Sunday, March 24, 2019

The Aggressive Nature of Curiosity and Acceptance

Curiosity and Acceptance seem like qualities we'd encourage in for example children. Virtues worthy of capitalization, no matter your education in english grammar. You want little kids to be curious, ask questions, explore the world. You want children to be accepting, to not be intolerant of difference, to appreciate diversity, to empathize with other points of view etc.

Of course, you don't want kids to learn to simply accept the status quo, particularly injustice. Hence it might seem like a good pairing with curiosity. To question, to explore and then accept what is there.

Why then would I say my own adult penchant for curiosity and acceptance are my two most aggressive traits? This is I should say, self diagnosed based on my experience of the interpersonal interactions that have resulted in the most felt ill-will directed back at me. If that's a bit word salady for you A) relax because it's about to get worse. B) it could also be stated more generally as 'this is what I tend to be doing when I piss someone off or upset them.'

And yeah I get second opinions, my curiosity drives me time to time to solicit negative feedback from people close to me whom I trust not to pull their punches. So I know I have other qualities people dislike that they would vote I address way up the priority list from curiosity and acceptance.

Now where to unpack why I think these traits in me are aggressive? So many points of entry.

I guess I'd draw on Gordon Livingston M.D. a clinical psychologist that wrote books titled 'Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart' and 'How To Love' among others, but somewhere between those two he (I'm paraphrasing) makes a statement to the effect that psychotherapy is in part the process of allowing people to realize 'we are not who we think we are, we are not who we say we are, we are what we do.'

At least that's how I'd poach his phraseology. But the reason I bring it up is because among the general population of industrialised nations in the modern world, a minority of people undergo psychotherapy at all, and a minority of them persist with it. This, while allowing that some people might naturally be inclined to the position 'we are what we do' makes plausible that there are large camps of people that believe either they are who they think they are, and people who believe they are who they say they are.

It get's more convoluted when I think about it. Because all three camps are to some extent, an opinion meaning if you believe you are what you do, then who you think you are is someone who is defined by their actions, so the distance between being who you think you are and being what you do becomes 0 if you think you are what you do.

See, I said it would get worse. Furthermore, if I ask someone which camp they are in, and they sit and think about it, then tell me 'we are what we do' the trouble with this self report, is that somebody who thinks they are who they say they are can say 'we are what we do.' and that's who they believe themselves to be because that's who they said they are, and that's who they think they are.

So just to end this confusing wordplay, which was not for nothing, you enter the wisdom of 'don't listen to what people say, watch what they do.'

And if it isn't already apparent, I'm in the 'we are what we do' camp. For a number of reasons, the big one is that behavior can be seen. The next is that behavior is what we have to contend with. And for good measure it's that we never actually receive people's intentions, instead we receive the effects.

Now of course intentions matter, apparently a pet dog can read when master steps on her paw by accident (without ill intention) and when master deliberately gives it a smack on the butt for attempting to eat the chicken carcass off the kitchen bench where humans prepare food. The unintended action might be more painful, but less indicative of master's character and values than the less painful bottom smack. The importance of trying to accurately infer the intentions of behavior is because of it's predictive value, the dog can learn that trying to snatch food off the bench on the sly will reliably produce punishment, where falling asleep on the ground where the master walks is not reliably going to produce painful paw stepping. I'm about as good at learning as a dog.

Alas, the world is full of people who believe the 'real' them lies within, some homunculus pulling levers from within that is inscrutible to the outside observer. Which is to say, there are people who believe that it is illegitimate to infer who they are from what they do.

One of the benefits of the Trump Presidency is we have such a prominent high profile example that brazenly demonstrates this disconnect between self-image and behavior. I would infer, based on his behavior, that Trump is in probably the smallest camp of people who believe they are who they say they are. So you have a man that says 'Nobody respects women more than me.' and then we have numerous testimony to sexual harassment, sexual assault, and other sexist behavior including his own leaked testimony and a substantial volume of tweets written by him where he demonstrates no respect for people who are women.

So handy example examined, another thing it highlights is the prevalence of double standards that really makes sense on this front. Most people regardless of what camp they are in, whether they believe they are who they think they are, deep down inside, or whether they generally believe they are whoever they profess themselves to be, or whether they believe like me they are what they do; I would guesstimate most often believe everyone else is what they do.

