Wednesday, January 21, 2015

More Thoughts on the Very Problematic 'American Sniper': Is David Grossman's Theory of 'Killology' and 'Wolves, Sheep, and Sheepdogs' Racist?

I have mentioned and shared Dr. and Lt. Col (ret.) David Grossman's work on the psychology and science of killing several times here on WARN.

His theories about "killology" are fascinating and compelling. Grossman's use of examples and empirical data about war fighting and aggression are--to a semi-layperson with a more than passing interest in military history--very persuasive.

Dr. Grossman is also on the wishlist of future guests for The Chauncey DeVega Show.

Alas, hobbyist level knowledge is not the same as expert knowledge and direct lived experience on and with a given topic or subject.

To point. I was surprised to see David Grossman's work waylaid in a piece on about the mediocre war porn movie American Sniper and the valorization of the lying and psychopathic Chris Kyle.

[I must now add the qualifiers and cautions about Grossman's theories to the two conversations on WARN's podcast series where the guest(s) were guarded about some of his findings, as well as the chats I have had with an active duty Navy SEAL, and a Ukrainian sniper, both of whom saw extensive combat in Iraq, and were similarly less than effusive about the merits and explanatory power of "killology". They also cautioned me to be weary of the difference between "tabbed" and "scrolled" Rangers and the former's claims of military exploits.]

Michael Cummings' and Eric Cummings' criticism(s) of Grossman are centered on his recounting of an anecdote that has now become gospel in many Right-wing circles:

In Grossman’s original essay, now available on his website, he credits an “old war veteran” with first telling him about wolves, sheep, and sheepdogs. He writes:
If you have no capacity for violence then you are a healthy productive citizen: a sheep. If you have a capacity for violence and no empathy for your fellow citizens, then you have defined an aggressive sociopath—a wolf. But what if you have a capacity for violence, and a deep love for your fellow citizens? Then you are a sheepdog, a warrior, someone who is walking the hero’s path. 
In Grossman’s telling, the wolves will do anything they can to hurt sheep. Grossman variously identifies wolves as school shooters, terrorists, criminals, and anyone looking to hurt the innocent...
Michael Cummings and Eric Cummings continue, now introducing questions of the colorline and race into Grossman's theory:
And people are afraid, so they take action. As a result, this simple analogy is undone by an even simpler (and older) one: the wolf in sheep’s clothing. After all, all humans basically look alike. Faced with this problem, how can you tell a wolf from a sheep?
The easiest way is race.  
Chris Kyle, when he went to Iraq, spent zero time distinguishing the sheep from the wolves: Every Iraqi was a wolf. Kyle called Muslims “savages,” and described the unofficial rules of engagement of the battlefield simply: “If you see anyone from about sixteen to sixty-five and they’re male, shoot ’em. Kill every male you see.” That doesn’t sound like someone protecting the sheep (innocent Iraqi males) from the wolves (the insurgents).  
Domestically, black Americans are the victims of this analogy. White Americans, in general, view threats through the lens of race.  
Studies show that many Americans believe black men are the most dangerous group in America. Experiments, using first-person shooter video games, have shown that unarmed black men are more likely to be shot than their white counterparts by police officers. In other words, some “sheepdogs” tend to reflexively identify black people as “wolves.” Is it a coincidence that black men are 21 times more likely to be shot by police? Or that America has seen a rash of unarmed (mostly black) Americans killed by armed civilians in recent years?
In addition, science is none too kind to Grossman's claims about human nature:
While Grossman does have a Ph.D. in psychology, his analogy has zero basis in science. Good and evil aren’t scientific phenomena. While some humans have inclinations toward aggression and violence, it is not a gene that some people have and others do not. Yet Grossman still teaches more than 300 seminars a year on the sheepdog analogy and “conditioning the mind.” Conditioning it for what? 
We live in the safest times in human history. True “random acts of violence” are incredibly rare in our society; terror events rarer still. But the sheepdog analogy wouldn’t exist if people weren’t afraid.
I would suggest that Grossman's theories of human nature and aggression are not "racist" in content.

However, in a society organized around white supremacy, and where negative and stereotypical images of non-whites are so dominant as to have primed white folks' (and others') subconscious minds for hostility, fear, and anxiety towards black people (and non-whites, more generally), the idea that analogies about threat, violence, and self-defense could be mapped onto existing racial animus is not at all surprising.

For those of you familiar with Grossman's work, what are your thoughts on this controversy? More generally, what are your thoughts on aggression, "human nature", violence, and "race"?

Maybe Dr. Grossman and Alonzo from Training Day got it right after all?


Dan Kasteray said...

Violence is an artificial construct. Humans at our core are not very violent. Otherwise there would be no reason to train soldiers or spend whole lifetimes indoctrinating the young to see others as non human. War itself only exists because it benefits the capitalist class; who invest their money in bullshit movies about sheep and wolves

Dan Kasteray said...

