Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The first thing we do, let's kill all the social engineers.

"The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers."
famously, from Shakespeare's Henry VI, Act IV, Scene II

Apropos of the story about a German man who was fined the U.S. equivalent of $2300 for sending a racist text message ("By opening this SMS, you have killed a Turk"; follow the link for additional context): Should society really be taking these kinds of steps to penalize racism/sexism/etc? Wh
at I mean is: I suppose we can all agree that active discrimination is wrong. For example, it's wrong to discriminate in hiringthough, if I may be permitted a brief digression, we seem perfectly OK with some types of employment discrimination. I invite you to scan these ads from my now-and-then field of employment, academia; notice how many of the ads use phrases like "committed to diversity," "affirmative action employer," "women and minorities are encouraged* to apply," and the like. I understand the arguments about past injustice, but these ads give you an idea of what those who are white men today may be up against in certain settings. Trust me when I tell you that an entire generation of young white males is being routinely, systematically ordered to the back of the bus...if not off the bus altogether.

But anyway, what's wrong with quiet, personal prejudice? (I'm speaking legally now, not morally.) You mean I don't have a right to hate people anymore, or even to share that hatred with my friends? And if we're banning prejudice, why draw the line at race, gender and ethnicity? How long before we're not allowed to hate auto mechanics, politicians (too late) or, yes, lawyers?

You wonder how much the Bard would be fined for writing the line I use as an epigram, above.

========================

It is just me, or is this article, by AP's Jocelyn Noveck, the most unintentionally hilarious thing you've ever read? So far as I can determine, there's nothing tongue-in-cheek about it. And please, folks, let's not get back into that wearying debate about whether I'm one of those Pleistocene-era types who thinks "a mother's place is in the home." This article is waaay past that level of engagement; Noveck makes it sound as if a mother's real place is in the office, and that in the normal course of events (i.e. when the economy doesn't suck and women aren't being laid-off left and right), kids are just something that a woman may happen to find scattered about the house when she gets there at the end of her day. I mean
and wait till you hear this one!Noveck tells us that some mothers actually discover that they enjoy spending some time with their children!

A few of my favorite lines from the piece:

"[Mothers who lose their jobs] are getting to know a lot more about the details of their children's daily existence."

"After years in which her husband was the main caregiver, she is finding the time off with her children to be an unexpected blessing."

"When she went to the pediatrician's office, the nurses were so used to seeing the nanny that they didn't recognize [the mother]."

"She was stunned to learn that she has three children at home, not just two."
OK, I made up that last one. But seriously...too much.

* In fact, several of the ads say "strongly encouraged." Now what is that about? And how can it be legal?

27 comments:

Anonymous said...

Steve:

The Turk story has to be viewed in the German context - keep in mind that a kid can't have a name that isn't already on the approved list of names. http://german.about.com/library/blname_reg.htm

The last time I check, Barak was not on the approved list of the Munich Standesamt.

Freedom of expression is not a German thing.

As for the mommy article - I found it disturbing. These women have defined themselves by their work title, not by their biological obligations. Many women realize that a job will never love them back. And ditto for ignored children.

roger o'keefe said...

Now this is the Steve we know and love. Seriously, the issues you raise here lead back to your roots in your book and touch on so much of what has gone wrong with American culture, or so we call it.

I don't think I've mentioned my kids yet in connection with this blog. I have a son and a daughter of about the same age (20s). I consider them very similar in abilities and outlook, both great kids and A students, both marketing students who went to similar colleges. In other words they are very similar in what they have to offer. However, the differences in their job searches are striking and significant. People fall all over themselves for my daughter while my son has had a *much* tougher time. Call that anecdotal evidence if you will but clearly it's not far from the overall truth of the situation.

I also agree with your feelings on the "thought police". Society needs to get out of people's heads. If somebody does something he shouldn't do then deal with that as an act of behavior. Until that, leave people alone.

Anonymous said...

