Tag Archives: racism

Increasing censorship will lead to increasing loneliness

Like many people reading the news, I am rather baffled at the new wave of apparent offense caused by another perfectly innocent use of a word that has simply gone out of fashion. Benedict Cumberbatch accidentally used the word ‘coloured’ when referring to a black person. He intended no offense and it was presumably a simple slip of the tongue based on his early education on good manners. People use all sorts of words and grammar when speaking that they would filter, rearrange or translate when writing.

When I was young in 1970s Belfast, ‘black’ was considered impolite and ‘coloured’ was considered more respectful. Fashion has changed and ‘black’ is the current polite word in the UK, I think. People adapt and learn eventually, but occasional accidental reversion to earlier terminology in real time interactions ought to be accepted by reasonable people. But it isn’t as simple as that.

The US-based civil rights organisation the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People evidently still uses the word ‘colored’. It is initially hard to understand why an organisation that represents black people would use a word in their actual title that is actually considered offensive elsewhere, in the internet age. There is a feasible explanation though, thanks to Aisha (@aisha_rsh) for the link: http://www.quora.com/Why-does-the-NAACP-still-use-Colored-People-in-the-organizations-name-Like-Negro-that-term-appears-to-be-outdated-Some-even-find-it-offensive

That’s fine, I sort of understand, but even so, it does seem that alleged hurt feelings are somewhat exaggerated. Those who claim to be offended by it are presumably not offended when the largest black rights organisation uses it, even if for reasons of honoring tradition. If it is only offensive when spoken by a non-black such as Cumberbatch, then that is a form of mild racism against whites. Racism is bad in either direction. We should all have the same rules and have equal access to the same vocabulary. I’m all for full and true equality, but against any group claiming superiority, even via alleged victim-hood and deliberate offense-taking. In any case, my parents taught me about sticks and stones and the lesson stuck well. I’ve experienced plenty of name-calling but never lost any sleep over it.

People can be hurt by words, and when that hurt is genuine, then apologies are justified and Cumberbatch has apologized for any offence he caused. However, let’s also remember that taking offense when no offense is intended can be and often is an offensive act. It can be a form of aggression, of putting down the other while putting oneself on a pedestal. In this case, some of the comment certainly falls in that category.

However, after a 400 word intro, I am becoming aware I am drifting off my intended point. Which is:

At the moment, we are seeing worldwide a growing conflict between sub-communities. With too much genuine misery and genuine discrimination and genuine oppression in the world, there is also a great deal of parallel abuse of those good people who want to stop it and ensure a fairer world for all. It is one thing to be freed from oppression and exploitation; it is quite another to use someone else’s oppression to advantage yourself. Having genuine victims in a community does not justify a free pass for that entire community any more than prejudice is justified against an entire community because of the actions of a few.

However, that seems to be the road we have been travelling. In trying to fight prejudice, sometimes we end up with privileged treatment for certain social groups. A small temporary overshoot is fine, as long as a level playing field eventually comes. The problem is when overshoot and privilege produces lasting barriers. When special treatment is available, it inevitably becomes a source of tribal competition and conflict and reinforces barriers instead of removing them.

If people have to stick to special vocabulary on pain of losing their career, if they are forced to censor everything they say or write or do to avoid causing offence to the easily or intentionally or even professionally offended or attracting criticism from sanctimonious busybodies or even the police, then instead of tribal boundaries being wiped away and social cohesion and inclusion  improving, communication between groups and between individuals drops, barriers grow and are reinforced, stresses rise, and social inclusion drops and loneliness increases.

Protection of the disadvantaged is a noble cause, but it must be restricted to those that are actually disadvantaged and it must stop once protection is effective. If it is allowed to increase beyond equality or extend to entire social groups, or if privilege remains permanent, then it causes division and reverse oppression.

This matters. Tribalism is a big problem. Loneliness is a massive social problem. People need to communicate, they need friends. If they don’t feel free to speak due to (possibly exaggerated) fear of possible condemnation, then they may self-censor, keep their thoughts to themselves, restrict their social activities, withdraw and become isolated and lonely. That is not a healthy trend.

