society. I speak of sundown towns. I learned that even in my beloved Midwest, even in Iowa, sundown towns weren’t unusual. It wasn’t an accident that so many blacks ended up in the inner city. They were forced to live there when they were forced to leave the towns they had moved to following the Civil War. As I wrote in one post:

“A problem of freedom involves the opposite of being a part of a free people. Free societies/communities have often defined themselves by who is excluded. He references James Loewen’s work on sundown towns in this regard.

“I was generally aware that sundown towns existed, although I’m not sure I’ve ever heard them called that. They are basically towns where blacks weren’t (and, in some cases, still aren’t) welcome after dark, so unwelcome that their lives could be in danger (such as being arrested, beaten, or lynched). I was even aware that towns unfriendly to non-whites have existed all over the United States. Racism is pervasive throughout American society. Still, I was surprised by how pervasive these sundown towns supposedly were, especially in the far North and far West.

“There was an era following the Civil War where an anti-racist idealism prevailed. It took hold most strongly in the Republican majority areas outside the South. Blacks were very much welcomed into towns across the country and blacks took up the new opportunities available to them. What I never knew before was that blacks had settled in so many small towns and rural areas outside of the South. Like Loewen before he did the research, I just assumed most areas always were lacking in minorities.”

I learned that this might have happened quite close to home.

“For example, a nearby town is West Branch in Cedar County. My brother and his family live in West Branch, and he has noted the old boys network that keeps that town from changing, despite all the other small towns nearby experiencing lots of change. A longtime friend of mine grew up there for much of her early life and she recalls the racism that was common there.”

“Loewen briefly discusses Cedar County in his discussion of presidential hometowns (as Hoover lived in West Branch as a child). West Branch did and does have a large Quaker presence and the Quakers sought to help blacks after the Civil War. According to the census data, there were 37 black residents of Cedar County in 1890, but only 2 in 1930.

“This appearance and disappearance of blacks happened all over around this time. During the 20th century, blacks increasingly became concentrated into big cities. Loewen was unable to find any legal documents, newspaper accounts or oral history about what caused the blacks to leave Cedar County, but he did find plenty of evidence to explain what happened in other places. In some cases, white mobs forced entire black communities to vacate a town, a county or larger area (Oregon was a sundown state in that there were anti-black laws enforced to keep any new blacks from becoming residents). Whether through official decree or unofficial policy, many of these places remained all white for most or all of the 20th century, some still remaining all white to this day.”

This is the history. Now for the present reality of that persisting history.

Iowa ranks worst in the country when it comes to racial disparity of marijuana arrests. Much of the Midwest also fits in with this same sad pattern. These are the very states that so often rank well on many other social measures. What makes me most sad of all is the fact that Johnson County, in which I live, is the third worst county in Iowa.

This supposed multicultural-loving Iowa City that is my hometown obviously needs some work living up to its own ideals. The racial influence (read ‘black’ population) from Chicago coming in from I-80 is turning out to be too much for the local population, even here in this liberal college town.

I don’t know why such a problem exists in a place like this. The police here don’t seem abusive or oppressive. What has led them to racially profile to such a degree? And what has caused them to think this was acceptable or even expected of them?

By the way, the same day I came across the above info, I also noticed an article about Iowa City being listed in the top 100 livable cities. There were 5 cities in Iowa that made the list:

“Cedar Rapids was named 29 while Ames ranked 31 and Iowa City was 46. Des Moines ranked 69 and West Des Moines ranked 76.

This is extremely typical. Iowa City, in particular, is always making these kinds of lists. One of the best cities for retirement, for raising family, for going to college, for economic growth, and on and on. Yes, Iowa City is a great town for a town of its size. It has great public transportation, bike lanes, lots of trails and parks, a lovely downtown, and high civic participation. I could go on and on about why I love this place.

This most recent list is about most livable which includes a wide variety of factors. But the question is:

Livable for whom?







Generational Change and Conflict: Immigration, Media Tech, etc.

I wrote the other day about the Ku Klux Klan and the Lost Generation. I came across a few things that got me thinking more about generational change and the conflict that ensues among the generations involved. First, let me touch again on those earlier generations.

As I explained in that post, the Ku Klux Klan was founded and mostly led by the generation(s) that preceded the generation that came of age in the early 20th century. That new generation was the Lost Generation who were born, according to Strauss and Howe, from 1883 to 1900. In the KKK post, I offered a quote by a Lost Generation writer that seemed to specifically speak to the condition of that generation that formed the KKK. It was from Ernest Hemingway and went as follows: “Broad lawns and narrow minds.” Just for the fun of it, I’ll now add another quote from a member of the Lost Generation, William Carlos Williams, which I’ve quoted before:

“It has become “the most lawless country in the civilized world,” a panorama of murders, perversions, a terrific ungoverned strength, excusable only because of the horrid beauty of its great machines. To-day it is a generation of gross know-nothingism, of blackened churches where hymns groan like chants from stupefied jungles, a generation universally eager to barter permanent values (the hope of an aristocracy) in return for opportunist material advantages, a generation hating those whom it obeys.”

One might call the Lost Generation cynical. It reminds me of my own generation, GenX.

For my purposes here, let me accentuate the point that the Lost Generation was born and grew up during the first era in US history of a major population boom. More significantly, it was the first era of truly large mass immigration.

Those immigrants were either members of the Lost Generation or their parents. These perceived foreigners were considered undesirable people by many Americans. They were the dreaded ethnics from Germany, Eastern Europe and Southern Europe. Unlike today, these people weren’t considered white or at least their whiteness was highly questionable. In response to this incoming horde, the KKK defended WASP values which they considered 100% Americanism.

Here is a graph from a Pew report:

U.S. Birth Rate Falls to a Record Low; Decline Is Greatest Among Immigrants
by Gretchen Livingston and D’Vera Cohn

That graph brings me to another point I was making in that previous post. We are in another similar era as that which the Lost Generation was born into. GenX was born and grew up during this new era of mass immigration began (early 1960s onward). The earlier mass migration hit a peak when the Lost Generation was hitting its 20s and thirties. The exact same thing happened for this recent mass migration in relation to GenX.

Both generations grew up experiencing change as normal. Also, both generations grew up to accept, cynically or otherwise, that they would suffer the worse of these changes. The Lost Generation and the GenX found themselves on the wrong end of the powerful generation that preceded them. In the case of the Lost Generation, that included the likes of the fundamentalist KKK. For GenXers, it was the rise of a new right-wing with fundamentalism at its head. Both eras of change brought on inter-generational conflict and culture wars.

The reason for this is that there had been a period of relative stability directly before each of these eras of change. This relative stability was largely connected to the lesser number of immigrants during those previous generations.

Right before the Lost Generation was the Missionary Generation. Missionaries were born following the mass migration that happened during the mid-1800s. They grew up knowing only the world following directly after the Civil War. It was the Reconstruction Era, a time of restructuring and re-establishing the social order and racial/class hierarchy. During their young adulthood, they became involved in the Populist Era which allowed their generation to shape the political, economic and religious trends that would be the foundation for the 20th century. It was because of the immense influence they had that all the change at the turn of the century felt like everything that had been accomplished was being undone or at least being dangerously challenged. They couldn’t comprehend all the changes that were happening with industrialization, urbanization and globalization.

And before GenX was the Boomers. They are an interesting case. They were the largest generation and only recently became the second largest following the birth of the Millennials. They’ve exerted disproportionate power and influence because of their large numbers and because of the smaller numbers of GenXers. My generation simply had to play along or else simply react to what the Boomers demanded. The culmination of all things Boomer came to a head during this past decade when the Boomers finally became the majority of politicians in Washington (or at least in Congress), the last of the moderate and moderating Silent Generation either ousted or forced to submit, although the younger Silents were easy to bring in line as they shared more of the same history. You can understand the Boomers (and the younger Silents) by looking at this second graph from the same above Pew report:

As you can see, precisely as immigration was at its lowest the birth rate peaked. This is when the Boomers were born, a very atypical era. This generation grew up with historical amnesia and they thought their childhoods were normal and hence should be held up as the norm. They were scared shitless when this false norm was challenged by the larger contingencies of reality, just as scared shitless as the generation that formed the KKK.