The exception being high context cultures, like Japan that have the concepts of tatamae and honne, translating literally to 'stands before' or 'facade' and 'truth'. In Japan tatamae is given precedence, everyone generally behaves as if what people say they are officially is the truth. Curiously though, implicit in the very word 'honne' is that is what people really are. I'm not sure though, under what circumstances the chief bureaucrat from the Ministry of Finance arguably the most powerful individual in Japan, stops deferring to the Prime Minister and the reverse power relationship is actually acknowledged...

Anyway, digression aside it says the question should never really be posed as 'are we' so much as 'are you' who you think you are etc.

Anyway, back to curiosity and acceptance. Which first?

Well I guess I'm feeling acceptance. Because to some extent I'm fairly confident it is a fairly universally human desire to be accepted for who we are. This is unconditional love.

Now if I believe we are what we do, and using a Golden rule, accept people for who they are as demonstrated by how they behave, maybe you can start seeing how acceptance becomes suddenly quite aggressive.

Because if someone believes themselves to be either who they profess themselves to be, suddenly accepting them for their actions including the disconnect between what they preach and what they practice is to accept them as a hypocrite. Furthermore, if someone believes themselves to, for example, really be a good person deep down inside and they just struggle to manifest it in their behavior and you accept who their behavior says they are, say someone who routinely lashes out at their partner is accepted to be an abuser, and not the person who deeply loves that partner they believe themselves to be.

Maybe I should have started with curiosity. Because both people who believe themselves to be who they think they are (which might also be usefully thought of, as people believing who they tell themselves they are) and people who think they are who they say they are, don't generally like to have this belief questioned.

I really thought this would be much simpler to explain, and hopefully my point is becoming transparent. Maybe it can be summarized as: Curiosity and Acceptance become acts of aggression when there's a disparity between beliefs about the true self.

So let's just take one example, that I fear multiple people might relate to and suspect I'm talking about them and I can only say in my defense (plausible denial) that it's actually such a common example in my life that it's what a psychologist writing a book filled with case studies would call a 'composite' I shall call my composite 'Eugene'

I meet Eugene and he tells me he's 'not a cheater' he tells me this because he is currently preoccupied with his recent act of romantic infidelity. 'I'm not the kind of person who cheats. I thought I loved Ysabelle, but then I met Imelda. We had an instant connection, like I've never experienced before.'

Now acceptance is acceptance is acceptance, it kind of always works the same way. Albeit there is some confusion as to whether it is a passive or active verb. I'm inclined that acceptance is a positive act, though have some sympathies to those who believe when someone passively accepts a status quo, why they would feel it a passive action. My counterargument though is that while it may be reflexive or even coerced by being a 'lesser evil' choosing to do nothing is still an affirmative positive action.

Curiosity on the other hand can be a blunt heavy cudgel or a life saving scalpel and everything in between. It can also manifest in multiple dimensions and pay-off at different times.

So in the case of Eugene, even before I ask a single question of him, my curiosity may already have been offending his sense of self by having previously interrogated just what 'kind of person' cheats, and smack him in the face with a cudgel by informing him my understanding is that he's exactly the kind of person who cheats.

Wacking him once with psychological phenomena like exceptional thinking, then again with the illusion of superiority, then once more with the statistics on happily married people cheating, and so and so on until he is an oozing pulp of resentment.

Or with enough skill, something I believe to be a skill set called 'compassionate inquiry' my curiosity could theoretically manifest as some kind of keyhole surgery unobtrusively and painlessly, perhaps even enjoyably isolating and removing the cognitive dissonance causing Eugene pain.

And this is the thing, the sticking point. It can seem so counterintuitive that what we do is who we are, because you kind wind up in situations where during a conversation you look down at your feet and notice your lead foot is pointing away from the conversation partner and to the door. From this observation, you can actually glean a piece of information about yourself that you weren't consciously aware of - you can't wait to get out of this conversation.

I enjoy learning about myself this way, because a large part of who I am operates at a level below my conscious thought. What I do can yield information that obliges me to update who I say I am, and who I think I am. Conversely, a change in my mental behavior, ie. a change in my belief similarly carries an obligation to update both who I report myself to be, and how I behave. And to complete the trifecta, if I declare I am something, then it obliges me to be good to my word, and also justify my proclamation cognitively.

This is the power of privileging behavior. The gaps shrink. There is less opportunity for hypocrisy and double standards. It is in  my experience, a great way to live. Conversely my curiosity has lead me to accept that most often, people who subscribe by deed to a belief that they are what they say they are, or think they are most often hold that belief in order to avoid painful confrontations with themselves.

