Restoring Sanity

Talk about anything under the sun or stars - but keep it civil. This is where we really get to know each other. Everyone is welcome, and invited!
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Restoring Sanity

Postby Yebra » Sun Oct 31, 2010 1:42 am

Jon Stewart's sane world is apparently one where being absurdly obviously racist and pointing out absurdly obvious racism are equally terrible affairs. Discuss.
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Postby Eaquae Legit » Sun Oct 31, 2010 2:26 am

Elaborate for those of us following the event less closely?
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Postby Yebra » Sun Oct 31, 2010 4:18 am

Sorry, good point, just taking from his closing remarks:
There are terrorists and racists and Stalinists and theocrats, but those titles that must earned; you must have the resume. Not being able to be able to distinguish between real racists and Tea Partiers, or real bigots and Juan Williams or Rick Sanchez is an insult, not only to those people, but to the racists themselves, who have put in the exhausting effort it takes to hate. Just as the inability to distinguish terrorists from Muslims makes us less safe, not more. The press is our immune system. If it overreacts to everything, we actually get sicker, and perhaps eczema. And yet, with that being said, I feel good: strangely, calmly good. Because the image of Americans that is reflected back to us by our political and media process is false. It is us through a fun-house mirror, and not the good kind that makes you look slim in the waist and maybe taller, but the kind where you have a giant forehead and an ass shaped like a month-old pumpkin with one eyeball.
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Now that's not all bad stuff by any means, but what I really hate here is the supposed equality of the sins of the two sides, when one is really far far worse than the other. It's really not unreasonable to worry about racism in the Tea Parties, they often have members who are really quite racist, and the movement has figures intertwined with various openly racist groups (Linking to blog post rather than full report because it's a nice summary, report here). Given the nebulous nature of Tea Parties you can't really point to a central decree saying 'We are a racist group' but at some point you can go 'Yeah, that's a valid concern.'

When the NAACP called for tea party leaders to denounce various incidents, they shot back that "You're dealing with people who are professional race-baiters, who make a very good living off this kind of thing. They make more money off of race than any slave trader ever" and the spokesman of one group wrote an astonishing mock letter from "coloreds to Lincoln". Now to be fair he later resigned, but throughout this the NAACP was still taking heat from 'sensible people' for throwing "racist" around at all. I mean, what on earth do you have to do before you're a 'real racist'? Put on a hood? It's like the culture's been taken over by Robot Santa. Bigot? Very naughty! Calling someone a bigot? Exactly as naughty!

Accusing tea parties of racism is not the left's equivalent of saying all Muslims are terrorists and it's concerning that the grand liberal alternative to that kind of rhetoric is nothing more than the Cult of the Moderate, where everyone is equally bad, and if we sit right bang in the middle of the two camps we'll be good people. But some extremists are right! Some politicians are better than others! I know I get a bit too annoyed about this for someone who isn't American, but it really worries me that in the most powerful country in the world, with some quite seriously lopsided extremism issues, moderation of this sort is being raised as a virtue. It's a railing call to lay down and let the scary people win, and that screws the rest of us too.
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Postby Bean_wannabe » Sun Oct 31, 2010 6:33 am

Sorry, I think i must be missing something here. Is it saying that you shouldn't call people racist? Because I fail to see how ignoring the problem is sane at all.
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Postby Janus%TheDoorman » Sun Oct 31, 2010 11:06 am

What. You countered Jon Stewart's assertion that the threat posed by Tea Party racism is different from the threat posed by KKK racism by calling it a "grand liberal alternative" and a "Cult of the Moderate"?

If you think Tea Party racists are just as bad as real racists, it's only because you've never been chased out of the wrong part of town by guys with shotguns and a confederate flag.

In the same way that thinking all Muslims hate America and are bent on instituting Sharia Law the world over causes damaging misunderstandings in our relations to each other, thinking that the element of racism in the Tea Party is due to the same insane vitriolic hate that drives the KKK instead of being largely due to misunderstanding the nature of the links between non-whites and crime and poverty statistics, causes damaging misunderstandings in the discourse between the Tea Party and the rest of the country.