Censorship is increasing rapidly. Surveillance is increasing rapidly too, especially including social surveillance in media such as twitter and Facebook by both police and random busybodies. Quality of relationships online is generally lower than face to face relationships, and loneliness is already increasing. Adding to that will make it worse and worse.

Left unaddressed, this problem looks set to worsen. Barriers are growing, and being locked in place, then cameras and microphones are being added to the barriers. Meanwhile, penalties are increasing. A single word that is merely out of date and otherwise innocently used can destroy a career.

All nice people want a nice world where everyone is treated fairly and oppression has vanished. We should avoid offending people unnecessarily, but we must also be forgiving when no offence is intended or a word is no more than an innocent slip of the tongue. We need to be far better at dealing with specific instances of disadvantage or oppression and far less willing to grant long-term privileges to entire social groups. And most of all, we need to restore true freedom of speech or suffer some pretty big social problems.

Make no mistake. The busybodies and the deliberately offended are the new Spanish Inquisition. We really don’t want them in charge.

 

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The future of tribalism

Introduction

I often cite tribalism as a powerful force in determining how technology plays out. Tribalism conveys obvious evolutionary advantages and has become deeply ingrained in human nature. Even when there weren’t many humans, they used to fight each other for control of resources, and for other kinds of power too. Those that were successful are our ancestors; their genes survived. As individuals in a difficult world, people may not have survived well. In groups they did, and the best groups survived best. It’s very useful to have others who will help protect you and your family’s interests.

Tribalism has a dark side of course. I lived in Belfast throughout ‘the troubles’,  (a mixed-motivation tribal conflict of Irish and catholic v British and protestant, and people not fitting neatly into that often found themselves disliked by both sides. Recently, as immigration has increased, it is sadly evolving into racism.) It is holding Africa back, and the Middle East, and the Far East. In fact, most of the world suffers some significant manifestation of tribal conflict.

Clearly tribal forces can bring potential benefits and potential damage, and they need to be managed, carefully.

If the good side of tribalism is fostered, it brings benefits. In Europe, the EU’s greatest legacy has been its moderation of tribal conflict by harnessing combined efforts to common goals – we all want peace and prosperity. In the USA, this approach has evolved into a strong patriotic feeling that greatly helps maintain the economy, and peace and security. Regional tribalism seems to be useful.

I think though that the right balance is hard to achieve. Too much, wars happen; too little, things fall apart. Misdirected and mismanaged, other problems occur – rioting, abuse, exploitation, a long list.

The redefining of ‘racism’

In a modern world where there is no need to compete for basic existence, we can and should put ethnic tribalism aside – the many different races may look different but are barely distinguishable genetically and modern races are biologically irrelevant. The abuse of people just because they have a different skin colour is wrong, and thankfully is gradually becoming a thing of the past. Most decent people would want to keep it there. Nobody wants to be accused of being a racist, which has become one of the worst insults that can be thrown at someone. I’d think that was a good thing if the meaning of ‘racist’ stayed the same.

However, the meaning of racism has evolved, especially in the last decade, from being just about skin colour, to include any distinction based on skin colour, geography of residence or birth, religion, or even lifestyle choice. That to me is going too far. I certainly want  people to live peacefully side by side as far as possible, but I don’t see that that means all cultures and attitudes have to be considered equal. They aren’t. If for example, a national or religious group mistreats women or children,  I don’t respect that. It is wrong to mistreat women and children. We should be free to say so. Discrimination against wrong ideologies and attitudes is appropriate and is not racist, even if the incidence in a particular race is higher than in another. We must clearly separate race issues from ideological, political and behavioural ones. However, there are frequent attempts to blur them instead with more and more groups trying to wave a race card to get extra political leverage. Sadly, as other things are added under the race banner, its original meaning is diluted, and its value will inevitably fall as a consequence. When everything is classed as racist, nobody will care any more and it will have lost its force.