Perhaps the most cliched example is the addicts proclamation 'I can quit whenever I want, I just don't want to.' and the AA's first step 'admitting you have a problem.'

I am an aggressive confrontational person. But I would hope the impression I haven't fostered is that I do that due to a lack of emotional self-regulation, or anger management, or through psychopathy. To me it's more like coming across two people in a fight and intervening, except most often it is somebody beating themselves up. I would like to calmly talk sense into the person, but often owing to my own incompetence my good intentions manifest in me aggressively engaging the assailant.

And most often I fail, the person doubles down on avoiding their pain by beating the fearful part of themselves into submission and I walk away resented. Eugene resents that I have accepted he's the kind of person that cheats, when he hasn't himself. The addict resents that I have accepted their addiction when they haven't themselves.

Sunrise, sunset. The thing is, failing is painful for me, but it's how I learn about myself. It may be a case where the Golden Rule backfires. Treat others not as I wish to be treated, but treat others as they wish to be treated?

Maybe there's benign cases where someone emotionally and or psychologically tortured by their own inner demons will harm nobody else if left to be, but it will become problematic when applying that standard to Narcissists and Psychopaths and other personality disorders, where other's pay the price for their self-deception or straight up deception.

Anyway I'm calling this done. I'll keep trying to work on my skillz.

Monday, March 18, 2019

On Empathy

According to my availability heuristic, empathy might have the most skewed ratio of concepts evoked to concepts put into practice out of any abstract concept I can think of.

It's a confusing concept to me for more than one reason. For example Brene Brown a public thinker I respect defines empathy vs sympathy as Sympathy is seeing someone down a dark hole and saying 'oh you're down a dark hole, that's not good I feel bad for you.' and empathy is seeing someone down a dark hole and climbing down and sitting there with them and saying 'I'm here with you.'

By contrast Brett Weinstein another thinker I respect defines sympathy as 'empathy + alignment.' which is to say not only do you feel what they feel but you agree with their disposition to those feelings. Brett can speak for himself and much better than I can speak for him, as is true of Brene Brown and conveniently her definitions were perfectly extracted and animated here.

The etymology of sympathy is from the Greek word 'syn' together and 'pathos' feeling so literally 'feel-together' but apparently becomes 'fellow-feeling' and Wikipedia says this:

is the perception, understanding, and reaction to the distress or need of another life form.[1] This empathic concern is driven by a switch in viewpoint, from a personal perspective to the perspective of another group or individual who is in need. David Hume explained that this is the case because "the minds of all men are similar in their feelings and operations" and that "the motion of one communicates itself to the rest" so that as affectations readily pass from one to another, they beget corresponding movements.
Curiously, the wikipedia page on Sympathy has at the top of it's page 'not to be confused with Empathy' and the Empathy page similarly has 'not to be confused with Sympathy' which is precisely the state I find myself in, so way to empathize Wikipedia... or sympathize?
The English word empathy is derived from the Ancient Greek word εμπάθεια (empatheia, meaning "physical affection or passion"). This, in turn, comes from εν (en, "in, at") and πάθος (pathos, "passion" or "suffering").[3] The term was adapted by Hermann Lotze and Robert Vischer to create the German word Einfühlung ("feeling into"), which was translated by Edward B. Titchener into the English term empathy.[4][5][6] However, in modern Greek, εμπάθεια means "malice", "hostility".
Alexithymia is a word used to describe a deficiency in understanding, processing or describing emotions in oneself as opposed to in others.[7] This term comes from the combination of two Ancient Greek words: ἀλέξω (alekso, meaning "push away, repel, or protect") and θυμός (thymos, meaning "the soul, as the seat of emotion, feeling and thought"). Thus alexithymia literally means "pushing away your emotions".
I found all the above interesting, and Alexithymia is a useful concept and further reason to push away all my friends called Alex. But I feel in my lifetime empathy is actually a fairly recent meme in the common parlance, I feel like I remember a time where sympathy was thought of as good and sufficient and nuance was added later, possibly around the time Daniel Goleman first published 'Emotional Intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ' which was around 1995, I was in my last year of primary school and a lot of my friends were being born that year.

And like many shiny new concepts it was ripped out of the box and nobody bothered to read the instruction manual and hence probably use 10% or less of it's functionality.