Could you kill me? I mean, could you kill me right now if I was right there with no training, prompting or guilt? Very few could. Even in king David's time when dismemberment and rape were legal in war, there were still rituals to help soldiers deal with PTSD and remorse.

In the first world war about fifteen percent of soldiers ever fired their weapons. In modern war like Iraq and Afghanistan the number is closer to 75 percent but the soldiers are also suffering historic highs of PTSD and other mental traumas.

Yes violence is a manmade thing. Humans are lousy at killing other humans. Even in the first world war places like england and France lost but one or two percent of their population. Modern tribal entities can wage wars that cost ten percent of a population.

And don't assume that because we're bad at violence means we are good.

I firmly reject the idea of human nature; that too is artificial. What we are is evolving and horribly designed from a biological and engineering perspective.

ladyfractal said...

To answer your question whether I could kill you the answer would have to be 'what are the circumstances'. If you are asking the (ludicrous) question of if I could walk up to you on the street and take your life for no good reason, the answer is no. Again, that does not mean that I am *entirely* incapable of violence merely that I would not use violence in that situation. However, there are situations that, without a doubt, I would use violence. Many many years ago, there was an older man I used to see on my walk to work everyday. We would stop, have a cigarette and a chat and then I'd go on my way. After a while he started saying "I'm gonna get me some of that (meaning he was going to have sex with me)" After him saying that two or three times and me saying "I have a girlfriend and I'm a lesbian" he replied "be all that as it may, I'm still gonna get me some that someday". At which point I told him that he had just threatened me with rape and that there was only two possible outcomes: either I would kill him where he stood if he tried to rape me or I would put him in a position where his only option was to kill me because if I was still capable of moving, I would be trying to kill him. He got upset, of course, but I didn't care. The last words I ever spoke to him (I changed routes to work) was 'dead men don't rape'. So if you were a rapist and you were coming for me or my wife, then yes, Dan, one of us would wind up a corpse. I would fight as if I didn't care which one that was as a way of trying to make certain that I was the one who survived.

As far as rejecting human nature, that really does contradict the idea that we are evolving. The only way we could *not* have a species-typical behavioral repertoire (and we do have one) would be if we were *not* evolved creatures. ALL human beings have a preference, on average, for their kin over strangers. ALL human beings have circles of moral concern with some people closer to the center of that circle, some closer to the periphery and some entirely on the wrong side of the circle entirely. ALL human societies have friendship. ALL human societies have something that looks like marriage. ALL human societies have something that look like families. ALL human societies have something that looks a lot like religion. ALL human societies have gender-based division of labor. ALL human societies have violence. In all human societies people make music. In all human societies people tell stories. In all human societies, people have a sense of fairness, a sense of cheating, a sense of guilt, a sense of shame. In NO human society do women not care who they mate with. In NO human society do parents care less for their own children, on average, than they do for the children of strangers. Again, on average, I'm sure you can find that family from your childhood where the parents were nice to every child in the neighborhood but their own. Outliers do not prove the rule is wrong.

And humans are not good at killing humans? Again, I have to beg to differ. I think that human beings are fantastically good at killing. What we have become better at is being restrained in our killing. There is an unbroken generational line going from my father to my son and including my sister and I of members my family serving in uniform during time of war. In fact, of the four of us, I'm the only one whose entire military service was in peacetime. The rules of engagement from my father's war (WW II) to my son's war (Afghanistan and Second Gulf War) are night and day. The indiscriminate bombing of open cities would never pass muster today but was entirely unexceptional 75 years ago. We are actually far less violent of a species now than we were even a century ago. I have to say that managing to kill roughly 10 million people a year every year between 1939 and 1945 doesn't strike me as the sign of a species that could be much better at violence.

kokanee said...

For those of you familiar with Grossman's work, what are your thoughts
on this controversy? More generally, what are your thoughts on
aggression, "human nature", violence, and "race"?

Grossman's unscientific work is exactly that — unscientific. Personally, I think it's nonsense. Can one really be a sheepdog - one who can hate the "Other" enemy but love his fellow citizens?

Human beings are capable of great altruism and of great evil —often simultaneously. Humans are complex. Think multiple sliding scales versus silly categories.

Can one be a racist and still be a decent human being?

CDV - I'm surprised that you didn't call out Tim Wise on that where he called a racist an (otherwise) decent human being with whom he had (or has) an ongoing email conversation.

Might makes right. We helped defeat the Nazis only to become some version of the Nazis. Of course, we changed the script a little bit (freedom and democracy) but America has been invading other countries, corrupting their governments and killing "Others" in the tens of millions. Why? To make the world a good place to do business.
Starting with the Cold War, and with the above interventions building
upon that, we have 70 years of American foreign policy, without which –
as Russian/American writer Andre Vltchek has observed – “almost all
Muslim countries, including Iran, Egypt and Indonesia, would now most
likely be socialist, under a group of very moderate and mostly secular
leaders”. Even the ultra-oppressive Saudi Arabia – without Washington’s protection – would probably be a very different place. —William Blum

It's imperative that the PTB (Powers That Be) perpetuate and normalize that violence back at home. The biggest threat to the MIL (Military Industrial Complex) is a bunch of pacifists. (Hat tip MLK.)