Racism has also expanded to include geographic region rather than race. People certainly are tribal about where they live, but that doesn’t make them racist. Nationalism and patriotism are not at all the same as racism. It isn’t just the UK as a whole  that is seeing increasing geographic tribal forces and desire to leave the EU. Within the UK, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, Yorkshire, London, and Cornwall have all been looking at the issue of their own separation at some point, recognising their own tribal distinctions. Catalonia too. Geographic tribalism is just one dimension and apart from Rotherham Council and David Cameron, most of us think it is OK. So why are there already problems with making remarks about people who live in different areas, belong to the other tribes? If you want to say Northerners are friendly, I don’t think that is a racist comment, even though it clearly implies that others are less so. But why is it racist to say something about the Scots or Irish or Welsh? Why is it fine to have regional tribes such as the EU, and ones for some sub-areas, but not for others? It makes no sense. None.

The Politically Correct path to 1984 hell

With political correctness, it’s seems as though you get given an even bigger halo if you add even more factors to your list of things you shouldn’t discriminate against. Anti-racism became a general desire for protection of minorities, and has since grown up to become a generic anti-tribalism, and the less tribal you are, the holier. But where does the political correctness road end? It ends only when there is no right or wrong, and you aren’t allowed to say something is right or wrong without being punished. To stop before that is just being arbitrary. Criminals are just another minority, and research is even finding genetic biases for certain criminal behaviours. So if good sense doesn’t reassert itself over political correctness at some point, in the far future, if you want to mug and steal, take drugs, torture your animals to death for dinner, oppress your multiple wives and slaves, and sexually abuse your kids, that would all be fine, since all cultures and creeds must be treated equally. If you disagree, you are just a racist.

To me the biggest problem is the inclusion of religion, making it ‘racist’ and hate crime to criticise other religions. It makes absolutely no sense to me. Religion is about beliefs and people can believe in almost anything. If someone wants to believe something, they should be totally free to do so, and I should be free to say whatever I want about their beliefs. If someone says they genuinely believe 2+2=5, that’s fine with me, but I should be allowed to say they are an idiot and treat them accordingly. I won’t in case it’s a hate crime, but I should be allowed to. If they believe in Dawkins’ Great Spaghetti Monster, or are Jedi, still fine with me, but don’t expect me to support any privileges for them for doing so. Sadly, we’re already half way down that path.

(While we’re on the subject of hate crime, calling someone names just isn’t equivalent to physically assaulting someone or bypassing them for promotion. Growing up in Belfast, I frequently got called every name going with often significant hatred behind it, but I’d been taught the old rhyme about sticks and stones, and the names never did me any harm beyond brief annoyance. Misplaced homophobic abuse I received when I rented a house with some gays just made me laugh – it is hard to take abuse seriously when it comes from such pathetic abusers. Listening to the news the last few months, it seems name calling has become a career-destroying offence, certainly a far worse crime than expenses fraud, deliberate deception, murdering old people or ignoring paedophilia.)

Trying to bury tribalism

PC-devoted liberals in Europe seem to have been trying to bury tribalism completely, to pretend it doesn’t exist, or try to regulate it out of existence as if it is an evil that can be purged. It seems more and more tribal dimensions are to be covered in their extended hate crime category, wrapping it up with race as far as possible. In the UK, this has now reached extremes. The news this week that Rotherham council removed children from their foster parents because they belonged to the UK Independence Party is a good example. They accused the UKIP of racism because they favour focusing efforts on UK interests rather than those outside the UK. So now we have one tribe, Labour, using the power of office, and using innocent children as their weapon of convenience, to force their own tribal views onto members of another tribe, UKIP, with the excuse that that tribe has tribal views.

The real irony of the Rotherham case is that Liberals (and many would include Cameron in that category) are insulting a tribe just because they want to stay a distinct (geographically defined) tribe, i.e. the UK, while simultaneously trying every trick possible to force us all into tribal membership in a European Superstate. So, ‘it is racist if you want to be in your tribe but you must join our tribe and that isn’t racist’.