And because I'm trying not rehash other people's good arguments but I would sincerely recommend anyone prone to calling for more empathy to consider a thoughtful counterargument specifically Developmental Psychologist Paul Bloom's against empathy: the case for rational compassion.

To further complicate matters empathy comes in three flavors, affective, cognitive and somatic. Affective is the kind that changes our affect, feeling anothers distress, or stress, or anger, or calmness. You get the idea, hopefully, and hopefully can see how depending on context this is a double edged sword.

"Affective and cognitive empathy are also independent from one another; someone who strongly empathizes emotionally is not necessarily good in understanding another's perspective."

Cognitive empathy is perspective taking. I understand it to be the 'There but for the Grace of God goes John Bamford.' kind of empathy.
The pious Martyr Bradford, when he saw a poor criminal led to execution, exclaimed, "there, but for the grace of God, goes John Bradford". He knew that the same evil principles were in his own heart which had brought the criminal to that shameful end.
It's this empathy I feel or suspect is what people think they are calling on us to practice. To find common ground and break bread with people we feel we hate, to stop living in our little bubbles, and consider not what separates us but what brings us together.

Obvious examples is men taking the perspective of a woman in this world, where you'd feel safe, not having the physical power to stop someone's advances, having your messages filled with a constant torrent of 'sup?' from unimaginative guys. Having panels of people that don't resemble you decide what is best for you with little to no consultation. Getting a constant cacophony of feedback on all the ways you are inadequate.

For white people to take the perspective of people of color, what it's like to be constantly questioned where you're from. To be stereotyped by your beliefs and customs and culture. To be singled out for harassment, or treated with suspicion. To have people talk to you slowly or feel the discomfort and self censure of friends at social events. To have to consume entertainment where nobody resembles you, or the people that do never play any role of import, or create expectations of your own behavior that you don't wish to live up to.

For straight people to take the perspective of queer people. To spend time imagining what it is like to have second class legal status. To feel rejected or abandoned by your own family. To hear your orientation employed as a term for when things are uncool or crappy. To fear for your safety when you express yourself. To have your culture mocked and ridiculed in media. To see people on the news attacked for acting out the very form of love you feel. To see heads of state and theocratic demogogues condemn you for who you are. To be dragged by parents in front of professionals to attempt to 'cure' your deviant behavior.

For able bodied people to take the perspective of someone differently abled. The disappointment of turning up to a venue or concert only to discover it isn't accessible to you despite advertising. To have to speak up at everybody and have them talk down to you because there's no way to elevate your eye level in a wheelchair. To be treated as though you are stupid, because you are deaf and unable to speak, or excluded from the invite list to concerts or dance raves because your friends assume there's no point because of your hearing impairment. To be mocked and jeered at or even innocently pointed out by children wherever you go.

While it's true that few people bother to do this exercise in cognitive empathy. I would describe these as the easy exercises in empathy. Because by Brett Weinstein's definition, you can empathise without fearing that you may actually align, it's easy to align and identify and express solidarity with the oppressed and downtrodden, and I don't mean easy in a bad way either. It's a good, valuable exercise.

Having said that, I feel that most people would clue in that it's unwise to just walk up to a person in a wheelchair and say 'hey, just wanted to let you know, I know what it's like to be you.' I predict this would be regarded as obnoxious and insensitive.

Which highlights another complication with empathy, how do you know if you are empathizing or just projecting? And I may be technically using psychological projecting incorrectly here. What I have in my lifetime observed is a phenomena where a person believes themselves to be highly empathetic when in practice what they describe appears to be an assumption that the people they are 'empathizing' with think just like they do. I was in a priviliged position to detect it, because they were divulging their experience of what it is like to be me, and it sounded a lot more like what it was like to be them. (I just found out this is called the 'false-consensus effect'.

And it's been a while since I've cited any Musashi Miyamoto but here is some pearls from my Thomas Cleary translation of the Book of 5 Rings, the Fire Scroll under the sub heading 'Becoming the Opponent'

As I see the world, if a burglar holes up in a house, he is considered a powerful opponent. From his point of view, however, the whole world is against him; he is holed up in a helpless situation.

That's as clear a demonstration of the value of cognitive empathy as I could imagine. 'Becoming your opponent' brings us to our next degree of difficulty.