Violence begets violence:
But our glorious culture is capable of achievements greater by far than a
few hosts laughing about the deaths of less than a handful of people.
When it comes to nauseating spectacles that celebrate violence and
bloody death, we are always outdoing ourselves. Perhaps "celebrate"
isn't quite the right word in this context. "Consecrate" captures the
dynamic more accurately; truly, violence. especially gratuitous
violence, and bloody death, the bloodier the better, constitute our
civic religion these days. —
American Sniper, and the Murderers Hall of Infamy

chauncey devega said...

Maybe we are just naked apes. But given human history and our nearest relatives' behavior, as a species we are capable of great violence. Thankfully, we are also capable of great kindness too.

I was in a situation that long time friends and followers of WARN have heard about many times. It tested me, profoundly. I am glad that my life was put at risk in the way it was--in that time in a very direct way, and several others in an earlier time too.

I would have and was prepared to kill my adversary. I apparently told them as much as I chased them down the street according to my companion that night.

We all have it in us. The question becomes how and in what ways is it activated?

chauncey devega said...

Violence is very real. Nothing artificial about it. Maybe how a given society rationalized who and what groups can have violence visited upon them legitimately?

chauncey devega said...

Tough call. Business is business. Maybe my pro wrestling fandom roots?

But your point is a fair one.

Had you read Grossman's work before?

Dan Kasteray said...

We are apes, science proves this. But unlike the chimps we have the advantage of sentience, which right now seems to be as much of w curse as a blessing. Violence is taught, so is racism or any kind of ism. Genetics plays a factor and science is busy isolating those factors.

That violence is a thing to be activated is beyond question. But there would be a difference between me trying to harm your family and murdering a perfect stranger who did you no harm

SW said...

One issue I have with Grossman's sheep/sheepdog/wolf theory, is that this concept requires that each persons capacity for violence and/or empathy are pre-determined.

Pre-determination has the effect of precluding any other alternatives to killing wolves, like say...attempting to turn wolves into sheep through actions such as diplomacy or just general tolerance of others.

Instead we use the sheepdog concept to create a pathway for justifiable homicide on a large scale, that seems to exponentially create more wolves, and thus ultimately make the sheep less safe.

Killing wolves is a short-term solution that provides a false sense of security for sheep. It seems a better alternative for a greater level of safety and security, would be to tame the wolves, and/or create more sheep by perpetuating justice, empathy, or just generally not f*cking with other people and their countries.

balitwilight said...

I have spent time reading through online gathering places of a certain subspecies of American - let's just they hugely overlap the base of a certain political party. The belief that people in society are "wolves, sheep or sheepdog" is a catechism for this type of person. It is foundational morality to them because it combines two essential axioms of their mindset: Firstly, the "Charles Bronson/Wilding" view that civilization is just a thin veneer over society's natural savage state of constant danger and threat. Secondly, that some people are naturally Nietzscheian "Ubermensch" - the pure male of the Herrenvolk whose God-given role is a paternalistic one of protection and control (the Sheepdogs).

The connection that Chauncy shrewdly notes between this "wolf/sheep/sheepdog" construct and racism isn't accidental. Its axioms formed the "enlightened rationale" for Settler-Ethics and Racism. This is a sweet spot for American racism. Just spend 22 minutes watching the demented self-appointed sheepdogs of "Doomsday Preppers", and you will almost smell the racism and paranoia. It's also not an accident that the Nietzscheian expression of these beliefs was such a good fit to clothe the racist savagery of the Nazis in a velvet glove of pseudo-rationalism and counterfeit nobility.

This is also the connection to Kris Kyle. After all, what is he but "our" Nietzscheian Ubermensch, "our" sheepdog? I was glad to see Chauncey strip Kyle of his bloody Emperor's clothes. It's supremely ironic that Kyle called Iraqis "savages". Too many have tip-toed around the fact that Kyle is nothing but the embodiment of the savagery at the heart of America's mythologies. Kyle, who gleefully shot dead men, women and children who dared to resist an occupation of their own country. The people at Wounded Knee would have recognised Kyle's face, as should any "black" American who has felt his stomach knot at the sunglasses-stare of a "sheepdog" policeman.. who knows his "wolves" all too well.

naum said...

Read Grossman's *On Killing* some years ago -- a vet coworker who spent several tours in Iraq lent me his copy. I found it fascinating, and the parts on training soldiers to kill were especially on the mark. I haven't read his *Sheep, Wolves, and Sheepdogs*, but I don't see why his pronouncement that a small % of humans are not inherently averse to violence (a good bit of *On Killing* is devoted to how military evolved in how to train soldiers to lay aside natural aversion to killing, with psychological science a key ingredient in this training).