This relates to the core issue of my thinking at the moment: technology.

The Missionaries were born into the beginning of industrialization that began to grow with Reconstruction. Before the Civil War, there was no national railroad system for railroad tracks were incompatible from one region to another. Reconstruction brought forth the collaboration of big government and big business which is what the Populists were responding to in the last decades of the 19th century. The Lost Generation were born into this and new nothing else. Boomers, however, were born when industrialization had reached its peak following WWII and immediately deindustrialization was beginning and globalization was finally becoming a force to be reckoned with.

Before I further discuss the technological angle, I’ll go into the details of precisely who was being impacted by these technological changes and how they were being impacted. This brings me not just to the distinctions of generations but also of ethnicity and race as they all overlap in American history. The dominant group has always found a way to maintain their own power. At the turn of the century, organizations like the KKK sought to defend America against those who didn’t fit the WASP definition of white American. The largest portion of these immigrants, from the mid-1800s to the mid-1900s, were Germans which just added to the already large German population that had come in the previous centuries.

What Boomers experienced was an America that had been cleansed of overt German culture for the first time in American history. This was the historical amnesia that was intentionally created by the propaganda of the burgeoning Cold War. It maybe goes back to the Civil War conflict between the monocultural South and the multicultural North, and in victory Northerners came to see the value of Southern (mono-)culture. Americans at that time weren’t just uncertain about immigrants from foreign countries. They were uncertain about the migrations happening within the US as well which the railroads made inevitable. Germans, like Catholics and Southern blacks, were the target of the likes of the KKK, but it certainly went well beyond the KKK into the larger society. As I previously explained:

“Much of the political foment following the Civil War involved the German population or was in reaction to the German population. Germans fought for workers’ rights and farmers’ rights, the two coming together within the Populist movement. Germans fought against corporatocracy in the way they fought against empire back in Europe. More importantly, they won many of the political battles they fought and we today benefit from their struggle such as with the 8 hour work day and 5 day work week (try working every waking moment continuously 7 days a week and then tell me you aren’t grateful for their struggle and sacrifice). On the other side, Prohibition and Sunday laws were partly enacted in order to control the influence of ethnic immigrants such as Germans and Irish who were fond of their drink.

“The ugliness of nativism became a central issue on the national stage when World War I began. The media of the day portrayed Germans as being vile and dangerous which led to mobs forming and many Germans dying. Also, the Germanic culture was nearly eliminated. German newspapers were censored, German names of buildings and streets were changed, German traditions were attacked, and German-Americans experienced political and economic oppression. They were arrested, imprisoned, and deported. They had hard time finding work. Their formerly influential culture suddenly became a liability. Along with the impact of World War II, nearly all traces of German heritage had been eliminated. Many German-Americans experienced a cultural forgetting that scoured the German culture from the collective memory of American history.”

During the early 20th century, it was a slow process of non-Wasps being allowed into the white mainstream society. Ethnic Americans quickly adapted the white identity because of the privileges it allowed. In doing so, whites (WASPs and former ethnic immigrants) disproportionately benefited from Progressivism, as I’ve noted bebore (in relation to When Affirmative Action Was White by Ira Katznelson):

“It isn’t a matter of the original intention of many progressive reforms. Racism was rampant, but most people weren’t overtly thinking in terms of racism. Even so, racism was able to trump other concerns by co-opting the policies that were implemented. It became white affirmative action by default. The wording of progressive reform didn’t state it as white affirmative action, but that was the result successfully implemented by the racists in power who wished to maintain their grip on power. Progressivism was just a convenient front for old racial injustices. This is how Jim Crow was rooted in the New Deal.

“Framing white privilege as affirmative action helped me to see the profound impact that it has had. It wasn’t just racist policies in the South or even isolated racist incidents in the North. It was a systematic strategy that was nationwide, even if the strongest impetus was in the Jim Crow South. With this new framing, all the pieces of the puzzle came together.”

All of this was coming to fruition in the 1950s and 1960s. A new social order had been made with Jim Crow and the white-classifying of ethnic Americans. This new social order was at its height when it was also being most strongly challenged. This was the beginning of the Civil Rights Era, but it was also the time when blacks were beginning to feel economic hard times coming for them, the economic hard times that would take another half century to trickle up to middle class whites. This connects to what I was writing about in terms of mass incarceration and deindustralization (and relates to the urbanization that followed the original industrialization):

“This really is an extension of deindustrialization which has been going on for a half century. Before that, industrialization had been an equivalent replacement for an agricultural society. As the article points out, half the population was employed in farming a little over a century ago. Most of those people moved to the cities and found factory jobs. That seemed like progress. But things have been quite different with deindustrialization for there has been fewer jobs created than destroyed.

“This connects to my recent preoccupation with mass incarceration. Black communities have been hit hardest as blacks have been concentrated in the inner cities. Racist houing and home loan practices and sundown town policies forced blacks into the inner cities. Housing projects, highway bypasses, poverty, underfunded schools and general ghettoization (along with other aspects of structural racism) have trapped them there. And now they are less than desirable places to live. But that wasn’t always the case.

“During the early 20th century, the inner cities were thriving communities. This is where many of the early factories were located and so blacks were highly employed. Deindustrialization, along with globalization, decimated these communities. In the 80s and 90s, much of the American population was doing great, but blacks were being hit by unemployment rates not seen by whites since probably the Great Depression. Most of the jobs left and with them the hope of escaping the inner city. Poor blacks became surplus humans. At least under slavery, they were necessary to the economy. Now they had become useless eaters, a problem to be solved or eliminated.

“The War on Drug became the perfect solution and so it was purposely targeted at the victims of deindustrialization. Since we had no jobs to offer poor blacks in this brave new world of globalization, we decided to wharehouse them in prisons and housing projects or else concentrate them in isolated inner city ghettoes. That way at least they would be hidden from sight where the rest of us wouldn’t have to acknowledge this evidence of our society’s failure and dysfunction.”

Right there is the the crux of the matter.

There is the motivation and there is what it leads to. The turn of century changes that the older generations were responding to brought them to enact such things as Prohibition. Likewise, the older generations when GenXers were being born and raised decided the War on Drugs was a good idea. The difference is that Prohibition only lasted slightly over a decade and the War on Drugs is still going strong more than four decades later (Nixon declaring it back in 1971). The reason for this is that the Boomer Generation is relatively larger per capita than was the Missionary Generation and so their political influence has been stronger, more well established and longer lasting.

We are a society that is lagging behind by decades. The change that we need has been stunted. However, the Boomer’s reign is coming to an end. Our recession has shown the dysfunction of the government during this past decade when Boomers were the majority. This has led to the younger generations to consider the very ideologies that originally became so influential among the Lost Generation during the early 20th century.

This isn’t just a change of politics, economics and demograhics. It is a change of culture.

This is where media and technology comes in. The Lost Generation experienced the rise of many media technologies. When they were children, the first developments were being made for the phonograph, radio, film and even the television. It was in the 1920s as young adults (the youngest in their 20s and the oldest in their 30s) that they saw sound brought to film and the television began to be better developed for commercialization. This utterly transformed society and the same fears we hear about technology today were spoken of back then (for example, the freedom that the telephone allowed in talking to anyone at anytime brought on the fear of sexual licentiousness for who knows what those teens might talk about and plan when given the freedom to do so). However, maybe there is something truly different about technology today.

The reason I was thinking about this angle is because of an article I came across (via Matt Cardin). It is Hatchet Job by Mark Kermode — review by Will Self:

“McLuhan’s point is that when it comes to the impact of new media on the human consciousness – both individual and collective – content is an irrelevance; we have to look not at what is on the screen, but how the screen is used. McLuhan saw in the early 1960s that all the brouhaha about what imagery was shown on television and what words were spoken was so much guff; the transformation from what he termed “the linear Gutenberg technology” to the “total field” one implied by the instantaneity of electricity was all that mattered, and this was a change in the human mind as well as the human hand. McLuhan’s global village is indeed all about us now, and it already exhibits social, psychological and cultural behaviours that are entirely different from those implicit in the technologies of mass broadcast and individual, concentrated absorption.