Consider this:

factor 16x^4 - 1

Some people despite my terrible notation, will know exactly what they are looking at and know how to factor it out. I'm not one of those people but I used to sit in classes with them and their ability to recognize a difference of two squares was like a fucking magic trick to me. It still is, largely because I've neglected mathematics since high school. But most of us if asked 6 = 2x -3 can go okay so 2x = 9 therefore x = 4.5

If the latter 'solve for x' is the relatively easy task of empathizing with the sympathetic, then the former represents (for me at least) the difficult task of empathizing with the unsympathetic.

Take for example the task faced by a White Supremacist having to find common ground, common humanity with a Muslim or Jew? I'm neither of these three things so on one hand it makes it a far more difficult, speculative task but also at my remove perhaps easier. But let me try, the White Supremacist might take the perspective, these people predominantly just want to go about their lives. They love their families, they value their communities and look out for each other. They feel they've inherited a tradition and identity to be proud of and that has value, they probably also look to history both recent and ancient and fear persecution and perceive threats constantly to their place in society. They have the courage and conviction of their beliefs to proudly and defiantly practice them out in the open despite criticism and condemnation.

The idea being that one could no longer be a White 'Supremacist' once they actually consider that 'there but for the grace of God go I.' Or basically see the world through the eyes of someone they fear and revile and actually contemplate or entertain how they could be them.

The opposite of this cognitive empathy or rational compassion, I presume is tribalism, given away by double standards. For example when the Republican controlled whatever refused to hear a confirmation of Obama's chosen Supreme Court nominee to replace Anthony Scalia or whatever sighting that the election should be used as a referendum on who the American People wanted on their Supreme Court, then proceeded to rush through Brian Kavanaugh's confirmation before the Midterm elections of last year.

The dividing line being I presume, in this example, the Democrats think they know best, where we the Republicans, know best.

I do believe with some conviction that it is only through a lack of empathy that one can hold the worldview that everybody basically knows what's right and what's wrong, and just some people are fucking it up.

One privilege I enjoy being a white male (and I enjoy and appreciate all of them) is that because of our standing in the world, people feel quite comfortable calling on me to own the actions of a group identity.

Thus, I'm encouraged and invited to 'own issues' and to be charitable, I suspect in practice what I am supposed to be doing is just joining a chorus or mob to condemn and disavow. However, Musashi was an influence long before I even started writing on this blog, and thus when people call on me to empathize, and own issues and problems, I tend to take on the task of 'becoming the enemy'.

Just to be clear, I don't view progressives or feminists or anyone who criticizes white men as 'the enemy' what I mean is that I typically ask myself questions like these:

How similar am I to Donald Trump?

Well we both have small hands, we both tend to speak with near complete disregard for how our statements will be taken or interpreted. We both like to tackle subjects and topics for which we have no expertise.We can both disregard our own unpopularity. We both struggle to perceive the limits of our competence. We are both unfit to be heads of state. We both have very little experience with answering to supervisors or having any accountability. We both like cheeseburgers. We both don't drink. We've both lost someone we love to addiction and the underlying causes of that addiction. We're both incredibly superficial. We both struggle with the opportunity cost of committing to one woman. We both value loyalty.

Now tempting as it is to point out all the ways Trump and I differ, I do find it actually helpful to empathize with Trump without having to be sympathetic to him at all.

Now remember 'factor: 16x^4 -1' my friends with the magic brains in my specialist math's class had this distinct advantage over me. They could tell when I hadn't done the exercise, because they had done it themselves. Their brains could see that 16x^4 -1 is the same as (2x+1)(2x-1)(4x^2+1)
and that if I'd said it was 4(2x^2+1)(2x^2-1) that I didn't get it.

And maybe empathy like maths, is something that cannot so easily be taught. For example, a hypothetical radical feminist might ask:

How similar am I to Donald Trump?

We are both ambitious. We both get frustrated by the system being rigged against us. We both are abused, degraded and treated as the but of jokes. We are both outspoken. We both feel our opponents position is illegitimate. We both refuse or are reluctant to condemn our support base. We both like presenting strength. We both hate criticism. We both wish criticism would just go away. We both wish life and our pursuit of happiness was easier for us...

and again there's transparently a world of difference between a radical feminist and Donald Trump. And perspective taking is a function of cognitive empathy, so strictly speaking to take anothers perspective isn't just to notice similarities but to notice the differences as well. In the example of the burglar holed up in the house provided by Musashi, he actually begins with his own perspective as one of being fearful, and the Burglar fierce. The common ground achieved by shifting perspective is that he realizes the Burglar is also fearful, and to the burglar he appears fierce.