When Grossman veered into videogames and movie/TV violence, I think he becomes unmoored, but the content on the military seemed solid to me.

Gina said...

Personally, I think it's nonsense.As simple as that!
I recognized Grossman's theory as right-wing propaganda.You nailed it! He's so narrowminded, but makes a face as if he had found the ultimate enlightenment.

Gina said...

More generally, what are your thoughts on aggression, "human nature", violence, and "race"?

As to aggression, human nature & violence I can only answer with the following videos:

How to Prevent Violent Criminal Behavior in the Next Generation
Roots of Empathy

As to race, I can only say that humanity is scientifically seen only one race. I ask myself whether the English-German-USians make such a fuss about their whiteness because of overcompensation.

I think at th bottom of aggression, violence & discrimination there is frustration, envy, ...

kokanee said...

In Grossman's defense, just because we think his theory is nonsense doesn't make it so. But the onus is on Grossman back up his claims with some scientifically verifiable data.

Gina said...

I think one should do research before a proposition & not looking afterwards whether there's something around which might fit.

Veri1138 said...

It's a perspective that makes sense, if you choose to believe so. A simplification.

Sociopaths are sane. Yet, they kill with ease. Their morality on killing does not exist. To them, murder is normal behavior and they live in a world that they know, does not approve of their morality.

Most people have psychological barriers to killing a fellow human being. That is why we have to break you during Basic Training. Even then, people are naturally against killing a fellow human being.

Prior studies by Marshall, mentioned by Grossman, indicate that most soldiers do not shoot to kill. You have to condition a person through psychological conditioning through culture, training, etc.

Very few "wolves" are born. Most "Wolves" are made. From "Sheep". Some are "Sheepdogs" that both care about who the kill, however justified, and "Sheep". Most "Sheepdogs" are made. Very few are born.

The psychological and biological imperatives built-in to the human psyche, through our gift of intellect, against murdering or killing fellow human beings... can be over-ridden. Either by defect or intentionally.

Kind, decent people... are very well capable of killing. They just need the right buttons, pushed. Or, the right circumstances. Almost anyone can be a wolf.

As for the color-line. Cultural conditioning. It may even work both ways. Whites are taught that they are the top. Maybe, Black People are conditioned in some way... not to accept their place, but in behaviours that reinforce a White Racist's worldview. That would be interesting to study. Adaption of Roles in Society Based on Skin Color.

How do we subtly alter our behaviours in the presence of others of different skin color?

Grossman's work is crude. It merely indicates that many do not fire at, but around. By the very act of firing in the vicinity and direction of another... one displays the ability to at least consider the possibility of killing. It's just that their training and motivation is incomplete.

The psychological safeties are not fully disengaged. And even so, many will suffer from PTSD and other mental illnesses, afterwards. But they will have pulled the trigger on another human being.

The minor differentiation between a Wolf and a Sheepdog? Is it justified or not? Justifications vary.

Veri1138 said...

RW propaganda it is. Grossman uses stereotypes. Just as any RW neo-Nazi skinhead or racist would use.

to think about it, Grossman is justifying a wolf > sheepdog > sheep perspective in order to justify why some kill and others don't.

Even his terminology of the "wolf" is telling. It suggests a natural order.

Veri1138 said...


Personally, I prefer The Milgram Experiment. Coupled with the Stanford Prison Experiment, as a start to explaining violence and just how people can commit violence, or trained to.

And not some hare-brained scrap of sh*t-paper that relies upon simplified steroetypes that use the terminology of wolf > sheepdog > sheep, that suggests a natural order of superiority.

Veri1138 said...

When a lion takes down a gazelle, it is violent. Violence is not an artificial construct. It is a basic natural occurence in nature that happens untold amounts of time.

The difference being, that humans have evolved an intellect that is far above what is encountered elsewhere in nature. A level of self-awareness that is unprecedented. Thus, we can choose other means of obtaining what we need. Though, we still use slaughterhouses to get our meat.

The killing of anything, is a violent act. We think nothing of squashing an ant. We love our dogs and cats and feel remorse about having to put one to sleep. We hesitate when it comes to killing a human.

But violence is not un-natural. For humans, due to our self-awareness, it is avoidable and does not have to be. For the lion, its necessity. For humans, it does not have to be necessity.

Greed tells us otherwise, however. And when resources are restricted, among a large enough population... violence can escalate, predictably.

Veri1138 said...

Violence is not a man-made thing. For humans, it does not have to be a natural thing and for many, it isn't. Violence among the less self-aware animals on the planet is a very natural thing.