Stewart wasn't saying that we should ignore the racism in the Tea Party any more than he was saying we should ignore Iran's grievances with the US, but only that we should understand that these two groups are different from the KKK and Al Qaeda. That was the whole point of the rally - politics has degenerated into painting everyone you disagree with with the same broad stroke, on both sides. The rally was an attempt to point out that we all have grievances and concerns, and that even if we find someone else's grievance repugnant, allowing that feeling to interfere with understanding them and their concern is only going to make things worse for everyone.
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Postby Bean_wannabe » Sun Oct 31, 2010 3:28 pm

Ah - that makes more sense. Cheers.
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Postby Yebra » Sun Oct 31, 2010 7:13 pm

Stewart never mentions the KKK, and that you went there is kind of my point - If racism is linked to the scary, violent people in the robes, by definition there are no racists in polite society. Which would be nice! But it's clearly not the case. Is the Tea Party an organised violent group like the KKK? No, is it racist? Quite possibly. It's a broad stroke, but then it's a broad term. Why are one 'real racists' but the others aren't? And when you sometimes find you've got the same people attending both, is the comparison unfair?

The people with the flags and guns may be the most obvious racists, but in their way they're less insidious and I think requiring the shotgun and flag sets the bar for being a 'real racist' far too high. What you have is a large group of people with the notion that a black president could never be legitimate (with constant talk of 'taking back the country'), cross-linked to numerous more extreme racist groups, that's concerning and deserves to called that. Those lone shooters don't happen in a vacuum, this is the kind of sea they swim in.

When you're being chased out of town, then the people with the guns are the immediate problem, but I'd say it takes a whole lot more people who maybe would never do such a thing but do think that there's nothing wrong with it to allow that to happen, and those people (who wouldn't class as 'real racists') are a huge chuck of the problem. Now as you say, some people are just misinformed but they didn't do that to themselves - there are people out spreading that stuff purely out of hate and they might well never pointed or will point a gun at a person either - can we call them racists? Can we be impolite to them?

My problem is that as it stands groups that point out worrying (and yes, sometimes violent) racism get shouted down as impolite. How on earth does that get fixed if anyone that talks about racists who aren't literally wearing the racist uniform are breaking the rules about being civil? I think people should be able to distinguish between the KKK and tea party, but I also don't think there's a plague of people who aren't doing that (though googling gives a few). What Stewart actually says is that people shouldn't confuse the 'tea party' for 'real racists' and while perhaps different in actions, tea party racists are just as 'real' and aim for the same power to make the world a worse place as any other kind.
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Postby Janus%TheDoorman » Tue Nov 02, 2010 12:53 am

Alright, the first time I came back to see your reply, I stopped at the words 'by definition' - that phrase is a pretty strong red flag, and I'm hoping that by the time I'm done we'll have come to an understanding as to why.
If racism is linked to the scary, violent people in the robes, by definition there are no racists in polite society.
Racism isn't some nebulous, floating concept of the ether - it refers to an actual, understandable phenomenon - it refers to people associating any non-scientifically linked phenomenon with the observed genetic heritage of another person. It doesn't matter if you call this 'racism' or 'fafflism' - the word you use has no effect on the phenomenon.

In fact, let's go ahead and call that fafflism. Now - both the KKK and the Tea Party exhibit fafflism. But the Tea Party's fafflism comes from a different source - let's call it 'gorianism', where the KKK's fafflism comes from 'hunderism'

So, we have two distinct groups - gorian-fafflists(GFs) and hunderian-fafflists(HFs). Now, both you and the GFs understand why the HFs are bad people. The GFs rightfully consider themselves to be more morally sound people than the HFs. And in fact, the GFs believe they are more sound than the HFs for exactly the same reason that you believe you're better than the HFs - both of you believe that the HFs are using bad info to reach their conclusions. The GFs therefore, have a different understanding of the problem - to them Fafflism is a natural, rational conclusion, and they only see Gorians and Hunderians as a rational divide. When people located elsewhere on the spectrum refer to fafflists, they think of HFs.

If, however, someone approaches a GF, and says "You exhibit fafflism, and are therefore a fafflist by definition," several things happen, and these things are the problem with arguing things by definition:

1. The GF objects, saying, "I'm not a fafflist!" He has a different definition of fafflist - he's thinking of HFs, while you're thinking of any F.

2. The accuser responds, and proceeds to list off the reasons the GF is an F.

3. Neither bothers to actually define F in terms of actual observable phenomena, as the GF is obsessed with avoiding being labeled a Fafflist, and the Accuser is obsessed with proving that they are a Fafflist. Why? Because being labeled a Fafflist carries lots of non-scientifically linked connotations with it.