And this is crucial, for Musashi concludes by saying the burglar in the house is a pheasant and you are the hawk, because Musashi beyond being a profound thinker, was also a martial artist and therefore aggressive. However his initial perspective is that he is a pheasant. Without shifting his perspective to 'the enemy' the burglar, he is unwittingly similar to the burglar. By shifting his perspective he allows himself to become something else, by recognizing that the burglar is right to be scared, the burglars situation is hopeless. Musashi can then put down his fear and proceed with confidence.

So that might be a little convoluted to follow Musashi a burglar a pheasant and a hawk and keep it all straight, and though I enjoy the translated writings of Musashi, I'm told many people find him too esoteric even for native Japanese speakers. So I'll offer this summary.

Tribalism is bad because operating from a basis that says what's crucial isn't how we conduct ourselves but that people agree with me, isn't good enough. You are going inevitably to run into conflict between your tribe who feels justified by the conviction that you understand what's what and another group that feels equally justified by their conviction that they no what is what. We have a long history of these tribal disputes.

Taking the perspective of someone who is opposed to you by turns may make you more sympathetic to them but not necessarily so. Instead it can help you identify what is actually problematic in both your and their behavior. It can also diminish your fear of them and allow you to proceed with increased confidence and increased chance of achieving what you actually want to accomplish.

By using perspective taking you can better avoid becoming the moral equal of who you are opposed to.

People who have done their homework can tell who hasn't done their homework.

I find it most helpful and stimulating to ask myself 'who's perspective do I least want to take?' and start there.

Empathy though is really hard, which is perhaps why it takes a rare genius like Mark Twain to say  'The easy confidence with which I know another man's religion is folly teaches me to suspect that my own is also.'

Friday, March 08, 2019

A Thought Experiment

Perusing through my facebook feed a few weeks ago, I came across this comment affixed to something posted by a friend who posts interesting stuff:

The MAGA hat is a symbol for xenophobia and these boys were othering this man. ... But as the tenure of mainstream debate descends into open racism in the US and elsewhere, the galvanising of those who support the MAGA message must be resisted.
which, because I don't want to pick apart a person, particularly a stranger, and of all the people and movements that need defending Nationalism, Nativism, Trumpism isn't one of them, I've pruned the comment back to what I need for the setup.

To leave it behind, allow me to boil it down to an assertion: 'Racism must be resisted.'

Which hopefully, everyone will be in agreement with, with even slippery racists unable to disagree so much as redefining their own behavior as 'patriotic' or whatever.

Now I'm currently residing in a nation where the official language be Espanol, or for those that don't habla Espanol 'Spanish'. And it has this curious property in it's grammar that I am still coming to grips with. 'I'm' translates to 'Soy' and 'hungry' translates to 'hambre' (the 'h' is silent) but the Espanol speakers don't say 'I'm hungry' or 'you're hungry' but 'I have hunger' and 'you have hunger' but they don't say things like 'Yo tengo hambre' it's just 'tengo hambre' (have hunger) and they don't say 'tu tengo hambre' (you have hunger) it's 'tienes hambre' the 'have' transforms grammatically to imply who is being spoken about yo = tengo and tu = tienes.

Now don't worry there won't be a test, largely because I am still likely to fail Spanish grammar. The point is that Spanish partially obfuscates the subject of a sentence. It's kind of naturally passive tense and according to this TED talk where English speakers are more likely to recall who caused an accident, Spanish speakers are more likely to recall that it was an accident.

So, am I trying to justify racism against irresponsible Spanish speakers? No. It's to point out 'Racism must be resisted' is in the passive voice, righteous and radical though it may seem in sentiment. Such that we can all agree that Racism must be resisted, but by whom?

Which brings on the thought experiment. With all the talk of institutional racism, I at least, am vague on the proposed solution. Must racism be resisted by you?

I don't know, what are you're qualifications? What constitutes racism? Who is competent to resist it in such a way that promotes greater social justice and not less? What quality controls are in place to provide me, and more importantly millions of people oppressed by racism protection against unintended consequences?

Thus enters the thought experiment. You are looking at the disproportionate incarceration rates of members of ethnic or racial minorities, under-representation on company boards, all levels of government, judicial bodies and the asset owning classes. Look at OECD well-being outcomes, representation among victims of crime, access to health care services, deaths in custody, teen pregnancies, OECD freedom indexes, credit ratings, small business ownership, high-school completion rates etc. It's easily found and compelling evidence that there is a problem with racism. The institutions are not delivering equity in outcomes and from this it can be fairly safely inducted that there is not equal opportunity achieved.