We simply have a choice. I could kill you. Go to bed that night. Get up on the morning, and eat my Cheerios. Then again, you would have had to justify, according to my own morality, to me that you deserved it. Don't worry. My morals are very highly developed. I'm just trained to over-ride my inherent safeties that come with the biology and psychology, much more effectively than most. Then again, I'm not so simple-minded as Chris Kyle as to be able to classify all Iraqis as savages. Just the Saudis ;)

Whereas, a sociopath would just kill you for the sheer entertainment value. And Dahmer would have feasted on you.

Veri1138 said...

Pretty much.

Except that violence, for most, is a thing to be activated.

Don't forget the physical structures, size, and orientations of neurons in the brain and the pathways.

Sociopaths, for instance, are shown to have deficits in some physical brain structures. Genetics will not be the only reason.

Environmental factors, pre-birth and post.

Look at that study of lead in gasoline and the corresponding reduction in violence in societies as leaded gasoline was phased out.

Epi-genetics. Physical damage to the body and brain during life.

Psychological damage.

We're talking a potentially unlimited number of events, during a person's lifetime, that can affect a person that can increase their capacity for violence.

The best we'll ever be able to do is to identify and minimize factors that lead to increased capacity for violence in a human being.

But never eliminate fully.

Spuddie said...

The speech was much better done by the South Park in "Team America". Comedians evidently have a better grip on reality than military folk.

Grossman's analogy is almost a complete copy of the "Assholes, Pussies and Dicks" speech.

What the South Park people got, but Grossman did not is:
"Dicks not only fuck assholes but fuck pussies as well."

The people we expect to protect us are also those who can be be our oppressors as well. There are a lot of assholes making life difficult, but there are a lot of dicks doing the same.

Spuddie said...

Trey Parker and Matt Stone called Grossman out on his bullshit without ever realizing it.

In their musing they noted the personality types of those likely yo be fighting "the bad guys" is also easily a nuisance to civil society as well. Of course they did it in entirely scatological terms.

The expression, "who watches the watchmen" did not come out of thin air. Unchecked authority easily turns something meant to protect us into something we need protection from. Without things such as the UCMJ, an a culture of prosecuting soldiers for even minor transgressions, our soldiers go from defending freedom, to tools of oppression.

ladyfractal said...

So the figures that Grossman quotes from Marshall (only 15 - 20% of soldiers fired their weapons in WW II) doesn't actually hold up under scrutiny. It appears that Marshall more or less pulled a number out of thin air and then Grossman quoted Marshall without actually bothering to do his homework. The thing is Grossman should have known because in Vietnam someone actually did the hard work and found that it was upward of 80 percent. This gets the question, why is it that 20 years after the end of WW II, soldiers were suddenly 4 to 5 times more likely to fire their weapon than their fathers were? What's more, if you know about the military structure that means that troops who were four to five times more likely to fire their weapons than their fathers were, were being led by senior non-coms and officers who and started their careers near the tail end of WW II. So why is it that senior sergeants, majors, colonels, etc. were unable to get the people in their commands to behave the way that Marshall and Grossman would have us believe they did?

This is one of those feel good myths that collapses under its own weight the minute bright light is shown on the subject.

Again, let me be clear, I don't *like* the argument I'm making but by profession I'm an engineer and by training I'm a biologist. I'm making my argument based upon the best available evidence. I don't want these things to be true about my species but they appear to *be* true.

chauncey devega said...

Grossman and others would say training, habituation, and better stimulus-response for shooting...the same model that is used to train police today with grim results. Great for the battlefield; horrible for our streets.

chauncey devega said...

What wonderful and detailed sharing. One of the reasons I love the kind folks who share so generously here on WARN.

The science of training and conditioning is so fascinating. On the ROE and mass violence of WW2 could that also be a function of the types of conflicts, technology, and doctrines used today?

If there was a conflict of the scale of WW2 do you not think that U.S. and other militaries would use similar violence in terms of mass casualties if needed? As you know much of terror bombing and mass bombing was a fx of technological limitations--medium and tactical bombing did much more to break the Germans than did other types of bombing attacks.

The institutional memory of the armed forces on the rates of fire of individual combat infantry is rich and complicated. What a job crunching that data...

I mentioned this research primer on lethality in an earlier post and it remains compelling:

This essay on how the actual experiences of infantry in Vietnam complicates the conclusion about percentage of shooters is also very interesting:

Marshall's data hangs over all of these discussions. Quite a life.

chauncey devega said...

You never met my 2 bearded dragons. Oh there was lots of thinking and cognition going on there. So smart and wise they were.

ladyfractal said...

I have always thoroughly enjoyed your blog, even when I have not always agreed with you and I have been blown away at the consistent quality of the commentary. I say this with absolutely no hyperbole that ths reminds me of USENET back in the early 1990s when the Internet was still largely students, academics and tech geeks. Back then there were trolls but I would routinely read some thread where every third post was well reasoned, well argued, with a tantalizing mixture of deep gnawing on ideas and tie-ins back to real life. I would read these posts and just wonder "who *are* these people?" I have not had that experience consistently in any kind of public forum since Clinton was POTUS. This kind of ver espectful, high-concept, deep thought exchange of ideas is what I loved about the Internet and which I had come to miss. Thank you!