“Film is far more akin to the printed book than it is to the web page; and as for the criticism that accompanied it, this too owed its cultural traction to top-down and one-way technologies of dissemination. Kermode expends a lot of Hatchet Job on explaining that phenomena such as audience test screenings effecting change in movies are as old as the medium itself, while the auteur theory of film-making was always suspect and fragmentary. But what he wants to preserve against all comers is the work of narrative art as something that is given entire and unchangeable by its makers to its receivers. Unfortunately, like all Gutenberg minds, Kermode can only have an inchoate understanding of what’s going on”

That is the change that has happened over this past century. So, what is the future and whose future will it be?

“[ . . . ] what he can’t bear to contemplate is that films also may become dialogic. Why not? For those who think that narrative art forms are in a state of crystalline stasis it’s worth taking a slightly longer view: film is only just over a century old, the novel as we commonly understand it a mere two centuries old – the copyrights that protected them are about 150 years old. At the moment, the wholesale reconfiguration of art is only being retarded by demographics: the middle-aged possessors of Gutenberg minds remain in the majority in western societies, and so we struggle to impose our own linearity on a simultaneous medium to which it is quite alien. The young, who cannot read a text for more than a few minutes without texting, who rely on the web for both their love affairs and their memories of heartache, and who can sometimes find even cinema difficult to take unless it comes replete with electronic feedback loops, are not our future: we, the Gutenberg minds have no future, and our art forms and our criticism of those art forms will soon belong only to the academy and the museum.”

Well, it won’t be the future of Boomers, those Will Self describes as “the middle-aged possessors of Gutenberg minds”. I’d point out that it isn’t so much the middle-aged as it is those that are well beyond that point, those coming to the end of their careers or already retired. Boomers weren’t just a large generation. They, at least those who were well off, were the first generation to have such relatively long and healthy lives.

Because of this, we are in some ways worse off than the generations who lived through Prohibition, the Depression and two world wars. There is going to be massive change that will make the present older generation more upset than the most irate Klansmen as the KKK lost power following the Depression. The backlash and the reactionary politics, the inter-generational conflict is going to be like nothing ever seen before. The more change is delayed the more drastic it will be when it finally comes, like water being held back by a dam when that dam is slowly cracking. The Millennial Generation is the floodwater filling the dam beyond capacity. And the coming decades of the 21st century will be the little town at the bottom of that dam.

Imagine what will happen when the War on Drugs and mass incarceration ends as when Prohibition and Jim Crow ended. Just imagine…

Ku Klux Klan and the Lost Generation

My dad was watching a C-SPAN talk about the Ku Klux Klan. The speaker was James Madison who is a professor from Bloomington, Indiana. My parents are from Indiana which once was a major center of KKK activity. The Indiana Klan became its own separate organization at one point and it was very powerful:

“At the height of its power the Klan had over 250,000 members, which was over 30% of state’s white male population. The highest concentration was around the central part of the state. Klan membership was discouraged in some parts of the state; in New Albany, city leaders denounced the Klan and discouraged residents from joining. Other cities, including Indianapolis, were almost completely controlled by the Klan, and election to public office was impossible without their support. Street fights occurred in Indianapolis between the Klan members and minority groups. Statewide, estimates of native white male Indiana Klan membership ranged from 27 to 40%.
“The Klan had a large budget, based on a percentage of membership fees and dues. With more than 50,000 dues-paying members in Indianapolis, the Klan had access to tens of millions of dollars. A large part of these funds went to helping the poor, but millions were also poured into bribing public officials, paying off enemies, purchasing weapons, and contributing to political campaigns.”

I notice the mention of Indianapolis as a stronghold. That is where Bobby Kennedy gave his moving speech where he told an unaware crowd about the death of Martin Luther King jr. He was warned about doing that because it was a crowd of black people and the police thought it might turn into a riot, and such worries are understandable given this KKK history.

My parents grew up in central Indiana which is precisely where the Klan was most concentrated.

Population of white male residents of each Ind...

Oddly, as the map shows, Southern Indiana had the weakest Klan concentration. In the quote above, it mentions that some parts of the state such as Albany at the Southern border actively discouraged the Klan. That is where my mom’s family originally lived when they came to Indiana from Kentucky. So, it is hard to blame the Southern influence on Indiana.

However, the first KKK headquarters in Indiana was set up in Evansville which is in Southern Indiana. Evansville is only a county away from where Abraham Lincoln lived as a boy and right next door to the county where the German Harmonists built their community, later to be bought and used by a Welsh socialist whose family was in the same social and political circles as Abraham Lincoln.

Anyway, none of that is the point of my bringing this up.

My dad is a conservative who grew up in conservative Indiana, right there in that heart of the former KKK. Now, that is what is known as red-blooded 100% American conservatism. My dad is a fairly typical American conservative or, as Todd Snider more fully describes it, “Conservative Christian, right wing Republican, straight, white, American male” (see below for the accompanying video). He is mostly a paragon of the WASP identity, although he has some genetics in him that aren’t Anglo-Saxon.

This show about the KKK was an eye-opener for him, but not in the way you might suspect. Listening to their activities, he realized they were largely a normal civic organization focused on charity work. The Second Ku Klux Klan gave money to churches, promoted public education, supported family values, etc. Heck, I wouldn’t be surprised if the KKK gave Christmas presents to orphans and helped old ladies across the street.

I told my dad that the KKK was basically the conservatives of their day and he agreed with me. Some months earlier, I had told him the exact same thing and he probably thought I was being unfair and mean. To most people, making a comparison to the KKK is about the same as making a comparison to Nazis.

We have a hard time seeing things for what they are or were. We put things into the context of our own time and judge them accordingly. That is problematic with something like the KKK which is easy to caricature and criticize with straw-man arguments. Most Klan members weren’t violent people who spent their every free moment thinking about how to oppress others. If anything is scary about the KKK, it is that completely normal people belonged to it and most of the time they did completely normal activities. They were good citizens, devoted husbands, loving fathers, and practicing Christians.

The KKK wasn’t necessarily all that different from any other number of civic organizations from that time. The Second KKK was even modeled on many of those other organizations:

“In an era without Social Security or widely available life insurance, men joined fraternal organizations such as the Elks or the Woodmen of the World to provide for their families in case they died or were unable to work. The founder of the new Klan, William J. Simmons, was a member of twelve different fraternal organizations. He recruited for the Klan with his chest covered with fraternal badges, and consciously modeled the Klan after fraternal organizations.
“Klan organizers, called “Kleagles”, signed up hundreds of new members, who paid initiation fees and received KKK costumes in return. The organizer kept half the money and sent the rest to state or national officials. When the organizer was done with an area, he organized a huge rally, often with burning crosses, and perhaps presented a Bible to a local Protestant preacher. He left town with the money collected. The local units operated like many fraternal organizations and occasionally brought in speakers.”

Those civic organizations have interesting histories. The KKK was created partly in response to new immigrants, but many fraternal and community organizations were created by and for new immigrants. The Germans were well known for their organizations that were a thorn in the side of those who wanted to force the non-English to assimilate. The Germans, until WWII, had more or less successfully resisted assimilation and the KKK didn’t like that. These ethnic and/or populist civic organizations, German and otherwise, were sometimes closely tied to labor organizing, another thing the KKK would have not appreciated.

Interestingly, the Second KKK arose at the same time and for the same reasons fascist movements arose in Germany and Italy. In the US, Germans formed the German American Bund which supported Nazi Germany before WWII. Like the KKK, the Bund formed large marches in cities where Germans were concentrated. Fascism was in the air. The characteristics of fascism included reactionary populism, social conservatism, folk religiosity, patriotic nationalism, ethnocentric nativism, etc. Despite their differences, the KKK and the Bund were expressions of the same basic shift within society at that time.

These organizations weren’t evil incarnate. They were simply people trying to bring order back to what felt like the chaos of a changing society. Industrialization challenged every aspect of traditional communities and traditional religion. There was a mass migration of people from rural areas to urban areas, especially from the rural South to the urban North. The turn of the century brought new international movements of socialists and anarchists. Bombs were exploding in public places and assassination attempts, some successful, became more common. Corporations were becoming brutally oppressive. Fights and shootings broke out between unions, Pinkertons, police and sometimes even federal troops. Then WWI came along and totally shook up the social order, forcing diverse people into contact with another and overseas giving black soldiers their first taste of real freedom.