It's the same fallacy on both sides - 'Racists' see 'Minorities' as a problem, and 'Liberals' see 'Racists' as a problem, and therefore try and combat 'Racists' or 'Minorities' in society rather than actually confronting the phenomenon. Arguing over who is or isn't a 'real racist' is pointless, it's just a label - we aren't out to eliminate 'racists' we're out to eliminate the phenomenon of attaching non-scientifically linked connotations based on a person's genetic heritage. Insisting on calling both 'real racists' just enflames the Tea Party and makes them easier for Dick Armey and Sarah Palin to manipulate, while not making it any easier to actually change the behavior. Insisting on calling both the Tea Party and the KKK 'real racists' doesn't change the fact that both groups exhibit different behaviors any more that calling them both 'fafflists' does.

When you understand that "associating non-scientifically linked phenomena with a person's genetic heritage because you misunderstand the statistics linking minorities to crime and poverty rates" (Gorian-Fafflism) is an entirely different behavior and can be addressed entirely differently than "associating non-scientifically linked phenomena with a person's genetic heritage because you were brought up being taught that good, God-fearing men hate minorities" (Hunderian-Fafflism), then you engage the Gorian-Fafflists differently that you do if you just label them all Fafflists.

This is the reason Bill O'Reilly's attempt to label the 9/11 hijackers as Muslims is a problem - a rational person solves the security issue differently if they understand that the 9/11 hijackers attacked us for reasons that had nothing to do with their religion than if they think there's a direct connection between Islam and a desire to attack America.

I shout down people who call the Tea Party racists, but not because they're being impolite, but because they're being imprecise. Stewart didn't lay all this out in so many words - but that was the gist of his statement - we have to understand the actual behavior of the people we're dealing with, and engage with those behaviors, not with the labels, because the labels are meaningless - they just distract us and get us lost in arguments over who is or is not worthy of that label.

Yes, you'll notice that Stewart himself was guilty of the same fallacy during his rally - he painted the cable news networks with a very broad brush, and even when making the point suggested that it's important to distinguish between labels rather than between behaviors, but because he argued that labels were important because they reflected "The work put in" that is, the actual behavior that distinguish more problematic racism from simple misunderstanding about race, we can understand that he meant to define things in terms of behavior, not labels.

I'm not upset with you because you want it well understood that the Tea Party exhibits racism - I'm upset because you're a well-intentioned person who's wasting their time attacking the wrong problem
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Postby Rei » Tue Nov 02, 2010 10:36 am

That's all well and good, and I generally agree that using such a charged word for all the people it applies to might provoke a reactionary response instead of the desired self-examination.

However, this does not make either group NOT-racist. And if pointing this out to the less violent group is not effective, then I would prefer to see a suggestion for what you think would be effective. It makes absolutely no sense to rail on about how we shouldn't call Fafflists "Fafflists" if they're just the G-variety as opposed to the H-variety and then to offer no better suggestion to eliminate Fafflism.

If we cannot even identify it by name, how can we ever hope to combat a harmful worldview?
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Postby Janus%TheDoorman » Tue Nov 02, 2010 11:09 am

You don't identify it by name - you identify the actual behavior. Don't say to a Tea Partier, "You're a racist", say "I believe that you think there are undue associations to be made based on a person's ethnicity".

The point isn't to argue with the label, it's to argue with the behavior. If you try to argue that someone is a racist, all they have to do to prove they're not is use a different definition of the word racist to assert that they're not. If you're arguing about the behavior, then the racist has to assert that the connections they draw have some factual basis.

It's easy for us to logically see that [Racism = Undue Connotations Based on Race], but the human mind doesn't work like that - give something a label other than the actual, discrete behavior it refers to, and the human mind will start looking for other connotations to add to it - it's how we develop memories. Consider that calling people born in November 'Scorpios' and people born in August 'Leos' causes all sorts of connections and hidden connotations to sneak in. And it's not just ancient, astrological labels from before the enlightenment. In Japan, blood type works the same way - the presence of the A or B antigen in your blood is considered to be an indicator of personality, even though the actual phenomenon was well understood from the start to have no such connection.

Like it or not, giving something a label means you aren't just arguing about that thing, but about every other connotation that the person has associated with it. And this is the behavior the Rally is meant to oppose - adding in hidden implications with broad stroke labels.

When you say "Racist" you might mean to communicate the concept "Person who associates undue connotations with ethnic heritage" and nothing else, but if that person has extra connotations like "A bad, hateful, evil person that society scorns", as is only natural if not purely logical, then you've failed to communicate properly, and that's the only purpose words serve, and when they're used improperly we find ourselves arguing over whether or not the Tea Party fits the proper definition of racist rather than whether or not they exhibit the behavior we mean. We're arguing about the word rather than the thing we actually care about.