I'm not a hat-wearing woman but if I were, I would tip it enthusiastically. Creating this kind of stable online dialog is hard work.

chauncey devega said...

How nice of you. No need to tip. Lots of ways to show love and support. We try our best here. WARN is only as good as the kind folks who share and comment.

This is a virtual bar and salon where all folks are welcome as long as they act right, don't spit on the floor, and ain't acting the fool.

As you know, one of the best choices I made here was going to Disqus and implementing a comment policy. Yes, it takes time to moderate and weed out troublesome sorts. But, it is very much worth it. I wish that sites with much more visibility--especially news commentary sites--would do the same. They won't because it is all about click throughs not content.

Again, thank you for the kind sentiments.

Gina said...

I have cousins who went to prison for serious felonies and it made less
of a ripple through my family as my coming out as a queer woman.That's so typical - lol. It's the consequence of the fact that child raising is mostly done by disciplining, indoctrination & authoritarian response to the child. The result is programmed adults to whom facts don't matter. Humans aren't bound by instinct, they are open & creative, & it is exactly this what is educated away. No instinct & all creativity & openness gone - BAM! Discrimination, ostracizing, maltreatment, abuse, ...

Gina said...

I just realized that race isn't synonym of species. But as all human races are in the first place humans, discrimination of a whole race is born out of some inner problems on behalf of the discriminating person.

My personal experience is that one meets everywhere people with whom one can connect or with whom one can't get along.

Courtney H. said...

Any thoughts about this?

SW said...

It's interesting that almost all of the callers who were veterans, thought American Sniper glorified war.

The thing that gets me about C-SPAN is that they let any ignoramus say anything without repercussion. There is zero push back by the moderator.

ladyfractal said...

To be clear (and fair) this was the very best part of 30 years ago and the strength of the freak out was proportional to the age of the relative in question. My parents and their cohort will are born before the onset of the Great Depression (mostly in the 1910s and early 1920s). They had the strongest freak out. As you move closer to the present the freak out became either less intense, less long lived or both. My sister is a Southern Baptist, did she embrace me when I came out? No. But when I spoke to her last Christmas and told her that my wife and I were getting married two days after she sincerely congratulated me and mentioned that I would be getting married 53 years to the day after my parents did.

Back in the early 1990s, I tried to get published in The Crisis an essay about how the black community needed to really face and do something about the virulent homophobia that was just the cultural air at the time. I was doing HIV education/outreach in Oakland--OAKLAND!--and would hardly get three sentences into my presentation before someone would say "that's that gay shit". From young people I know who work in public health, you can still encounter that but it is less virulent than it was.

Honestly, I have to say that I think that people were discriminating, ostracizing, mistreating and abusing others long before anyone ever thought of anything remotely like the public education system. The question isn't why are people so nasty to each other. The question is why are people so nice to one another!

ladyfractal said...

i have a question for those who don't believe race exists, what if you're wrong? What if it turned out that the genotypic clustering which leads to phenotypic differences which we call race actually did exist? What would be the consequences? Why does it matter that race not actually exist? To be clear I'm not asking what the consequences of racial prejudices are or what would happen if invidious stereotypes were true. I'm merely asking what would the consequences be if it turned out there was such a thing as race.

I ask because I find a good heuristic to use to test an idea is to play thought games with them. If race as social construct is an accurate description of the world we live in, then we know what the consequences are of that world are because we live with them. But if we can describe our world as one where race does not exist then it must be possible to describe one where race does exist because there presumably would be consequences which were unique to that world. If a world where race does not exist would be identical to a world where it does then why would race as social construct be the preferred description?

Saying race does not exist is to state a theory about how the world really works. If the theory works at all then it must be possible to destroy it and the theory itself should point the way toward its own destruction if only by allowing a description of a world with counter examples.

I've wanted to ask this question for a long time and this environment seems like one where I could get an answer to it.

ladyfractal said...

Oh Im not saying the bearded dragon does not think. I suspect that most complex animals are capable of something called thought. I just think it is a slider. I suspect chimps are close to our level of sentience and mostly lack the hardwiring for speech. It is possible some cephalopods, some dolphins and possibly some birds have levels of sentience in the same neighborhood we share with the chimps certainly and possibly the other great apes. But I certainly observe gradations of cognition in the various species we have in our home.

Dan Kasteray said...

I've done a lot of thinking and rewrote this post a lot of times. And maybe I'm wrong: violence among humans is natural. Anybody on this blog could be a killer(me included) and maybe I'm too optimistic about people.

But for the sake of optimism, I guess you can't change the world without realizing what a shit place it is

Courtney H. said...

I noticed that with the veterans, too.
I also agree with you about the callers. Sometimes when an ignoramus calls in, I turn the channel.