This was the culture war that formed the groundwork for the culture war of today. And like today it was a generational conflict. This was the era when the Lost Generation came of age. They were a generation that largely grew up in the cities, many of them born there and many others moved there as small children.

I’m reminded of my mom’s family since all of her grandparents were of the Lost Generation. Her paternal grandfather, Willie Clouse, was born in Spring Mill. At the time of his birth, it was an abandoned water-powered mill town which industrialization had made obsolete, especially since the railroad tracks had bypassed it. At age five, his family moved to nearby Mitchell which was a city that grew larger because of the railroad. As a young man, he followed the railroad jobs to Lafayette where my mom was later born. Born poor rural white trash, he had become a respectable working class man in the big city and his grandchildren would go to college.

I don’t know too much about his experiences during this time, but a lot of change was happening. The change probably seemed positive to him for it was all he knew. The older generation, however, was a lot less happy. Most of the founders and leaders of the Second Ku Klux Klan came from the generation before the Lost Generation and some from the generation before that.

The Lost Generation worked in factories as children or, in the case of Willie Clouse, he might have been working in the Mitchell Quarry where he was later working at when he got married. That generation had to grow up fast. They didn’t get much parenting or other supervision for their parents were working and extended families weren’t what they used to be back in the small towns. They also didn’t get much education.

However, because of their childhood labor, the Lost Generation had their own money and so weren’t dependent on anyone else. They were the first consumer generation. It was because of the competition of child labor that the KKK promoted public education. They thought it unfair that a grown man had a hard time finding a job because employers could simply hire a kid for a fraction of the cost. That is why the GI Generation grew up with such a relatively cushy childhood, no child labor and plenty of public education. The KKK helped make the Great Generation so great.

The Lost Generation didn’t know such greatness. They had their own world war, of course, but it was an ugly, violent and pointless war. Still, it made them the first generation of Americans to see the larger world. This created the expatriate community of artists and writers in Paris. They may have been a doomed generation, but they knew how to express themselves and they had clear opinions to be expressed. What they saw of America was, as Ernest Heminway wrote, “Broad lawns and narrow minds”. That was the description of the older generation who formed the Second KKK, an organization filled with all the respectable people of society: businessmen, police officers, judges, politicians, and most important of all lots of ministers.

The members of Lost Generation were many things, but respectable they were not. They were immigrants and the children of immigrants, hoboes and migrant workers, gangsters and bank robbers, socialists and anarchists, drunks on Cannery Row and Bonus Army veterans camped out in Washington, DC. The Lost Generation members of my mom’s family in Southern Indiana included moonshiners and moonshine runners. They were born into a rough world, lived rough lives and often had rough endings. They were what the KKK so feared, what the older generation saw as a threat to the American Way.

These younger Americans didn’t have respect for tradition and social order, especially not the young blacks and the young women who demanded equal rights, the women even gaining the right to vote in 1920. It was in this early twentieth century era when the NAACP was founded and when the IWW was organized. This is when the Triangle Factory Fire occurred and when the Scopes Trial took place. This is when the Russian Revolution succeeded and the Red Scare began in force. This was also a time of the largest wave of immigration in US history, specifically the first decade of the new century; and in response it was during this decade that the idea of the Melting Pot first appeared, assimilation no longer being seen as a natural process and instead as a forced action of melting the individual down into a collective American identity.

With the ending of rural life, it was the end of the independence of the small family farmer. Americans worried that men would lose their manliness and women would forget their place. The Boy Scouts were founded, national parks created, fishing and hunting promoted. The middle class life of domesticity and family was also put forth as an ideal. The nuclear family became the new national standard with clearly demarcated gender roles.

The Lost Generation tried to navigate this new society that was forming out of all this change. Maybe this is why so many of them aspired toward being great writers and artists. They were seeking to portray what society was and what it could be. From the Lost Generation, you had on one hand Grant Wood with his American Gothic and on the other hand Norman Rockwell with his illustrations for The Saturday Evening Post.

It was maybe inevitable that the KKK wouldn’t last. The new generation wasn’t going to embrace their vision of society, although racism would continue on in many new forms.

I wanted to write about this because I’ve been interested in that era for a long time. My dad just reminded me of it again with his telling me about what he had learned of the KKK. It got me thinking again of the Lost Generation.

History seems to go in cycles. In the generation theory of Strauss and Howe, my generation of GenX has played the same role as did the Lost Generation. In recent decades, we have found ourselves in a similar time of change. Instead of Prohibition, we have a War on Drugs. Instead of a mass wave of immigrants from Eastern and Southern Europe, we have a mass wave of immigrants from outside Europe. Instead of the Great Depression, we have a Great Recession. Instead of Progressive Era reform, we get healthcare reform. Instead of a new generation of optimistic GIs, we have a new generation of optimistic Millennials.

With that in mind, I’ll offer you a song by Todd Snider who is on the older end of GenX. He was born in Oregon, the Northwest having once been another stronghold of white supremacy, nativism and the KKK. There were many sundown towns in the US, but Oregon was a sundown state into the 1920s. In the following song, Todd Snider explains his rejection of the social role the older generation had expected of him, instead embracing an alternative lifestyle:

Aspergers and Chunking

I was reading Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined by Scott Barry Kaufman. I came across a section about Aspergers. The more I’ve read about it over the years the more I suspect that I have some form of it.

A theory on Autism is that it is strong focus on details which can lead to not seeing the forest for the trees, but if high functioning enough this can be compensated for. The Aspie takes in so many details that this can lead to distraction and cognitive overload. There are two primary ways of dealing with this. First, Aspies might limit their interactions and narrow their focus to create a more manageable space in which to think and to feel more comfortable. Second, Aspies often learn to chunk information.

The second method is what I learned as a child when I was living in Deerfield, Illinois (a wealthy Jewish suburb of Chicago). I was having trouble with reading and I stuttered. I had a hard time saying what a word was or even recalling the names of my friends, but I could describe what I meant when I wasn’t stuttering and the only reason I was stuttering was because I couldn’t recall.

I went to speech therapy, but even the therapist wasn’t sure my precise problem. This therapist and my mom, who also was a speech therapist, went to a talk given by Diane J. German from Northwestern University who maybe was working on her PhD dissertation at the time (my mom thinks this was in 1982 since I was diagnosed in first grade when I was 6 years old). German was working on a new test for word recall issues. Here is an article about her work:

“The look on these children’s faces captures the problem in the most compelling way,” says Diane German, the principal researcher, who specializes in disorders of word-finding and a special education professor at National-Louis University in Chicago, Illinois. “They really struggle when they have to read a simple word like ‘nest’ out loud. Some grimace, others look stuck. Some just blurt out an answer that’s almost always wrong. Yet when asked to point to the same word on a page, they almost always get it right. Clearly they’ve got a problem and need help, but it’s not that they lack reading skills.”

One child in the study, previously diagnosed with these “word-finding” difficulties, couldn’t say “cocoon” as he tried to read a story aloud. When he got to the word, he stumbled and added, “You know, it is that brown thing hanging in the tree.”

“Clearly, this child had managed to ‘read’ the word to himself and comprehend it, or he could never have come up with that kind of description,” explains psychologist Rochelle Newman, co-author of the study and a University of Maryland professor of hearing and speech sciences. “He just couldn’t retrieve the sound pattern of the word.”

They immediately recognized that German was talking about my issues. German was looking to do a study. So, my mom did some of the testing for German’s study, but my mom recalls German coming to our house and testing me herself. That is how I became one of the kids used as a subject in her study. And that was the beginning of how I, unlike so many other kids, escaped the trap of sub-par remedial education and a life of low expectations.

My mom and the therapist learned about this new field of word recall issues. Before that time, no one was discussing any of this and speech therapists weren’t being taught about it. It was serendipity that I was beginning school at the time and nearby where this new field was being developed. With this new knowledge, my mom worked with my therapist to help me with word recall (along with a learning disability therapist, Diane Redfield, who taught me to read).

One of the things that helped me the most was the information chunking. My mom explained that this had to do with not just grouping similar words. It has to do with looking at words from every angle in order to understand its different aspects. It is a shifting of perspective and a breaking down into component parts. This is what allows word groupings to be useful. Grouping words goes hand in hand with chunking information. The more kinds of groupings and chunkings the increased capacity to think and communicate clearly.