I don't understand your argument against steps that would make the world a better place to live. Who loses out when people aren't allowed to hate? Sometimes I wonder what goes on in your head, Steve.

Steve Salerno said...

Anon: Only sometimes? I'm going to reserve comment till later. We'll see what else is said in the interim.

notreallyalice said...

"Trust me when I tell you that an entire generation of young white males is being routinely, systematically ordered to the back of the bus...if not off the bus altogether."

I should trust you when you claim this? Without evidence? Really?

Cosmic Connie said...

"Who loses out when people aren't allowed to hate?" asks Anon 11:35 AM.

I'd agree with you if you were asking, "Who loses out when people aren't allowed to express their hatred by violence or blatant discrimination?" But the idea of penalizing people simply for *feeling* hatred (or, more to the point here, for verbally expressing their feelings) is downright scary. Surely you can see the distinction, Anon.

Elizabeth said...

And please, folks, let's not get back into that wearying debate about whether I'm one of those Pleistocene-era types who thinks "a mother's place is in the home."

Was this ever a debate? ;)

And, yikes, when Roger says, "Now this is the Steve we know and love. Seriously, the issues you raise here lead back to your roots in your book and touch on so much of what has gone wrong with American culture, or so we call it," it is not such a great thing, because it means that Steve has opened his mouth on the subject of sexism and/or racism, revealing his own prejudices (or allowing his readers to do so at least).

Let's ask your question from a different POV, Steve: what's *not* wrong with quiet, personal prejudice? I'm speaking both morally and legally as these two aspects are not always (if ever) easy to separate.

And about moms staying home with the kids -- c'mon, can we find a sturdier object of our derision? Geez, we all wear different hats in life and play different roles; why insist that women be judged by this one only? Do we apply the same standard to men -- look at them and judge them through the prism of their fathering skills as if nothing else they did in life mattered? Why do this to women? No, really?

BTW, that article was not "hilarious," intentionally or not, IMO, Steve.

You want hilarious? See the last week's piece by The Osservatore Romano stating that it is the invention of the washer that has emancipated women and changed their lives for the better. Not contraceptives, not education, not access to business opportunities and the ability to self-support, but a washer -- and one that talks, specifically. (To remind the dumb housewife what to do next in her laundering adventure -- cuz, you know, she cannot figure it out on her own). I've riffed on it on my blog, if you care to see:
http://nowherethemiddle.blogspot.com/2009/03/believe-it-or-not.html

P.S. Roger, your kids are in marketing? How shocking! ;)

Elizabeth said...

Trust me when I tell you that an entire generation of young white males is being routinely, systematically ordered to the back of the bus...if not off the bus altogether.

OMG, I missed that! Indeed, why should we *trust* you, Steve, on that? Especially when you give no evidence of this happening at all?

And this, well:
"But anyway, what's wrong with quiet, personal prejudice? (I'm speaking legally now, not morally.) You mean I don't have a right to hate people anymore, or even to share that hatred with my friends? And if we're banning prejudice, why draw the line at race, gender and ethnicity? How long before we're not allowed to hate auto mechanics, politicians (too late) or, yes, lawyers?"

Now why is it that we have these "discussions" in defense of hatred and prejudice? I don't hear equally concerned voices asking "what's wrong with the quiet form of universal love -- why can't we practice it at will without being penalized by others"?

The one and only instance in which we hear these "debates" has to do with somebody wanting to make his hatred and prejudice "official" (or at least not be ostracized for it). It's so predictable it's really boring, I'd say. Please, go ahead, hate whomever you must, but remember that there will be real life consequences of it for you, so don't act surprised when your karma, so to speak, comes back to bite your sorry ass.

Anonymous said...

I'm sure Steve can and will defend himself but let me just ask you Elizabeth and Alice, did you go to the hiring site that Steve linked? How would you feel about ads that said they "encourage white men to apply" or is "affirmatively committed to the hiring of majority applicants?" Is that not systematic enough for you? And that's just this one ad from one part of society. No employer in ANY part of society could get away with that kind of advertising and you KNOW IT! This is so obvious it's ridiculous and that you'll actually argue about it is even more ridiculous. And you wonder where the anger comes from!