Gina said...

The question isn't why are people so nasty to each
other. The question is why are people so nice to one
another!When they are truely nice to one another,
they have both part of their brain working. But when empathy is
suffocated in early childhood, there is a need for revenge which is
alway acted out on weaker ones.

ladyfractal said...

That seems an awfully flippant answer. I'm familiar with Drama of the Gifted Child. I’ll say this, I think that Miller writes about a species that is not an evolved species. By that she assumes that evolution left absolutely no traces in human behavior.

By the way, how do you account for the fact that by any reasonable measure strong societies are phenomenally less violent than they were if the problem is what happens to people in childhood particularly what happens to them in public schools? Have you ever been to a cat burning or bear baiting? No? Neither have I but those used to be popular entertainments. What about ratting? Me neither, yet another popular entertainment. Ever seen anyone in a pillory or gibbet? I haven’t either.

Child rearing practices that were considered entirely unexceptional when I was a kid would now have my parents in a courtroom with a quickness! I think you assume a human baseline behavior much closer to what Rousseau describes but Rousseau got it very wrong.

Given how fantastically nasty people can be to one another, how is it that we are capable of living in very close proximity with genetic strangers and yet still manage to get on with them quite well most of the time. I'm willing to bet that unless this is a very oddly populated group, most people here have not been victim of a violent crime. Maybe everyone here might have been the victim of a minor property crime but I suspect that most people here have never had their house burgled. What's more I'm willing to bet no one here has killed someone under circumstances that would be considered murdered in a courtroom.

Buddy H said...

Whites who subscribe to race theories tend to literally think of it as a race. White race, Asian Race, and then the all-encompassing Black race. They see it as an olympic event, with the starting position being animals, and the finish line being godlike. They see whites ahead in the race, with the asians close behind, and blacks shuffling around the starting gate. I've seen racists talking about brain size, bone density, stuff like that, trying to prove people of color are primitive, dangerous brutes. Their race theories are a comfort to them. They call anyone who doesn't look like them "non-white" even though they are in the global minority.

In a world with no race, they'd have to admit we're all the same family, with some of us living (or having ancestors) closer to the equator than others.

ladyfractal said...

Buddy, while I appreciate your responding at all, you didn't actually answer my question. You actually answered the question I specifically said I wasn't asking namely, what the consequences of racial prejudice would be. I'm asking what would it mean if races actually exist. Are you then saying that if race *does* exist, then the racists who talk about brain size, etc, might have a point and the only way for them to be wrong is for race to not exist? It sounds like that is what you are saying and if that is the case, then I must ask why you think that is the case.

Now, I'm not white but I do believe in what you would probably call 'race theory'. I'm black by which I mean that I have a genotype that causes me to have certain phenotypic characteristics along the lines of skin color, hair texture, etc. which mark me as having relatively recent ancestry coming from sub-Saharan Africa. By relatively recent here I mean within the last half-millenia or so. You will notice that nowhere in my 'race theory' is there anything remotely resembling an Olympic event or any kind of competition. It is a purely population genetics description.

So, again, what would the consequences be if race *existed*? I think trying to pretend that there are not genotypic clusterings that lead to phenotypic clusters is like pretending that there are no differences in height and everyone is a uniform, say, 5'6". We could say that height doesn't exist and is merely a social construct but do you think that the average person actually beleives that to be the case? Why is it that in order for racism to be wrong (irrational, whatever) race itself must not exist instead of racism being wrong because it violates some principle which has a prior commitment upon our intellectual and ethical loyalties? It seems to me that race can have an actual biologically useful definition as a description of clusters of genes that, until recently, had low frequencies of out-mixing beyond a very limited range, without having to bring along all this baggage that you are talking about.

If race is truly a social construct--meaning that the gene clusterings are entirely arbitrary and therefore randomly distributed--why is it that no matter how many children Sven and Olga have, be that one or ten, they are fantastically unlikely to give birth to a child that has a close phenotypic resemblance to, say, Denzel Washington, Yaphet Kotto or Idris Elba? If genes for higher levels of melanin, just to take one simple example, didn't cluster by geography but were randomly distributed throughout human populations why is it that the case? Or let's say that Sven marries the daughter of, say, Angela Bassett. Why is it stunningly unlikely that they will have a daughter with blue or green eyes, red hair or, for that matter, prominent epicanthic folds? Again, if these genes were randomly distributed through the entire human population should it not be the case that we should see no or very little clustering among geographically stable populations? (In other words, the people who *stayed* wherever their ancestral populations came from.)

danny j said...

I'm sure you've heard this before: "Race" is a social construct, and not a biological reality. Populations ARE biological realities, though even those have almost always blended from one to the next.

A widely used definition of a species is a group of individuals which CAN interbreed and produce viable offspring.

In biology, a population is a group of individuals that actually DO interbreed. So, while the Polynesians of 1,000 years ago were the same species as the West Africans, they did not in fact mate with one another, and so were a different population.