I had an example of this just last night. I was thinking of early 20th century anarchists and I was trying to recall one specific person. From the word ‘anarchist’, I thought of women’s clinic. Then from that I connected to the last name Goldman. Once I had the last name, I could recall the first name and so had the full name: Emma Goldman. I couldn’t just pull the name out by itself. I had to go through a process to get to it.

That isn’t my only method. I also use something similar to chunking that is more on a feeling level. I get an overall sense of something, a person or an idea or whatever. Once I have that sense, I just have to switch into the right state of mind and slowly feel into it. Anything I’m familiar with has a feeling-sense associated with it. This form of recall isn’t always efficient, but it works when I can’t use a direct chain of connections. This feeling-sense is very useful in general, though, for it allows me to chunk info in larger ways and helps me in feeling out patterns by sensing resonances.

All of this fits into why I’ve come to suspect I have Aspergers or something very similar. The one thing that demonstrated I wasn’t low IQ as a child was my ability to see patterns. This is also a talent of many Aspies. It is because Aspies see things in chunks of details that they are able to more flexibly scan for patterns. It is precisely where various chunks crossover that a whole begins to form, but this is building from the bottom up.

I do this in my thinking and writing. When taken to its extreme, I call them thought-webs. Connections form, connections build upon connections, and then a sense of meaning emerges from that. It is an organic process of synthesizing, rather than analyzing, although analyzing may follow as a secondary process. It is looking to the data to speak for itself, finding the harmony between the seemingly diparate.

It has its strengths and weaknesses. It is greatest strength is for research. My Asperger-like Ne goes off in a million directions finding all the details until my brain is overloaded. Then begins the filtering and consolidating of it all into a unique synthesis, but that last part can be a doozy. I sometimes never get past the brain overload.

As a side note, there is a reason I mentioned above that Deerfield is a wealthy Jewish suburb of Chicago. Here is an interesting detail of Deerfield’s history (from Wikipedia):

“In 1959, when Deerfield officials learned that a developer building a neighborhood of large new homes planned to make houses available to African Americans, they issued a stop-work order. An intense debate began about racial integration, property values, and the good faith of community officials and builders. For a brief time, Deerfield was spotlighted in the national news as “the Little Rock of the North.” Supporters of integration were denounced and ostracized by angry residents. Eventually, the village passed a referendum to build parks on the property, thus putting an end to the housing development. Two model homes already partially completed were sold to village officials. The remaining land lay dormant for years before it was developed into what is now Mitchell Pool and Park and Jaycee Park. At the time, Deerfield’s black population was 12 people out of a total population of 11,786. This episode in Deerfield’s history is described in But Not Next Door by Harry and David Rosen, both residents of Deerfield.
“Since the early 1980s, however, Deerfield has seen a large influx of Jews and, more recently, Asians and Greeks, giving the community a more diverse ethnic makeup.”

I guess it was a wealthy Jewish suburb of Chicago that has become a wealthy Jewish, Asian and Greek suburb of Chicago.

I can tell you one thing for certain. Few poor kids, especially poor minorities, are privileged in the way I was by my early education opportunities. I went to a public school in Deerfield, but that is way different than going to a public school in the inner city of Chicago. If I had been a poor black kid in a poor black neighborhood, I would have been designated low IQ and that would have been the end of it.

How many poor black kids failing in school are as intelligent as I am? The evidence points to the answer being many.

It is one thing to experience something like a learning disability or Aspergers. It is a whole other matter to deal with a learning disability or Aspergers while dealing with poverty and prejudice.

Even ignoring racism, classism by itself is a powerful form of prejudice. My mom was raised working class and she raised us with a working class sensibility. This meant she dressed us working class. My older brother was ridiculed in the Deerfield public school. It scarred him for life and it contributed to his hatred of school ever after. So, even though we were technically upper middle class, we were new money upper middle class and the other kids knew it. I was, at that time, fortunate enough to have been too young to understand and maybe, because of my Aspergers, too socially oblivious to care.

If such minor forms of prejudice can have such powerful impact on my brother, imagine what more severe (and systemic) forms of prejudice will do to a child.

Below is part of the section from Ungifted where Aspergers is discussed.

pp. 223-226:

An alternative perspective, which has gained a lot of research support in recent years, is that autism is merely a different way of processing incoming information. 23 Individuals with ASD have a greater attention to detail and tend to adopt a bottom-up strategy— they first perceive the parts of an object and then build up to the whole. 24 As Uta Frith puts it, people with autism have difficulty “seeing the forest for the trees.” There is neurological evidence that the unique mind of the person with ASD is due in part to an excessive number of short-distance, disorganized local connections in the prefrontal cortex (required for attention to detail) along with a reduced number of long-range or global connections necessary for integrating information from widespread and diverse brain regions. 25 As a result, people with high-functioning autism tend to have difficulty switching attention from the local to the global level. 26

This sometimes plays itself out in social communications. People with ASD focus on details in the environment most people find “irrelevant,” which can lead to some awkward social encounters. When people with ASD are shown photographs with social information (such as friends chatting) or movie clips from soap operas, their attention is focused much less on the people’s faces and eyes than the background scenery, such as light switches. 27 Differences among toddlers in attention to social speech is a robust predictor of ASD, and social attention differences in preschool lead to a deficit in theory of mind. 28 This is important , considering that an early lack of attention to social information can deprive the developing child of the social inputs and learning opportunities they require to develop expertise in social cognition. 29 It’s likely that from multiple unrewarding social interactions during the course of development, people with ASD learn that social interactions are unrewarding, and retreat even further into themselves.

Kate O’Connor and Ian Kirk argue that the atypical social behaviors found in people with ASD are more likely the result of a processing difference than a social deficit, and may represent a strategy to filter out too much sensory information . 30 Indeed , people with ASD often report emotional confusion during social interactions, in which they interpret expressions, gestures, and body language to mean something different from or even the opposite of what the other person intended. 31 Many people with ASD report that the eye region is particularly “confusing” and “frightening.” 32

Indeed, the eye region is very complex, transmitting a lot of information in a brief time span. For one thing, it’s always in motion (blinking, squinting, saccadic movement, and so on). But the eye region also can depict a wide range of emotions in rapid succession. It’s likely that over the course of many overwhelming interactions with people in the context of other sensory information coming in from the environment, people with ASD learn to look less at the eye region of faces. 33 People with ASD do frequently report being distracted by sensory information in the environment, including background noise, fluorescent light, shiny objects, body movement, and smells. 34

[ . . . ]

One robust finding is that people with ASD have enhanced perceptual functioning. 40 People with ASD tend to perform better than people without ASD symptoms on IQ subtests that involve nonverbal fluid reasoning and the segmentation and reconstruction of novel visual designs. 41 Individuals with ASD also perform better than controls on the Embedded Figures Task (EFT), which requires quick detection of a target within a complex pattern. 42 The ASD tendency to see patterns as collections of details instead of as wholes helps people with ASD to segment and chunk visual information, freeing up visual working memory resources and allowing them to handle a higher perceptual load than typical adults. 43

Race & Racism: Reality & Imagination, Fear & Hope

The most powerful ideas are those we don’t question. 

We maybe aren’t aware enough to think about them or we don’t know how to formulate possible doubts and criticisms. There might be something actively obstructing our ability to perceive clearly or else a cognitive stumbling block. Biases and blind spots abound.

The most important and fundamental ideas are the very ideas we are least likely to see for what they are. This is all the more true on the collective level of society and culture. An idea as a social construct becomes a part of our perception of the world and part of our shared sense of reality. This is how the most nefarious of ideological systems become reality tunnels.

Thus is the idea of race. Thus is the racism and racial bias that inevitably follows from it.

In speaking of race, to what is being referred? We don’t normally think about the idea of race itself. We just see race. It is like that famous definition of porn: You know it when you see it. The corollary being: You see it because you know it.