Elizabeth said...

Anon, there is a difference between exploring texts of these ads and making a sweeping assertion of this kind:

Trust me when I tell you that an entire generation of young white males is being routinely, systematically ordered to the back of the bus...if not off the bus altogether.

Really? Any evidence to back it up? An "entire generation;" "routinely, systematically" ordered to the back of the bus?? Where is this happening -- Georgia? Alabama? Any cases to support this? Any lawsuits perhaps? *ANY* evidence AT ALL? And why should we trust somebody's say-so to begin with? (Even though we like'em. :)

I'd hope the difference between a critical assessment of employment ads and trends, and prejudiced hysteria was clear to you (and/or Steve). Alas.

RevRon's Rants said...

I think it would help us understand our reactions to hate if we first acknowledge its origins. Hate is generally founded in the fear of something (or someone) that might cause us harm. That fear is borne of unfamiliarity, and resides at an instinctive, near-synaptic will to survive that has served us since before we walked upright. Over the course of our evolution, we have acknowledged the destructiveness of hatred, yet the clan mentality remains, in the form of racism, nationalism, or favoritism toward those who share our own social circle.

To vilify instinctive emotions makes no sense whatsoever. Granted, we are supposed to remedy that unfamiliarity in our efforts to set aside our fears and thus our hatred. But at the instinctive level, the elimination of those fears is a slow process that is frequently hindered by the behaviors of those we might instinctively fear. Certain ethnic groups commit a high percentage of crimes, and as a result, many people outside those ethnic groups will fear - or even hate - the group as a whole. An ignorant response, but one not without some degree of justification.

By attempting to force individuals to abandon attitudes that, according to their experience, have served them well can only result in the reinforcement of those attitudes. We can reasonably be expected to curtail our expression of our attitudes, so that we do not inflict harm upon others, but the attitudes must diminish according to the awareness of the individual, rather than by legislative action that attempts to control the attitudes themselves. We will never become a post-racial society as long as our prejudices are forbidden along with their inappropriate expression. The most we can hope to do is to eliminate the root cause of our own fears, thereby causing our own biases to diminish. Doing so, we will provide an example for a different approach to others. I think it was Eisenhower who said leading people is akin to moving a string... it works much better to *pull* the string than to *push* it.

Elizabeth said...

"But anyway, what's wrong with quiet, personal prejudice?"

What a curious question to ask a day after the rampage in Alabama where the young male shooter, who killed 10, had a list of "people who did him wrong" and followed it methodically in his murderous rage.

Or on the day when a young German boy executes 15 of his schoolmates, most of them girls, with a single shot to the head -- showing, again, that hatred and prejudice are hardly ever as "quiet" as we wish them to be (and do we really -- or are we just deluding ourselves thinking that our hatreds are "quiet," "private," and "inconsequential"?)

Steve Salerno said...

People should be allowed to think and feel what they think and feel. That is the whole basis of "the American experiment." We can (and should) prohibit people from taking certain actions--but all ideas should be on the table, including ideas that we consider anathema. Even ideas that advocate terrible behavior should be welcome; it is up to society to determine whether to condone/act on those ideas. Punish the action, not the thought.

I say again, nothing that I post here should be construed (necessarily) as reflecting my own feelings on something, so when someone comments that "Steve is revealing his own biases" or whatever, that is not the case. I am playing devil's advocate to a sweeping movement that seeks to police not only what we do, but what we think. That is why, though I detest gay-bashing, I also detest the laws that seek to constrain gay-bashing. And that's a particularly apt example, because once again, in the case of what is commonly called "homophobia," we have society trying to enforce an attitude that is contrary to many people's religious beliefs. If one's interpretation of one's liturgy is that gays are moral rebrobates and thus gay relationships are not entitled to be accepted on an equal footing with "normal" relationships, then it is not up to the government to mandate that point of view. The government may be able to pass laws that allow gays to marry...but it is not the government's province to pass laws that force everyone to regard gays as equal. You cannot, and should not, pass laws that outlaw contempt. We have to be entitled to disagree with each other, even vehemently!

