site banner

Culture War Roundup for the week of December 12, 2022

This weekly roundup thread is intended for all culture war posts. 'Culture war' is vaguely defined, but it basically means controversial issues that fall along set tribal lines. Arguments over culture war issues generate a lot of heat and little light, and few deeply entrenched people ever change their minds. This thread is for voicing opinions and analyzing the state of the discussion while trying to optimize for light over heat.

Optimistically, we think that engaging with people you disagree with is worth your time, and so is being nice! Pessimistically, there are many dynamics that can lead discussions on Culture War topics to become unproductive. There's a human tendency to divide along tribal lines, praising your ingroup and vilifying your outgroup - and if you think you find it easy to criticize your ingroup, then it may be that your outgroup is not who you think it is. Extremists with opposing positions can feed off each other, highlighting each other's worst points to justify their own angry rhetoric, which becomes in turn a new example of bad behavior for the other side to highlight.

We would like to avoid these negative dynamics. Accordingly, we ask that you do not use this thread for waging the Culture War. Examples of waging the Culture War:

  • Shaming.

  • Attempting to 'build consensus' or enforce ideological conformity.

  • Making sweeping generalizations to vilify a group you dislike.

  • Recruiting for a cause.

  • Posting links that could be summarized as 'Boo outgroup!' Basically, if your content is 'Can you believe what Those People did this week?' then you should either refrain from posting, or do some very patient work to contextualize and/or steel-man the relevant viewpoint.

In general, you should argue to understand, not to win. This thread is not territory to be claimed by one group or another; indeed, the aim is to have many different viewpoints represented here. Thus, we also ask that you follow some guidelines:

  • Speak plainly. Avoid sarcasm and mockery. When disagreeing with someone, state your objections explicitly.

  • Be as precise and charitable as you can. Don't paraphrase unflatteringly.

  • Don't imply that someone said something they did not say, even if you think it follows from what they said.

  • Write like everyone is reading and you want them to be included in the discussion.

On an ad hoc basis, the mods will try to compile a list of the best posts/comments from the previous week, posted in Quality Contribution threads and archived at /r/TheThread. You may nominate a comment for this list by clicking on 'report' at the bottom of the post and typing 'Actually a quality contribution' as the report reason.

Jump in the discussion.

No email address required.

Anyone want to talk about test cases? Rosa Parks' name has come up again to remind us that there is a group of people who didn't know the incident was staged by the NAACP as a way to put segregation on trial. I hope that everyone knows test cases are a thing and I'm a little curious what percentage of the famous judicial cases this would apply to. I guess it tarnishes people's fuzzy feelings about the scrappy individual with pure motives facing off against evil oppression but it doesn't change the facts of the case. Personally I have the impression that the judicial system is skewed against the poor and un-savvy and rewards those who have resources behind them and know how to work the system. So it does seem to the outsider as if everyone could benefit from having an organization behind them to raise attention and mount a strong defense. Rosa Parks may have been one person but her case ended up helping the many not-so-sympathetic individuals who were also victims of the unjust system. So when you hear about a high profile case, does it matter if the person was specifically set up as a test case, and if it matters, why?

So when you hear about a high profile case, does it matter if the person was specifically set up as a test case, and if it matters, why?

Because the rest of your framing is wrong.

Rosa Parks may have been one person but her case ended up helping the many not-so-sympathetic individuals who were also victims of the unjust system.

Rosa Parks was one person but her case ended up helping the many not-sympathetic individuals who were kept in check by broad rules. If you want to assert that the system that produced order was "unjust" you also have to own what Detroit and Newark and Camden and Gary look like without that "injustice".

That's the problem with test cases - they present an implicitly false case intentionally designed to confuse people and play on sympathies. The legal principles would have been the same if the case was about Corner Man and it would have been much less deceptive.

I won't disagree with your contention that forcefully supressing a population keeps them, you know, surpressed. But I will contend that this imprudent and short-term civilisational management, because oppression degrades a people culturally and spiritually. Oppression makes brutes of a people, and the oppressor ends up riding a tiger.

I contend that there's strong empirical evidence in support of the brutalising effect of harsh oppression. If you're willing accept that premise then please skip the next two paragraphs.