So you go to resist racism, gotta get the racist institutions out of the way. Here I must plead ignorance, I cannot imagine how this would be achieved. But for the sake of persisting with the argument - let's say a popular radical resistance leads a peaceful uprising to dismantle the racist institutions leaving us with a blank slate.

I sincerely hope, what is pictured here, isn't some genocide or holocaust of racists, rounding up all the bad people and getting rid of them. Although if we remove lethal means, perhaps this just translates as a blanket ban on racists holding office.

What's the purity test? Because it is one thing to establish in hindsight that somebody was a racist, how do you keep them out of office?

Here I imagine most people are thinking 'well I'm not a racist.' and so by your lived experience, you're subjective reality you have a starting point - you aren't a racist, you know this for sure.

From there, it might expand that because you aren't a racist, you would never associate with racists, therefore your friends aren't racist.

So in terms of let's call it 'policing' racism, and all forms of discrimination, it's the simple matter of you can police it on a personal level for this is the very act of resisting racism, and racism must be resisted. Going more broadly, you and your non-racist friends can police it.

Great! we call this 'Cronyism' You and anyone you associate with isn't racist because you a non-racist can vouch for them and therefore the chief qualification one needs to resist racism is to be a friend of yours.

However, we've gotten rid of the institutions, so this is no longer a think global act local situation, this is now a think global act global situation. You are going to need thousands of friends.

No problemo, since you aren't racist, and your friends therefore aren't racist, then your friends' friends by deduction cannot be racist. And this network can potentially spread endlessly because of the 6 degrees of seperation...

Oh, the very network theory that has substantiated the connectivity of all humans on earth would lead to a somewhat implausible deductive conclusion - nobody on Earth is racist, therefore there's nothing to resist or police. Instead it might seem that one of our premises is wrong - and the most likely suspect is that if you aren't a racist you cannot associate with, befriend, and thus recruit a racist to your cause.

Here then, our own subjective lived experience of being a non-racist might prove inadequate. What we may want to do is move beyond our knowledge of non-racism to perhaps codifying it or it's antithesis into a more scrutable public document. Perhaps codify it into say, law? And similarly private institutions can codify it into their own policies and codes of conduct.

An objective document against which the non-racists performance can be measured, and enforced.

I can actually wholeheartedly get behind the definition of Racism for example that says 'Racism = Prejudice + Power' provided of course, power is defined as 'the ability to act or do.' in which case rather speciestly the only conscious creatures that are absolved of racism then become what we hairless apes refer to as 'the Animal Kingdom' where the Lion is pretty much a total figurehead not even a constitutional Monarch.

And sadly we can't be governed and adjudicated by a panel of Labradors for the very power they lack in civic affairs renders them incapable of acting out these roles.

So how when it comes to appointing people society wide to these bodies that systemically resist racism do you ensure in our thought experiment that the new order is free of systemic racism where the old order was not?

A pledge of allegiance to the cause of resisting racism? A profession of belief or ideology? Perhaps magical hats or attire? Some claim that anyone affiliated with the New-order is thus rendered incapable of being they themselves racist?

Great! This is called 'Theocracy'

Historically, because God is an omniscient, omnipotent and benevolent being that presided in ultimate judgement over the fate of our immortal soul, it was well understood that to take the cloth and enter His various priesthoods was an infallible way to know a man to be above and beyond reproach. A Theocracy is where the priesthood presides over the state in the name of God, and these holy men are even granted the ability to absolve the lay folk of their sins.

Thus, because of their supernatural claims it became problematic when Theocratic leaders started receiving complaints that one of the representatives of God had stuck their dick down their child's throat. You knew the child was lying because it's not only theoretically impossible, but practically impossible because if such sinful behavior could infiltrate the Church, that would mean that the studying of scripture, the teachings of the prophets, the example of Christ, the blessings of Holy Water, the direct communication with God, experience of revelation, miracle of transubstantiation, the process of prayer, the confirmation, wearing of crosses, of holy vestments et al. combined, was all ineffective at warding off sin and the devil's influence.