Elizabeth, it is easy to militate for a climate of "universal love." I like to tackle subjects and concepts that demand a bit more nuance. It's like I once wrote of disarmament: Yes, it's a wonderful idea. I'd love to see the world disarm. But then--what do we do about the crazies (or just the Jihadists) who get it in their head that we all must die, and somehow obtain access to the weapons and defense systems we just got rid of?

Jen said...

Steve, you wrote: "We can (and should) prohibit people from taking certain actions--but all ideas should be on the table, including ideas that we consider anathema."

Otherwise, how would we even know what those deviant horrible thoughts are if someone doesn't speak them? Spoken thoughts, maybe even especially the most controversial ones, ought to be "out there" as words so people can see that other people think them.

Intervention occurs when a problem becomes known. Keeping quiet prejudices private actually helps to incubate them, allowing them to grow and turn into some of the atrocities that we see, from domestic violence (that dirty little secret) to public massacres.

When we become aware of people's real prejudices, know what we're up against, I think we can better deal with them.

Steve Salerno said...

OK. Question: Is abortion is a horrible, murderous act? Or is it simply a "woman's right to choose"? Are people who advocate that form of "murder" terrible, deviant people? Is a person who advocates the murder of a doctor who performs abortions a terrible, deviant person? Indeed, is a person who carries out such a plan a terrible, deviant person? Is the person who then cries out for vengeance for that murder a terrible person? Is the Islamist who cries out for American blood, citing the Koran, a demon? Is the American soldier who wants to go to Iraq to avenge the murder of "innocent" Americans on 9/11 a monster?

Where does it start? Where does it end? This is precisely why we need to talk about such things. It's easy to say "be nice." It's easy to say "do unto others as you'd have other do unto you."

Real life is the hard part.

Elizabeth said...

Okay, "real life is the hard part." Yes, this statement has that certain "truthiness" to it, doesn't it. But what does it even mean, Steve, in this context?

As Jen observed, part of the "real life" problem here has to do with the fact that legitimizing (and keeping private) our hatreds leads to violence, even though -- or especially though -- we may not be aware of the connection.

"There have been periods of history in which episodes of terrible violence
occurred but for which the word violence was never used.... Violence is shrouded in justifying myths that lend it moral legitimacy, and these myths for the most part kept people from recognizing the violence for what it was. The people who burned witches at the stake never for one moment thought of their act as violence; rather they thought of it as an act of divinely mandated righteousness. The same can be said of most of the violence we humans have ever committed." ~Gil Bailie

BTW, you say: "it's easy to say "do unto others as you'd have other do unto you." It may be easy to say, but it is difficult to do; and keeping one's hatreds and prejudices in check, for one, is certainly one of the more difficult moral challenges in life, one that's "not easy," but very much worth the effort. Because what's the alternative, really?

Anonymous said...

"The first thing we do, let's kill all the social engineers."

The second thing we do, let's kill all the social bloggers, especially those who specialize in devil's advocacy.

Anonymous said...

"Trust me when I tell you that an entire generation of young white males is being routinely, systematically ordered to the back of the bus...if not off the bus altogether."

Completely true. Here's some solid evidence for all the doubters. At college, the engineering administration building housed various programs set up to provide academic support to students. There were offices for Women In Engineering (https://engineering.purdue.edu/WIEP/), Minority Engineering (https://engineering.purdue.edu/MEP/), and The National Society of Black Engineers (http://national.nsbe.org/). All these organizations held helpful functions like study groups for exams, homework help, etc. It was always tough walking past those doors because as a white male I know they were closed to me.