The lack of proper apologies from those responsible and Cameron saying that he didn’t mean that UKIP are all closet racists, that not all are – it doesn’t look good for the future of freedom of thought, does it?

1984

It is at Rotherham that we really must draw the line. If we don’t reject this style of thinking, if political correctness is to gradually outlaw all of the tribal dimensions, then we may find any political viewpoint except the current state-sanctioned line is labelled as racist. If we’re lucky, we may get an authorised opposition. Then we’ll all be locked in a 1984 hell, treated as cloned slaves belonging to the State.

If that happened, then we’d secretly be conspiring revolution, because people are tribal and most will not behave like that willingly. Then, new technologies will be used that can restrict the ease of conspiring by using more and more surveillance, making it deeper and more personal, eventually thought monitoring and thought control. My evolution chart for the future of humans includes homo zombius around 2075. It is technologically feasible. And socially. And politically.

In the short term, using all too familiar justifications such as crime control, anti-terrorism, and controlling media standards – while extending the rules to social media, government is grabbing more power to control the information we can get hold of, the messages we can spread, and access to technology. Apple recently and unhelpfully patented a system to allow police to turn off smartphones in an area. Government has tried a few times now to introduce screening of every use of communication such as web site access lists, all our messages, all social media and so on. Such measures often get blocked, and then reintroduced, again and again, just like ID cards, or the speed cameras that were meant to be disappearing but are breeding like rabbits. The government says what they want us to hear very loudly, and generally retracts it a week later very quietly. Eventually, the extra surveillance measures will stick. Individually, these can all be explained as sensible approaches to big problems. But they won’t stay in their boxes long. They all give extra power to future authorities, and some of those authorities will have staff like Rotherham social service chiefs.

But tribalism can’t be eliminated

Tribalism is a powerful force in human nature and reasserts itself here and there, from time to time. To deny it or to try to outlaw it is to invite at least as many problems as indulging it. And they will often be harder to deal with than the simple results of tribal conflicts that are usually open to negotiation. There are very many dimensions on which tribal forces can act, thanks to the richness of human culture. Race, gender, age, geography of birth and of residence, political ideology, religious creed, football club support, celebrity following, the list goes on and on. Government can try to block them, but like a river, it can’t stop it, only divert it or dam it for a short time before it spills over.

Football was one of the great diversions of course. Instead of tribes going to war with each other and fields full of corpses, football teams could kick a ball around a while and let of the same tribal pressures. But football is now a major front in the battle against racism, actual skin-colour style racism. I don’t know what that will cause. Will the racism go underground if it doesn’t have an outlet on the terraces, maybe increase BNP support? Who knows? I don’t. Did somehow those involved survive the forces that cured the rest of society of racism, or is it just that too much is being made of the small remnants that survived, perhaps rekindling flames by trying to blow them out? What will be the next phase of it? In Glasgow, the sectarian conflict had an outlet in Rangers v Celtic. Will sectarianism be the next front in the anti-tribalism war? Will that force pressure underground?

Tribal battles are brewing on many other fronts too.

Old people are becoming much more expensive, just as younger people are being fleeced. Those young people will find those older people voting themselves better pensions and health care, which they know won’t be available to those having to pay for them. Intergenerational conflicts are inevitable. The private v public sector battle hasn’t gone away, and will resurface many times over the next decade. The Europhile v Eurosceptic battles are just getting organised. Gay rights issues don’t stop with gay marriage and gender will bring entirely new problems in a decade or two as new genders come on the scene. Body augmentation, mental augmentation and customisation, even artificial intelligence are all fronts for future tribal conflicts.

Even fashion and pop music invoke tribalism. Every school-kid knows the feeling of being verbally or even physically abused because they have a different dress style or make-up style than some other group. Or because they prefer one artist over another. How long before there are demands to label these as hate crimes too? Or is that already history.

Tribalism will never go away. Human culture will continue to evolve, and whole new areas will often be created where tribalism can and will appear. Political correctness can try hard to keep up, but tribalism will outlive it by millennia.