Now we live in a supposed post-racial society of color-blindness. The ultimate taboo is to point out the continued existence of racial bias and prejudice and the pervasiveness of structural racism, systemic and institutional. The greatest rule of political correctness is to never point to any person or organization, any system or belief as racist, to never call a spade a spade. We all are supposed to go on pretending for many fear what would happen if we were to stop. The hope is that if racial issues are ignored long enough that they will go away, but sadly this hope has proven false.

Race as a social construct has existed for so long at this point that it is hard for us to imagine a world before it or a world without it. However, it didn’t always exist. When Europeans explored and colonized, they met with all kinds of people from all over the world. They knew people were different in many ways, but the modern idea of race was yet to be formulated. What they saw were differences between cultures which were represented mostly by differences of religion and, within cultures, differences of social class or caste.

“To be sure, past peoples were ethnocentric. They frequently believed themselves culturally superior to others and sometimes exhibited the nasty habit of painting others as uncultured and brutish or savage, even to the point of justifying enslavement and killing on this basis. Yet, as any introductory cultural anthropology text will illustrate, ethnocentric and later racial logics differed significantly. These differences are most obvious with respect to characterization of human potential and the perceived connection, or lack thereof, of cultural and physical traits. Prior to the inception of race, people were much less likely to link cultural practices instinctively and irrevocably to physical differences, which were often attributed to distinct environmental conditions (Brace 2005). Nor were people necessarily inclined to believe that phenotypic diversity across groups represented inherent or essential – i.e., unbridgeable – differences in ability or character. Indeed, before race, people more readily saw through phenotypes to find deeper, behavioral similarities if not common ground. Moreover, where they deemed others to be culturally backwards in language, religion, food, adornment, or other behaviors, they tended to view these deficits as correctable. With time, learned behavioral deficiencies could be overwritten through “proper” enculturation, while inherent racial inferiority, by definition, could not.

“Again, cultural biases are far from benign and it is not our intent to rank stratification systems according to their perniciousness. In fact, it is sometimes difficult to distinguish between ethnocentrism and racism because of the increasing conflation of culture and race (Harrison, chapter 17 this volume). The point here is to show the critical shift that race represents in the nature of human relations; an unfortunate shift in primary focus from learned practices and traditions toward static or fixed notions of physical and essential characteristics. In general, pre-racial conceptions of diversity did not inhibit one from recognizing and acknowledging the shared human capacity to learn and participate fully in any culture or society – irrespective of phenotypic characteristics later used to distinguish races.

“Classicist Frank Snowden (1983) clearly illustrates this fact in Before Color Prejudice, his seminal study of “the black image” in Egyptian, Greek, Roman, and early Christian art and literature. Warning against the temptation to read contemporary social issues into the historical record, Snowden observes that interactions in the ancient Mediterranean between peoples today classified as black or white – even among political and military rivals – were devoid of “acute” color consciousness and any type of racial discrimination . He points out that these societies never observed blackness as the basis of slave status.”

(Race: Are We So Different by Goodman, Moses and Jones; Kindle Locations 893-914)

The ruling elite had found such non-racial divisions to be useful enough for maintaining their power and the social order. Race hadn’t been invented for it wasn’t needed. 

There was no social context in which to see the diversity of physical features as significant and meaningful. People at that time had little understanding of biology and no understanding of genetics. Many speculated that physical features were caused by environment such that skin was dark from spending a lot of time under a hot sun. Others sought religious explanations. 

The reason race didn’t occur to them at this time was because Europeans had no concept of being the same people. An English person had no reason to feel any more identified with an Italian or Russian than with an African or Native American. As far as that goes, the English didn’t even see themselves as having much in common with the Irish, the first savages in the English worldview.

The first use of the word ‘race’ appeared in the 15th century. At that time, it meant one’s lineage, family and kin. The Enlightenment brought a more universalizing interpretation to race where everyone who even vaguely resembled you or shared your geographic region was considered as part of some larger sense of lineage, family and kin.

When the modern idea of race was invented, it would have initially seemed truly bizarre and there was much ethnocentric resistance to it. It was only the growing demands of colonization that made the idea of race seem attractive and worthy. People were trying to make sense of a newly discovered complex world, a world in which the old social order was being challenged. Racial divisions were initially a practical matter of political power, not a scientific discovery. Once implemented, though, they began to take on a life of their own.

Before slavery, there were indentured servants in Virginia of a great variety of ethnicities and skin colors. These unfree people worked together, lived together, slept together and rebelled together.

“The first Africans who arrived in Virginia colony in 1619 were not initially considered slaves . They had Spanish or Portuguese names and were familiar with European culture. Like other poor laborers, they were treated as indentured servants who could also achieve their freedom after paying their debts. Some of these Africans worked hard and acquired land, houses, livestock, and tools on their own. Historians now agree that true slavery did not exist in the early decades of the English North American colonies (see Allen 1997; Fredrickson 2002; E. Morgan 1975; P. Morgan 1998; Parent, Jr. 2003). Moreover , there is little or no evidence that Africans were treated differently from other people of the same class. They were assimilated into colonial society as were others. When they acquired land, they participated in the assembly, the governing body of the colony , voted , served on juries, and socialized with white planters.

“Historian Edmund Morgan writes,

“There is more than a little evidence that Virginians during these years were ready to think of Negroes as members or potential members of the community on the same terms as other men and to demand of them the same standards of behavior. Black men and white serving the same master worked, ate, and slept together, and together shared in escapades, escapes, and punishments. (1975: 327)

“He adds, “It was common for servants and slaves to run away together , steal hogs together, get drunk together. It was not uncommon for them to make love together” (327). Indeed, there was no stigma associated with what we today call “interracial” marriages.

“Until the early 18th century, the image of Africans among most Europeans was generally positive . They were farmers and cattle-breeders; they had industries, arts and crafts, governments, and commerce. Moreover, they had immunities to Old World diseases, they were better laborers under the tropical conditions of the southern settlements; and they had nowhere to run and hide once transplanted to the New World (E. Morgan 1975; Smedley 2007).

“There were critical reasons for the preference for Africans. As early as the 1630s, planters expressed a desire for African laborers (“ If only we had some Africans!” they wrote ). Records of plantation owners in the Caribbean and in the colonies of Virginia and Maryland reveal that Africans were initially considered a civilized and docile people who had knowledge of, and experience with, tropical cultivation. They were accustomed to discipline, one of the hallmarks of civilized behavior, as well as working cooperatively in groups. They knew how to grow corn, tobacco, sugar cane, and cotton in their native lands ; these crops were unknown in Europe. And many Africans had knowledge of metalwork, carpentry, cattle-keeping, brick-making, weaving, rope making, leather tanning, and many other skills. Colonists soon realized that without Africans, their enterprises would fail. “We cannot survive without Africans!” they claimed.”

(Kindle Locations 1239-1263)

The aristocracy in the New World were isolated and their power was precarious. For reasons unknown, it occurred to someone that the notion of race could be imposed in order to divide the oppressed against one another. It was a brilliant innovation. Seemingly out of the blue, someone imagined the possibility of a new social order. Of course, there was great incentive to consider new possibilities with the restlessness of the oppressed such as Bacon’s Rebellion.

This was the Age of Enlightenment. The ancien régime was eroding. Reactionary conservatism was being born. The new ideas that arose then have been the basis of our society ever since. Some of those ideas like race have turned out to be quite adaptable. Who is and isn’t white or caucasian has changed massively over time, but the idea is so compelling that it is ever taken as if it were an unchanging reality.

What gives a social order its potency is the cultural understandings and assumptions it is built upon. Black and white have nothing to do with objective reality. So-called whites aren’t white. They are pink or beige or olive or even the lighter shades of brown.  And so-called blacks aren’t black. If you were to walk from Germany to South Africa, you’d never come across any color division at any point, rather a slow gradation and continuum from lighter to darker. Even within Africa, there is greater genetic diversity than there is between Africans and non-Africans.

“What they found is that the average difference between any two Europeans and any two Asians was slightly greater than 0.6/ 1000 or about 15 in total. This is not so surprisingly low as it has been crudely estimated that about 99.9 percent of single nucleotide polymorphisms are identical between any two individuals. They then found very little difference between an Asian and a European. Thinking about that, this makes sense as the dividing line between these continents is permeable and rather arbitrary. More variation was found between an African, on the one hand, and either a European or Asian on the other hand, right about one variation per thousand. The shocker comes next. However, the greatest variation was found between two Africans, about 1.2 variations per thousand. Said slightly differently, there is more variation among Africans than between Africans and non-Africans.”