RevRon's Rants said...

"It's easy to say "be nice." It's easy to say "do unto others as you'd have other do unto you."

And it's unfortunately just as easy to damn others whom we know virtually nothing about because their actions are, to us, abhorrent. There is a balance between the two responses, and that is what we need to seek, IMO. (Bet you saw that coming, didn't you, Steve?)

We can damn another's actions when those actions are destructive, but until we attempt to understand those actions, we will remain stuck in an adversarial and even violent mode.

The people in the Middle East whom we refer to as "terrorists" see westerners as usurpers of their sovereignty and as murderous thieves who would destroy them and their culture in order to take their resources. To them, it is a battle for their very souls. And while we supposedly hold to a set of values that abhor such actions against our fellow humans, we have nonetheless given the Arab world plenty of reasons to feel the way they do, even if unintentionally for the most part. While those terrorists have committed some atrocious acts, we are beginning to see that we are capable of some pretty horrible things, as well. Our justification is that "they did it first," but if we look objectively at the history of the region, it becomes far less clear where it all began, and we find ourselves bearing greater responsibility than we'd like to acknowledge.

The answer is never in disallowing anyone their thoughts, their priorities, or even their hatred, because as Jen stated, anything that we attempt to suppress will only fester and grow stronger. We can reject *actions* that are destructive, but if we are ever to move beyond hatred, we must first acknowledge and attempt to understand it, in ourselves as well as others. There's a lot of wisdom in the admonition to walk a mile in another's shoes before passing judgment on them as people.

I'm pretty certain that it would devastate me to terminate a life that was growing inside me, and I can't imagine myself taking such action. Yet there are women in my life whom I deeply love and respect whom have had abortions. I cannot judge them harshly, simply because I cannot truly know their thoughts and perspectives at the time they made their decisions. put bluntly, I am not remotely qualified to pass judgment on them, much less, to condemn them. I would first have to abandon everything I know about them. While it might be easier to condemn someone I don't know as well, such condemnation would speak more to my own ignorance than their actions. Better to strive to dissolve that ignorance than to build an ever-more-impenetrable shroud of hate. We'll not get there anytime soon - if ever - but we need to continue trying, as the alternative will consume us, even as we destroy each other.

Steve Salerno said...

I think Ron alludes to a key point here: If people are constrained in the feelings they're permitted to voice, then there's no hope of understanding. There is only quiet hatred.* Just look at what's been going on in Jerusalem for decades now. The Palestinians hate the Israelis (and us, for backing them). The Israelis--though fewer of them run in the streets calling for blood--hate the Palestinians. This is a microcosm of the problem that afflicts the Mideast as a whole.

Nonetheless, at least we know how people feel, and every once in a while we're able to engineer a summit that moves the prospect of a lasting peace forward, albeit glacially. But it's when people are forced to bottle up their emotions--and, worse, made to feel that their emotions have no standing in the arena of public discourse--that a true meeting of the minds becomes impossible.

* and yet I stand by the idea that people, in the end, are allowed to feel what they feel. Until they come to feel differently. I'm sure the Palestinians feel that they have good reason to want to see Israel reduced to a pile of rubble.

RevRon's Rants said...

"The Israelis--though fewer of them run in the streets calling for blood--hate the Palestinians."

Perhaps the fact that the Israelis have at their disposal more sophisticated weaponry eliminates the need for them to run in the streets calling for blood. They can order some up from 30,000 feet, rather than strapping some explosives to their chests.

Mind you, I'm not condemning Israel for defending itself; only pointing out that sometimes the biggest difference between a soldier and a terrorist is effective armament.

Steve Salerno said...

This is true, Ron. And as has also been pointed out many times, ol' Menachem Begin himself was a terrorist--the C4-wielding kind--before he began delivering august speeches to the Knesset.