Is it frustrating that humans aren't engines of pure logic able to flawlessly communicate clear-cut neural concepts to one-another with single words? Yes, but with our understanding of the brain's mechanisms, we can see that while arguing over who deserves what label is natural, it's irrational.

We fight racism not by fighting 'racism' but by fighting the specific behavior. Frustrating that that understanding points out that there are myriad kinds of racism to be fought, and we can't just beat them all by insisting that racists are bad people and should all therefore be treated with the same scorn and derision? Yes. Hell, that might even work to mitigate racism, but it comes at the cost of making enemies and pariahs out of decent people who you've simply disagreed with about something. And that's not worth the ease of being able to call someone a 'racist' instead of 'someone who associates undue connotations with ethnic heritage'

TL;DR: You don't call racists 'racists' because you can communicate more clearly when you talk in terms of specific behaviors, and trying to lump them all together, while logically accurate, causes the brain to associate all kinds of bad things that the racist doesn't want to be, and so you make enemies you wouldn't have made if you had engaged in terms of behavior from the start. You aren't dealing with logic engines, you're dealing with the human mind, and this is how it works. Is the right to call them 'racists' worth the delay in actually eliminating racism?
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Postby wizzard » Tue Nov 02, 2010 8:10 pm

I think Janus has put it pretty well. In the current political climate, as soon as you call someone a racist, you're tapping into some deep emotions. People stop being rational, on both sides. The person being called racist becomes defensive, and the side doing the name-calling starts to think of the person as worthless, and incapable of having worthwhile ideals.

The ultimate goal should be to educate people, to understand each other. Public shaming is seldom effective for this.
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Postby Eaquae Legit » Tue Nov 02, 2010 9:27 pm

I have to agree with Stewart. I think there IS a difference between Person A who thinks white people are inherently superior and Person B who thinks that everyone has the same legal rights so those black people in the ghetto are there because they're just being lazy.

Both opinions are unpleasant and ignorant, but there's a difference in malice and intent, I think. If you tell Person B he's being racist, he's liable to reply that he doesn't think black people are lesser than white people, that's why he's so disgusted they're all being lazy. It's worth trying to engage B and educate him, and calling him "racist" will just close his ears.

And none of this is to say we shouldn't try to educate both types of people. Behaviours like those should be called out, but how it's done will determine the effectiveness.
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Postby jotabe » Wed Nov 03, 2010 5:08 am

Educate them? i don't see how is that possible. If anything, those who think races are superior/inferior respect each other could be educated, if confronted with evidence... of course, no amount of evidence will change the mind of those who actually believe it.

The type B as you say is just a way for people who knows of such evidence to dodge it and still be smug in their superiority (obviously, they always belong to the superior race). "All ***** are lazy/entitled/whatever." Have they met all of them, to say that? If they didn't, then what they mean is that ***** are not capable of being otherwise, hence they are saying that ***** are inferior.
It's kinda like what the IDers did to hide the religiousness of being creationist. Not only they are mistaken (which isn't a terrible thing), they are dishonest about it.

Educating them (even talking to them) is a waste of time and resources that could be used elswhere. In people who actually want to be educated, for example.
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Postby daPyr0x » Wed Nov 03, 2010 7:01 am

I'm curious if I'm the only one here who was actually at the rally...


Believing in the tea party ideals does not inherently mean being a racist. In fact, I'm on board with everyone here that's looking to remove that word from the verbiage entirely. It's really no different than Fox downplaying the rally by suggesting everyone there was drunk/high. Are there racists in the Tea Party? Probably. Were there intoxicated folks at the rally? Probably...actually, no, I definitely did smell some pot being smoked; but it was hardly a main component of the rally and it certainly wasn't "sanctioned."

The whole point of the entire rally was to encourage people to quit sensationalizing. Calling people Hitler, racists, bigots, etc. only encourages further polarization between people.
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Postby Yebra » Wed Nov 03, 2010 9:23 am

I'm all on board with all the 'racism' not 'racist' stuff. We've for various good reasons convinced everyone that it's a bad thing to be a racist, but I think something that's come out of that is we see racism as a individual sin rather than as something that's warped in the culture. It's something that's contained inside 'bad people', and be that being accused of any kind of racism is to be called one of those bad people. So yes, different kinds of racism should be reacted to differently, but in this specific example it's bizarre to me that there are problems in calling the extensively documented role of racism and racist groups in tea party movements racism. It's not like people are just saying "The Tea Party hates Obama, must be racist” and leaving it at that.