Despite what a lot of activists will claim, the vast bulk of sub-Saharan Africa only experienced European colonialism for a bit less than a century: 1875 or so until 1965 or so, arguably starting later with the Berlin Conference in 1885. The obvious exception is South Africa, which had much earlier settler colonialism as opposed to the later and more popular extractive model. Looking at the societies that have emerged post-decolonisation, a really striking fact is how much more violent South Africa is than any other country in the continent, even those that have experienced recent military conflict. I'm talking specifically here about murder rates, by far the most reliable measure of violence even in extremely badly-run societies (ie most of Africa). South Africa is notably more violent than almost any other African country; in some cases up to 30× more (note that oppression is colourblind, and SA's only large competitor in the murder stakes is Nigeria, anothe country cursed with intense ethnic conflict, and jockeying, alternating subjugation of the Yoruba by the Hausa historically, and the inverse now).

This presents a serious challenge for a strictly white supremacist position; South African blacks had by far the most contact with civilising whites of any peers on the continent, and have come out of the encounter by far the most violent. This pattern shows up throughout the world; Russia is famous for tsarist oppression of its populace, and really high levels of interpersonal violence. Brazil was the largest slave nation in the world (surely an oppressive institution...) and is far more violent as a result than the vast majority of African countries. Even thinking of my own lovely nation of Ireland; historically oppressed, and authentic brutes for much of history as a result. In our case we were a big European outlier for most of the 20th century as a country with vastly higher levels of interpersonal violence than others; but the longer we went post-independence, the closer we tracker to the European norm. This was separate too and preceded our (literal) enrichment; getting richer didn't make us less violent and ignorant, it was a precondition for same.

I could go on and on but to my mind there are more than sufficient natural experiments around the world showing that, whatever the quality of the biological substratum of a people in the first place, oppression en masse tends to coarsen and degrade en masse. There are certainly very many interesting sub-mechanisms and processes behind this but, sinilar to your own big-picture view of oppression working as a large-scale system, I won't bother to speculate on them here.

Given this observation about the development of peoples, oppression as you propose it is storing up trouble for the future. In a world than has experienced the French and American revolutions, it just doesn't seem tenable to me politically that any Western society is going to have the will to keep oppressing its untermenschen forever (or at least, not in the form of coarse and ill-fitting explicit racial oppression; something a bit more subtle like a class system can of course coexist with liberal democracies forever). You can genocide them, or you can fully emancipate them, but history demonstrates that you can't keep kicking the oppression can down the road forever. And about genocide, let's be realistic; it is the civilisational equivalent of murder, the guilt of which is analogous to the guilt in a single (non-deranged) individual. It cannot have no effect. If you want to argue for the desirability of an America which had sent its formerly enslaved population to concentration camps once it was done with them... that actually would be interesting and I'd engage with it. But I doubt it's your belief.

Full legal and social emancipation, with all the calamities it entails, is a plaster (band-aid in American) that the US had to rip off sooner or later. An interesting counterfactual for you is this; what do you think would be the state of the US today if reconstruction of the slave regions had been completed in earnest and totally? This has been pulled off successfully in other societies; my understanding is that it's not a sociological impossiblitiy but rather a particular project which failed and was aabandoned in the 1870s US, only to be picked up again from the mid 20th. Really fascinating "what if?" there. And incidentally, lest you think Haiti is the only possible model of post-slavery societies in the western hemisphere: no! Look at Barbados, look at Jamaica; both pretty respectable societies that made a much better go of the same raw material, through better stewardship, institutions etc.

I won't contest that Jamaica and Barbados are better than Haiti, yet I'll contest 'pretty respectable society'.

Jamaica has one of the higher murder rates in the world. 44.5 murders per 100K as per 2020. Barbados is at 14.

Haiti was only at 6, surprisingly enough. I imagine a fair few murders are not reported there and even if that's not the case, it's still a very poor dysfunctional country outside of crime.

Chile was at 4, Argentina at 5. Neither of these countries are known for their spectacularly good governance, that's where a 'pretty respectable society' ought to be at or below.

Australia is at 0.8, Japan at about 0.25. These are definitely respectable societies.

The US, of course, is at about 6. Russia is at 7. Yet both countries have made many scientific developments, an ameliorating factor in my view. The entire black-African world, Caribbean included, has only a single Nobel outside Peace and Literature.

Source website is here:

What else should a society be graded on other than scientific achievement and not killing eachother? What is there apart from prosperity (albeit an abstracted precursor form) and harmony?

The US, of course, is at about 6.

How does the US look if you break the statistics out by race? My suspicion is there a minority population with a disproportionate contribution.

Is it the extra-judicial nature of the killing that feel warrents a poor grade? Many of the precursors to current western governments executed far more people than today.

Every country is the same for that. I don't think there has ever existed a country with equality in murder rate.

No multicultural country anyway.

Your suggesting honor games are behind the disproportionately murderous minority?

More comments