Another good example that occurs to me, which I've mentioned on the blog before, is the way radical blacks viewed the cops in areas like Harlem when I worked there (the frenetic early 70s). We might denounce members of the Black Liberation Army as murderers and anarchists, but I'm quite sure that they regarded themselves, sincerely, as "revolutionaries." And really, if we didn't grow up amid the kind of systemic persecution (a very mild, clinical word for much of what went on) that was inflicted daily on poor blacks of that era, who are we to judge? Yes, it would've been nice if people had been able to discuss their differences away--but I think many blacks simply felt their pleas fell on deaf ears, that talk was pointless, that they held zero power in any meaningful political sense, and that violence ("counter-terrorism," from their POV) was the only language whitey understood.

It is a sad truism that despite all of our professed admiration for high-minded rhetoric, often it is only when people start dying that other people pay attention. This is true not just for political disputes but also for shoddy consumer products, lifestyle issues (AIDS, drunk driving), instances of national crisis (Somalia, etc.) and the rest of human endeavor.

Jen said...

"Real life is the hard part."

That is the bitch of it, yes. Consider this man in Texas, in the news again now, whose family was murdered by his daughter's boyfriend and friends; she played a key role in the murder of her mother and two younger brothers and is expected to be in prison for at least 40 years for that role. She is 16 years old. Her father says she was manipulated; a police detective says she is manipulative. I later found out the detective who said that never even met the girl but based his opinion on the testimony of others. And yet who is correct?

Probably both of them. The end result was carnage and a nightmare none of them will forget. Where did it start? In a feature article about the tragedy, a scene is described where the father has an early encounter with the boyfriend in his living room.

The boyfriend is apparently slouched in the father's chair when he walks in and is confronted with something like, "Do you always sit that way?"

The boyfriend replied, "Yeah."

The father retorts: "Well, not in my house you don't."

And that is a snapshot of the relationship between the father and the boyfriend, who will be in prison longer than the daughter will, with plenty of time to think about the question, "Where did it start?" And who knows the answer to that question.

He did a horrific thing, probably harbored lots and lots of "private prejudices," against his girlfriend's family and many other people, too. Who knew of them, the prejudices, and who knows, really, what is inside of anyone?

Okay, now that I've got your attention ;) I'll point to a blog post I wrote quite awhile back. Steve, I was thinking of it as I read what you blogged on Monday. Maybe something in there will interest you, if you have the time to read it.

Steve Salerno said...

Jen: That is very well done (the blog post), for whatever such an evaluation is worth coming from me. And yes, I think we're all on that existential tightrope, glancing sideways at each other as our personal realities "refresh" from moment to moment and wondering, "Who among us will make it to the other side?"

But is that really the only pertinent question, in the end..?

Anonymous said...

As someone who used to live in South Africa, I can honestly say that any form of discrimination - even positive - as in affirmative action, is not productive, as its a choice based on skin colour or gender other then ability.

Having said that, its not surprising that white males, who have been first and sometimes only choice for so long, not get relegated to the back of the bus. You can't really tell people who have been discriminated against, that it is wrong to do it to anyone else.

We just have to suffer the consequences and wait for a time when skin colour, sex and age won't make a difference.

It certainly won't be in our lifetimes.

Londoner

Elizabeth said...

Jen, your post reminded me of two favorite quotes of mine:

"It is very much easier to be intolerant, angry, jealous and resentful than it is to be generous, patient, kind and considerate. Without question it takes far more thought, and far more work, to treat others from the standpoint of these virtues than from that of those vices, which is why the latter are so prevalent." A.C. Grayling --The Guardian 9 March, 2002


"It's a bit embarrassing to have been concerned with the human problem all one's life and find at the end that one has no more to offer by way of advice than 'Try to be a little kinder.'" --Aldous Huxley

Mike Cane said...

>>>Trust me when I tell you that an entire generation of young white males is being routinely, systematically ordered to the back of the bus...if not off the bus altogether.

Who is driving the bus? Who frikkin OWNS the bus?

Because I see no one else here has mentioned that.