(Kindle Locations 4781-4787)

To translate: Many Africans are more genetically in common with non-Africans, including Europeans, than they are with many other Africans (from other regions in Africa or from other populations in the same region). It would make more genetic sense to group all non-Africans together as a single race than to group all Africans together as a single race.

With race, there is no there there. Or what is there isn’t what we think is there.

Black and white is a symbolic order, more akin to religion than science. The duality of black and white is a symbol of stories, of myths, of archetypes. In the old cowboy movies, the good guys wore white hats and the bad guys black hats. In Taoism, Yang is white and Yin is black. These color symbols touch deeply upon our collective psyche. The same goes for yellow and red as racial symbols. In using such archetypal symbolism, we are dealing with the most primitive regions of the human mind and of human society that forms from it.

It is precisely because there is no objective reality they are limited to that such symbolic orders can be so powerful in their impact on social reality. This is also what makes them so flexible and mercurial, so hard to grasp and pin down. Even to try to objectively challenge them is near impossible for that isn’t the level where resides their force of authority. Only the imagining of a new symolic order even more compelling can challenge the old.

Thinking in black and white unsurprisingly is caused by and in turn reinforces black and white thinking.

Polarized dualities have obsessed the Western mind at least since the rise of the Judeo-Christian tradition with its having been heavily influenced by Zoroastrianism and Manichaeanism. Black and white symbolism is rooted in the ancient view of Good versus Evil, of cosmic battles, of God’s chosen people righteously saving souls or else destroying the unredeemable. It wasn’t because Africans were black that they were enslaved. Rather it was because they weren’t Protestants, weren’t Christians, because they were perceived as Heathens, whether as innocents to be saved or sinners to be damned. This is why race is always mired in harsh moral judgments of superiority and inferiority instead of mere neutral observations of diversity. Our society is still dominated by a Judeo-Christian moral order.

Still, times have changed. We no longer live in a worldview of the civilized versus savages and barbarians. The racial worldview replaced and co-opted that more ancient worldview so that certain races became seen as more civilized and so more worthy in civilized society. Eventually, the curse and blessings of genetics took the place of the curse and blessings of God. Such fatalism in whatever form it takes leads to visions of manifest destiny and white man’s burden, social Darwinism just being the same old belief in new form and with new rationalization.

The development of science has been a constant challenge to these dogmatic beliefs and dualistic moralizings. Still, humans are quite talented at putting old wine into new wine skins. The language of science easily gets misleadingly used as a more subtle and nuanced defense of pre-scientific and non-scientific beliefs. This isn’t necessarily a devious plan by all involved. It is simply difficult for humans to grasp the fundamentally new and different.

Even within science, old paradigms die hard and die slowly. The dualism of nurture versus nature is such a paradigm. It has been replaced by interactionism, but many people are still trying to understand this new paradigm according to the terms of the old paradigm. The implications of interactionism are more profound and paradigm shattering than many would like to admit. It is forcing us to begin anew which means cleaning the slate of tired notions and false assumptions. The potential and plasticity of human development is proving to be more vast than even the most optimistic were able to envision in the past. Genetic determinism, specifically of races, is no longer defensible.

However, as I already explained, this ultimately isn’t an issue that pivots on careful rational analysis. Rather it is about what we collectively are able and willing to imagine. How far will we allow ourselves to follow the data toward new visions of humanity?

To understand what holds us back as a society, it is necessary to grasp the primitive level of the psyche.

Race is an idea that originated from reactionary conservatism. What makes reactionary conservatism unique is that it is how the impulse of traditionalism is transformed in response to modernity. As such, it is reformulated in terms of Enlightenment rationalism. However, the impulse itself precedes and trumps any rationalization that follows from it.

The main difference for the conservative-minded, as research has shown, is the disgust response. Even something so simple as foreign or unusual food will create a disgust response for those of a strong disgust orientation. It is an instinctual reaction, not usually even conscious. There is just a knowing sense that it is wrong. Rationalizations can and often are given, but the essence of the matter is the gut-level feeling of ‘wrongness’.

This goes along with the black and white thinking. What black and white symbolizes more than anything else is that of a boundary, an absolute and clearly demarcated boundary. Conservatism correlates to the thick boundary type. This is something I previously noted in terms of human biodiversity advocates (HBDers) and their obsession with boundaries:

What I sense with the HBD crowd is that it attracts a lot more thick boundary types or at least those with thick boundary online personas. Either way, this means that it attracts people who want to focus on topics that focus on thick boundaries and in ways that are thick boundaried. I don’t mean extreme thick boundaries, but a tendency in that direction. The emphasis of HBD is on the boundaries between ethnicities, clans, regions, nations, etc. They have less interest in that which transcends, merges and blurs boundaries.

To my thin boundary mind, boundaries are imagined things. They are only real to the extent we imagine them to be real. The thin boundary type sees a less thick or clear boundary between even imagination and reality. It is because of this mentality that I look for how people, individually and collectively, project their imaginations onto reality.

What boundaries imply is separation. The enforcement of boundaries is to prevent their crossing.

The fear behind the racial boundary is what would happen if the races aren’t kept separate. In the pre-racial mindset, there were fears of civilized man mixing with the primitive. It was feared that bad things would happen or be produced. It was believed that this is how monsters were born. With the emergence of the racial mindset, miscegenation laws were created. The fear then was that the offspring would be deformed, stupid or dangerous. In both cases, the fear was that the boundary was natural and crossing it was unnatural.

HBDers have originated yet another version of this fear. They don’t speak of monsters or miscegenation. Instead, they advocate racial and ethnic purity, although they won’t use those terms.

Outbreeding within a population is seen as good in that it leads to civilizing effects, but interbreeding with entirely separate populations is seen as bad. HBDers can’t scientifically explain why it would be bad, but they just know it would be bad. It’s not that races have always existed and must be protected. What is desired is the eventual creation of races. Many HBDers speak of dog breeds when speaking of races. Maybe they are telling more of their true intentions than they would want to admit to. Dog breeds don’t happen naturally. They are forced into creation through socially enforced breeding that is manipulated by a ruling elite, i.e., the breeders. HBDers and similar racial visionaries want to breed races, to finally make real what was before only an idea.

Race isn’t a reality, at least not a physical reality. It is an ongoing project. A new social order was imagined. It has taken centuries to enforce it, but it has never been fully successful. Humans have gone on interbreeding as they did for millennia prior to the idea of races.

Modern civilization didn’t happen by accident. It had to be created by massive effort over the entire history of humanity. In oral-based indigenous societies, social order tends to be more fluid and changing. Stories change with each telling. Laws and rituals change with the passing of generations.

What has been sought with modernity is a final solution, a permanent order. Race is such an aspiration. We want to enforce order not just on society but on the very basis of human nature at the most fundamental level of biology and genetics. The creation of the idea of the white race was built on the hope of creating a new race of mankind that would dominate the world.

This hope may seem naive now. It has been dashed upon the rocks of globalization, the inevitable end result of European exploration and colonization. The advocates of race find themselves instead in a defensive position. They want to save what they can of this centuries-old project. They’ve limited the scope of the project for it turned out to be too ambitious, but the project must not be abandoned for some see it as the basis of all of Western Civilization. If there is no singular white race, then there can be no singular Western Civilization. Like race, civilizations aren’t natural realities that have always existed. They must be created and protected.

This is the power of imagination. We imagine vast social visions. Then those imaginings become our entire sense of reality. Anything that challenges them will threaten our very sense of identity. As a society, we’ve committed so much into this racial project that to fail now seems like the greatest of tragedies.

Others, however, envision new and better projects toward a new and better future. It’s not so much a matter of what humanity is for we have yet to discover our true limits. What we face is the unknown of what we might become if were to live out our full potential. That is a scary prospect. The known limits of race are more comforting than the unknowns transcending our fearful beliefs. The future is what we make of it. Human nature is the terra incognito on the map of new worlds.

The era of race is coming to an end. It might take many more generations to fully end, but it will end as previous eras ended. What will the new era bring? What new visions are emerging?