However, this wouldn't happen on an enlightened and secular basis, with academic underpinnings. You could establish a Theocracy that wouldn't be infiltrated by hypocrites , corrupted in practice or just plain incompetent. You could have extensive training protocols, codes of conduct, oversight panels and committees, internal auditing and adjudication, internal review, anonymous complaint channels, collaboration with community interest groups, elected officials, accounting practices.

A proper, institutional organization with checks and balances recruiting from the general public and scrutinized by the media, by representative government and held to a standard that resists racism.

Great! This is known as 'What we currently have.'

But... it can't be. It cannot be! Because what we currently have is institutional racism right? I don't know. I have never heard an intelligible argument to substantiate institutional racism that wasn't a form of affirming the consequent, or perhaps to a lesser extent a post hoc ergo propter hoc argument. Which is not me denying the existence of racism, or even cultures of racism. It is me expressing skepticism of the evidence for institutional racism by the standards of formal philosophical argumentation. Which is to say this headline and this headline can plausibly coexist.

And if you think about a case like Ted Haggard, you have a man representing a body that opposes with religious conviction same-sex marriage in America and was outed himself as practicing homosexual acts. I feel, most people would not sight this as evidence of institutional homosexuality within the church, nor Donald Trump's hiring of Omerosa as evidence of institutional post-racism within the Trump Administration.

Of course there's notable historical examples of institutional racism, like the White Australia Policy, the Stolen Generation, Jim Crow Laws and Segregation, Redlining, South African Apartheid, the Japanese constitution... Japan. So yes, there's a lot of institutional racism extant and that has existed throughout history and where improvements have been made sometimes it has been through things like a Civil Rights Movement as per US and South Africa, sometimes with international economic sanctions and condemnation. Elsewhere it has occured through the ordinary institutional process such as Australia with the Whitlam Government reforms of the 1970s and the High Court rulings on Native Title.

I'd generally have to plead ignorance that when a lot of people talk about institutional racism, I'm not sure what they are talking about. To improve myself I looked for a formal definition and found this on Wikipedia:

"The collective failure of an organization to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture, or ethnic origin. It can be seen or detected in processes, attitudes and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and racist stereotyping which disadvantage minority ethnic people."

Which is to say, I am totally on board with this definition, but again I have my suspicions that this wouldn't be the generally accepted definition, because it requires the institutional racism to be visible via processes, attitudes and behavior and attributed to unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and racist stereotyping.

My felt experience is that institutional racism is substantiated by anything that has failed to achieve equity between ethnic groups.

And that is what needs must be achieved, and my thought experiment for me leads me towards you or anybody else through your best efforts and purist intentions designing a solution to institutional and individual racism, racism in all it's forms very close if not identical to what we've already achieved or failed to achieve... or worse.

I guess my position is that revolution via popular uprising of the righteous and radical masses is not a solution I would get behind. My intention to fight and resist not just racism and all prejudice is through careful examination and policing of myself, to entertain and suspect that I myself may be prejudice in both ways and means that I am conscious and unconscious of, and hold myself to account, compassionately and mercifully. I do not feel competent or up to the task in all but the most overt and immediate cases of racism, of policing others and would rather delegate a monopoly on policing to institutions flawed as they are.

Revolutions have an abysmal history of achieving progress except indirectly by paving the way for more progressive tyrannies. Which isn't to say Tyrannies are superior or justified, just that popular revolutions have historically been a costly and time consuming way to reestablish a status quo, or at the very least wash out that the revolutionaries are no less prone to corruption than the old system. There is less social mobility, less effective representation and greater income inequality in the United States than England. England that has a taxpayer funded Monarch who is the largest private landowning individual in the world and an actual class system.

So when I ask, racism must be resisted, but must it be resisted by you? I'm asking for assurances of competence. What my general experience is socially, is that what people have to assure me with is their deep conviction that they would never, could never, be racist or corrupt.

The problem is, I'm an idiot. I don't really know how racist and corrupt I am, I am therefore not in the position to intuitively sense your competence. As such, I'm inclined to defer that the ones best delegated the task of resisting racism are not private indivual citizens, but institutions that have got in trouble again and again and again for being racist and thus have grown an ever expanding administrative body and channels for oversight. Because as imperfect and innefficient as they are, they have places I can go look shit up, numbers I can call, experts such as lawyers I could potentially consult who understand their procedures and channels. I have none of this when it comes to a group of private individuals who charge themselves with resisting racism in ways they see as fit.

I'm sorry I'm a moron what can I say.