I understand the thinking behind not calling people racist, that it just makes them defensive, they'll hunker down and disengage and we'll never be able to get our side across. But I don't understand the implied other half of that, does the 'softly, softly' approach mean we can actually have informed, reasonable discussions with people who find issue with Obama's birth certificate? It’s not like people aren’t already tiptoeing carefully here. Critiques of the Tea Parties are generally careful to name exact people or specific ideas rather than a broad brush, they dance around all over the place to get the distinction across between who they’re talking about and everyone who attends tea parties. But as they also use ‘racism’ and ‘Tea Party’ in the same sentence they are terrible people who are ruining political discourse. Go figure.

My take on it is that fundamentally, the problem people don't go away, they're on the extremes of every society and the best solution is to marginalize them as completely as possible and hope the next generation is better. So should we be harsh on Tea Parties because it contains people with mildly racist views who need to be condemned as being exactly as bad as the KKK? No, Tea Parties need to be condemned because they’re fast becoming a movement through which fringe ideas and extremism are brought into the mainstream. That is dangerous. It’s where ordinary confused people in bad times rub shoulders with white supremacists, who are given platforms to explain whose fault this all is. Sure we shouldn’t force people into the arms of extremists, but they’re already there! Someone should warn them about it!

I get the point about toning down rhetoric, I really do, but there is to me a huge difference between calling ‘Hitler’ and calling people ‘racist’. I also appreciate that there is a time to call people ‘racist’ and it’s not ‘all the time’ – but it’s not ‘never’ either. It also worries me that this ‘toning down’ talk seems very one sided, given how ridiculously effective the right wing noise machine in the States, does anyone really see them giving up the rhetoric? Does that mean that everyone else should raise their voices and lie and slander to even the scales? Of course not. But in a country with deep set racial issues, ruling out very useful words like 'racist' seems like a terrible first step.
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Postby jotabe » Wed Nov 03, 2010 9:27 am

Calling people Hitler, racists, bigots, etc. only encourages further polarization between people.
To avoid polarization, you need both sides to work against polarization. If one side goes to the extreme and the other seeks appeasement, the whole thing gets dragged to that one side's playground.
If one side plays polarization, and you try to compromise with them, you will have given up what you think is right, and will have polarization, too.

There is another option, too. Flipping out on the whole thing and say you are going home.
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Postby VelvetElvis » Wed Nov 03, 2010 9:36 am

I was going to read this thread, but then my brain goes, "TL!" so I DR.
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Postby Yebra » Wed Nov 03, 2010 11:41 am


I understand the thinking behind not calling people racist, that it just makes them defensive, they'll hunker down and disengage and we'll never be able to get our side across. But I don't understand the implied other half of that, does the 'softly, softly' approach mean we can actually have informed, reasonable discussions with people who find issue with Obama's birth certificate?
Rereading I want to clarify that bit a bit, I'm not saying that Birthers are utterly unreachable (or all equally unreachable), I'm saying that I have utterly no idea what would work to sway someone convinced of that in the face of so much evidence. Given the lack of a clear path, continuously and loudly pointing out that the people they're hanging out with have a bad rep (and hence the things they're saying could be suspect) can't be that much worse than anything else.
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Postby Janus%TheDoorman » Wed Nov 03, 2010 12:34 pm

I'm not saying we should bother engaging with the Tea Party - I think it would be a waste of time. I agree that they should be marginalized, but they should be marginalized because their arguments are foolish, irrational wastes of time. Allowing ad hominem attacks, even valid ones like racism into political discussions is destructive to everyone involved.

I'm just arguing that the trade-off of short-term marginalization gains to be made through ad hominem attacks is not worth the long-term losses that result from diverting the debate from rational arguments.

I don't expect that rational arguments would sway the Tea Party at large, but we should not permit ourselves to engage in anything other - yes, it won't stop groups of idiots cropping up and even possibly gaining some political ground, but whosoever considers themselves a citizen of the United States, dedicated in whatever part to the preservation of the republic must not legitimize through their own arguments, an irrational discourse.

It's a bit of an idealistic pipe dream - if we actually found any of the Tea Party's arguments legitimate and it lends credence to everything else they believe in the popular mind, even the racism.

The United States very deliberately lacks a mechanism to control the public discourse, but with modern understanding of reasoning and cognition, it's very easy to distinguish sound, rational argument from that which is not, and the presence of that which is not is probably the single greatest threat to the republic - there's no point in getting rid of the people that are using irrationality to cause pain if you yourself have to use irrational arguments to do it.
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