Let me add a simple note of explanation. I always worry about failing to communicate well and so being misunderstood.

When I spoke of a project, I don’t mean that it is necessarily a conscious project. It is more of a guiding function within a particular reality tunnel. The person who is under the influence of such a project does so in a less than direct fashion.

So, I wasn’t accusing HBDers of something as grandiose as breeding races as an eugenics agenda. It is simply that people act according to the reality they perceive and in doing so help to create that reality or try their best to do so. All reality tunnels are self-fulfilling prophecies, at least when successful.

In speaking of such things, I’m try to grasp elusive social realities. You’ll have to forgive my stumbling attempts to put words to it all.

Open-Minded Learning: Humility and Passion

My ongoing blogging project has got me thinking about the act of learning. One thing that has been made clear to me once again is how learning is only possible to the extent you can admit you aren’t certain about what you think you know. If you believe you already have an answer, you won’t likely go out of your way seeking alternative viewpoints and new data.

This insight is at the heart of my mistrust of  the mindset of ideologues and true believers. Ideological belief systems have a way of becoming self-contained and self-referential, thus forming reality tunnels and echo chambers. It’s not that I don’t have biases like anyone else, but I want to hold them lightly and see them clearly for what they are. Of course, I will fail again and again. But it is the continual striving for intellectual humility that matters.

This entire project was inspired by my (trying to) discuss certain issues with others. It was evident that others felt more confident in what they thought they knew than I did. That was part of my point in disagreeing with particular people. It’s not that I certainly and conclusively know they are wrong and I am right. Rather, there are just too many complicating factors to declare anything with absolute certainty.

More importantly beyond conclusions, I realized that the basic issues were less than clear, as I wrote about the other day. Many people seem to assume that race and IQ are relatively simple things, but in reality they are highly subjective constructs and there is a lot of high level debate about how useful or unuseful are such constructs. So, I wanted to get back to first principles and build a foundation before trying to construct an analysis and argument. I needed to educate myself in order to know what made sense and what was bullshit.

Along with basic issues, there is also a lot of basic data that is less than well known. Most people know a little bit about topics like this and a little bit of knowledge can be dangerous. Even among the more well informed, I’ve found their knowledge tends to be selectively narrow.

A related example came from a comment to a previous post:

The phrase “As violent crime has sharply decreased, the prison population has sharply increased. ” is not clear. Do you mean that increase of prison population has followed the violent crime decrease (e.g. first rate decreased, then prison population increased)? Otherwise, the effect is what I would perfectly expect.

This isn’t intended as a way to pick on one person. This commenter is in good company.

Yes, for many people in our society this seems like common sense and, based on mainstream data and understanding, it might be the most obvious conclusion to come to. But the problem is that, when something just makes sense to you, it decreases any motivation to challenge the status quo opinion. And the majority who share this status quo opinion won’t challenge you either. As long as you remain (self-)satisfied with what you think you know, you will never discover that what you think you know might be false. There is nothing more dangerous than a comfortable belief that explains away a complex problem with a wave of the hand.

We must demand responsibility of ourselves to dig deeper. This is yet another aspect of intellectual humility.

Never assume you know anything until you’ve thoroughly researched a topic and even then accept your limitations as a human. No, don’t just accept your limitations, embrace them and be upfront about them. Be clear about what motivates you, about why you care at all in the first place. Don’t take your bias as an unquestioned assumption. Defend your bias, if you can. Defend it with passion like it truly mattered.

This intellectual humility was perfectly expressed in the introduction to the revised and expanded edition of The Mismeasure of Man by Stephen Jay Gould. The foe of intellectual humility is the stance of false objectivity that hides ideological self-certainty. So, I’ll end this post with the words of Gould in his defense of intellectual passion (Kindle Location 505-565):

“Scholars are often wary of citing such commitments, for, in the stereotype, an ice-cold impartiality acts as the sine qua non of proper and dispassionate objectivity. I regard this argument as one of the most fallacious, even harmful, claims commonly made in my profession. Impartiality (even if desirable) is unattainable by human beings with inevitable backgrounds, needs, beliefs, and desires. It is dangerous for a scholar even to imagine that he might attain complete neutrality, for then one stops being vigilant about personal preferences and their influences— and then one truly falls victim to the dictates of prejudice.

“Objectivity must be operationally defined as fair treatment of data, not absence of preference. Moreover, one needs to understand and acknowledge inevitable preferences in order to know their influence— so that fair treatment of data and arguments can be attained ! No conceit could be worse than a belief in one’s own intrinsic objectivity, no prescription more suited to the exposure of fools. (Phony psychics like Uri Geller have had particular success in bamboozling scientists with ordinary stage magic, because only scientists are arrogant enough to think that they always observe with rigorous and objective scrutiny, and therefore could never be so fooled— while ordinary mortals know perfectly well that good performers can always find a way to trick people.) The best form of objectivity lies in explicitly identifying preferences so that their influence can be recognized and countermanded. (We deny our preferences all the time in acknowledging nature’s factuality. I really do hate the fact of personal death , but will not base my biological views on such distaste. Less facetiously, I really do prefer the kinder Lamarckian mode of evolution to what Darwin called the miserable, low, bungling, and inefficient ways of his own natural selection— but nature doesn’t give a damn about my preferences, and works in Darwin’s mode , and I therefore chose to devote my professional life to this study.)

“We must identify preferences in order to constrain their influence on our work, but we do not go astray when we use such preferences to decide what subjects we wish to pursue. Life is short, and potential studies infinite . We have a much better chance of accomplishing something significant when we follow our passionate interests and work in areas of deepest personal meaning. Of course such a strategy increases dangers of prejudice, but the gain in dedication can overbalance any such worry, especially if we remain equally committed to the overarching general goal of fairness, and fiercely committed to constant vigilance and scrutiny of our personal biases.

“(I have no desire to give Mr. Murray ammunition for future encounters, but I have never been able to understand why he insists on promulgating the disingenuous argument that he has no personal stake or preference in the subject of The Bell Curve, but only took up his study from disinterested personal curiosity— the claim that disabled him in our debate at Harvard, for he so lost credibility thereby. After all, his overt record on one political side is far stronger than my own on the other. He has been employed by right-wing think tanks for years, and they don’t hire flaming liberals. He wrote the book, Common Ground, that became Reagan’s bible as much as Michael Harrington’s Other America might have influenced Kennedy Democrats. If I were he, I would say something like: “Look, I’m a political conservative, and I’m proud of it. I know that the argument of The Bell Curve meshes well with my politics. I recognized this from the beginning. In fact, this recognition led me to be especially vigilant and careful when I analyzed the data of my book. But I remain capable of being fair with data and logical in argument, and I believe that the available information supports my view. Besides, I am not a conservative for capricious reasons. I believe that the world does work in the manner of the bell curve, and that my political views represent the best way to constitute governments in the light of these realities.” Now this argument I could respect, while regarding both its premises and supporting data as false and misinterpreted.) I wrote The Mismeasure of Man because I have a different political vision, and because I also believe (or I would not maintain the ideal) that people are evolutionarily constituted in a way that makes this vision attainable— not inevitable, Lord only knows , but attainable with struggle.

[ . . . ]

“Some readers may regard this confessional as a sure sign of too much feeling to write a proper work in nonaction [sic nonfiction]. But I am willing to bet that passion must be the central ingredient needed to lift such books above the ordinary, and that most works of nonfiction regarded by our culture as classical or enduring are centered in their author’s deep beliefs. I therefore suspect that most of my colleagues in this enterprise could tell similar stories of autobiographic passion. I would also add that, for all my convictions about social justice, I feel even more passionate about a closer belief central to my personal life and activities: my membership in the “ancient and universal company of scholars” (to cite the wonderfully archaic line used by Harvard’s president in conferring Ph.D.’ s at our annual commencement). This tradition represents, along with human kindness, the greatest, most noble, and most enduring feature on the bright side of a mixed panoply defining what we call “human nature.” Since I am better at scholarship than at kindness, I need to cast my fealty with humanity’s goodness in this sphere. May I end up next to Judas Iscariot, Brutus, and Cassius in the devil’s mouth at the center of hell if I ever fail to present my most honest assessment and best judgment of evidence for empirical truth.”