But what "race" were Polynesians? And what specific traits separated them from, say the Ainu of Japan?

Various barriers to interbreeding permitted the evolution of the variations we see in populations, but almost no barrier has ever been impermeable. And, none of the definitions of “race” societies have invented ever clade properly into existing biological populations.

For instance, there is more genetic variation among sub-Saharan African populations than between some of them and some Asian or European populations.

That is, within Sub-Saharan Africa are populations that include amongst the tallest and the shortest of all human groups. Skin reflectivity (“color”) varies enormously, as do facial features. Only by subjectively focusing on a small subset of traits are some people able to rationalize lumping them all into one "race." But even that fails as distant populations like the Malaysians, Papuans or Indians share those same traits, yet are more distantly related to Africans than are Europeans!

In the "New World,' race seems somewhat obvious, but only when we compare certain European-Americans and certain African-Americans. (And of course, we know those have never been truly separate biological populations here, but the "one drop" laws kept them distinct "races").

But part of the reason that "race" seems more cut and tried here is because most European-Americans' ancestors came from Western Europe and most African-Americans' ancestors came from West/Central Africa. That is, they came from two rather homogenous biological populations that vary from one another relatively greatly.

Sorry if I went overboard on this. Anthropology was my field for years, and I get rather excited about it.

Gina said...

Thx a lot for the insightful reply!
But part of the reason that "race" seems more cut and tried here is
because most European-Americans' ancestors came from Western Europe and
most African-Americans' ancestors came from West/Central Africa. That
is, they came from two rather homogenous biological populations that
vary from one another relatively greatly. This explains a lot.

I think the terms white & black are very stupid, because South East Asians are sometimes really deep black, & the Slavic are also white, but have nothing to do with white supremacy.
"Race" is a social construct, and not a biological reality.

danny j said...

I'm glad you found my wordy comment worthy.

Yes, "race" is one of the longest-lasting devices in the "divide and rule" strategy. Here in the States, I like to trace it back to Bacon's Rebellion in 1676. That was a rebellion by poor white laborers and slaves against the planters. When the rebellion was crushed, some of the whites were given small pieces of land to farm, and the slaves were either hung or returned to their "masters."

That was the point at which poor white laborers were first taught to be "grateful" for their lower class status because they were "better" or at least better-off than blacks.

I read a "slave narrative" years ago in which the slave described how he'd been rented out to work on the docks (I think it was in Baltimore). You may know it was not uncommon for planters to lease out "their" slaves during the slow season.

Well, the narrator said they were unloading barges full of huge sacks of grain, and he noticed that they had only slaves on the barges tossing the heavy sacks down to only Irish workers on the docks. So, he asked the overseer why that was.

The response was that "The docks are too dangerous and Slaves are too valuable. If a slave gets injured or killed, we have to pay the 'owner' for the damaged 'property.' But if an Irishman gets killed, we just hire another Irishman."

Again, that was a way to use "race" to create animosity so as to divide and rule over the working poor.

When I read that, lightbulbs flashed all over my brain because I'd long noticed that many of my Irish relatives were very racist. I could never understand that since the English had subjugated the Irish for hundreds of years, so why would they not see echoes of their own plight in the blacks? Well, that sort of thing explains the genesis of Irish racism.

Well, there I go running on again. ;-)

Peace and Love, Gina.

kokanee said...

It's probably a little late for anyone to see this but the Stanford Prison Experiment is a chilling tale:

The Milgram Experiment is good too! Or bad...

kokanee said...

The expression, "who watches the watchmen" did not come out of thin air.
Unchecked authority easily turns something meant to protect us into
something we need protection from. Without things such as the UCMJ, an a
culture of prosecuting soldiers for even minor transgressions, our
soldiers go from defending freedom, to tools of oppression.

Excellent comment and absolutely true. Power corrupts.

Gina said...

Peace and Love, Danny!

Understanding is a precondition. Frustration or envy seem to be the unconscious motive for all injustices & cruelty. The Irish were also discriminated against in Australia.
Ned Kelly's Jerilderie letter:

There is a film Ned Kelly with Mick Jagger. The Australians have rejected this film, because Mick Jagger isn't Australian, but the film is available on DVD. This is what is left on YouTube:

Here's something for the anthropologist:

As to envy I think Ida B. Wells' observation is very revealing:
Maybe we should mention the interim of Reconstruction, because right after the Civil War the situation was improving in terms of political power of Blacks. And what Ida B. Wells reveals then—in contrast to the understanding of most people, including Black people, including Douglass—what she reveals is that it is in reaction to the very success of Black people, their rising on the social ladder, their becoming respectable, learned, and a political power, too, that terrorism [against them] sets in.

danny j said...

Thanks! Great recommendations (again).

chauncey devega said...

Insightful and welcome comment and teaching there. Prescient really. Thank you.