The Wrath of the Righteous

I had a nice little list, today. Things worth bringing to the attention of my occasional lectors. I was going to write about how England won something. At cricket no, less. I was going to mention how Neil Amstrong wants us to go to Mars, and how strongly I agree: and how South Africa has finally redeemed itself after Thabo Mbeki by developing a potentially viable AIDS vaccine. But then I checked up on what the Angry Black Woman said today and now, I’m angry too.

In truth, I am not angry. I am enraged. Which proves I should heed Nojojo’s advice better in future, and not read the comment threads on articles about race in America.

I know that the US is more racist than Britain; it’s the pay-off for being massively less xenophobic. The American culture is built on unrestrained migration, for all that modern rich people like to deny it. Britain, on the other hand, always went to other places, but we also banned slavery over two hundred years ago and didn’t need to fight a war to do it. The British got out of habit of thinking like emperors sixty years ago, and the Americans only learned to think that way at around the same time. But: and I say this with ire and fury, that’s still no excuse for this shit.

So, it looks as though the police in Cambridge, MA have arrested a man for being black. Film @11, you might say. Unfortunately for the Cambridge PD, the black man is also a nationally known civil rights philosopher, literary analyst and speaker. Ok; so, when we know more, we will probably find that the Cambridge PD are harbouring racist street cops (which will come as no surprise to anyone) and will hopefully provide yet another in a long line of expensive humiliations for institutional racism. And yes, I’m pretty angry about this; we don’t know details yet but it looks fairly clear that the guy was arrested for being black and having dignity in his own home.

But what left me livid was things like this:

How many times can someone “cry wolf” until those cries land on deaf, uninterested ears? Besides, a white professor never would have locked himself out of his own house to begin with.

Because he is who he is, he could not or would not control himself and was arrested.

Enough of throwing down the race card … we have a Black President now, so that tired old ship has sailed.

It’s worth noting in a little more detail what we’re talking about, here. This is a 60-yr-old university professor who is having trouble unlocking his front door, which had become jammed, at lunchtime. Yes, this is broad daylight. Police arrived “investigating a possible burglary”. He identified himself appropriately, including evidence that he lived at the address. The police then booked him for disorderly conduct, cuffed him and dragged him to the nick.

So; presumably, someone saw a black guy fiddling with a lock and called the cops. Someone so blind and stupid that they didn’t recognise a guy who lives on their street as entering his own home. Or possibly, just someone who wanted to get a black guy arrested, because he lived on their street.

There is no language which can properly express how racism makes me feel. I grew up in real slave country: in a country where black men stole black men and women and sold them to the white man. A country under imperial domination for a hundred and fifty years and through three wars. I was an ethnic minority for the first 16 years of my life. I was put in a cell for not speaking the language once: I was 12 years old. I have been the target of a race riot for being white in the wrong place at the wrong time. And neither of these things happened in Ghana.

The people of the 69 tribes in my home country were subject peoples, to each other or to white men, for over 700 years. If anyone has cause to hate the white man it is the tribes of northern Ghana: they and other West Africans like them are the core of the New World slave population. And yet they do not hate. Ghanaians, over there or over here, have always treated me and mine with respect, with humour, and with dignity. They will open arms and homes, hearths and hearts to anyone who deals honestly by them. They are not racists; but we are. And I am not proud of my skin today.

Today, I am a white man shamed by contagion. Today I am a young man disgusted by the corruption of the old men’s order. Today I am a thinking man left thoughtless by the hate of others, whose skin looks like mine but whose hearts are hollow. And today, I have done with speaking the language of calm.

I have been trained by a Western political tradition which says that emotion negates rationality. That if one feels strongly one must hide it behind bastions of balanced view and formal language, or be ignored. To which I say, enough. Emotion is power; reason is but purpose. I am enraged and I will not hide the flame of wrath in the bushel of intellect. If more white people got angry at the abuses their fellows perpetrate, we would live in a richer world. If more Britons got angry at our government’s complacent arrogance, we’d have a republic by now. If more men got angry at wife-beaters, we’d see less battered women.

It is not up to the oppressed to heal the world. That is the task of those with power; which means the rich, the white, and the male. We’re fucking it up, guys. This is not good enough!

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38 Comments

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38 responses to “The Wrath of the Righteous

  1. I hadn’t even heard about this incident until you mentioned it; it hasn’t got much press in the UK. If nothing else, thankyou for introducing me to Professor Gates and his work, because I hadn’t actually heard of him before, following this story led me to some really interesting essays.

    If you haven’t already seen it, Kate Harding’s response is spot-on as usual.

    • johnqpublican

      Thank you. It is noteworthy that charges against Gates have been dropped already.

  2. Wonderful post. You do this rhetoric thing bloody well.

    • johnqpublican

      Thank you. I will admit to deliberately borrowing the cadence and idiom of Soul preachers for this piece. It seemed appropriate and I kind of grew up with it.

  3. Mark

    Yaaa… that cop seemed like a good guy and the professor seemed like a bit of a wanker to me. But who knows eh…

    • johnqpublican

      Your call; you’re wrong (read this to find out how wrong), but that’s your prerogative.

      However, you are also batting in a one-strike ball game; this comment is very easy to read as a deliberate reinforcement of embedded racist sentiment in our society. Racism,sexism, OTWism, pick an ism; commenters get one doubt in their benefit. This was your one strike. Imply you support societal racism again, get banned. As above, your call.

      • Mark

        Wow… that wasn`t what I meant at all. I`m certainly not of the Booker T Washington school – if the government discriminates against you then protest really is the only way to make a difference. Working within the system will only serve to legitimise it. It also isn`t the case that racism would be in any way advantageous for me personally (or rather not possible for me to imagine that it might be advantageous) – several of my nearest and dearest are non-white and I`m a racial minority in my current locale.
        I do think that there is a difference between racism backed by violence or the threat of violence (as would be the case if the police or government were racist) and opinions held by private individuals . One mans idiocy doesn`t bother me as long as he has no power to impose it upon me.
        Anyway, what I was saying here is that if (if – I don`t know what actually happened) an academic uses his supposedly respectable position as a means to abuse others (“your mamma” etc.) then not only is it hard to be sympathetic towards him but the overreaction of the officer becomes understandable (if not excusable).

        A bit like our exchange above, really.

        • johnqpublican

          I do think that there is a difference between racism backed by violence or the threat of violence (as would be the case if the police or government were racist) and opinions held by private individuals

          Which is a reasonable opinion.

          One mans idiocy doesn`t bother me as long as he has no power to impose it upon me.

          And where we philosophically part company is right here. See, one man’s idiocy which he cannot impose on me is still going to piss me off if he’s got the power to impose it on other people. I do not have to be black in America to know that the Cambridge PD have the power to fuck with the life of one of their residents should they choose to do so. It’s obvious, they’re the cops. They chose to fuck with a black man who was not touching a forelock to the white man with a badge. That’s racial prejudice backed up by power. And it matters to me even if I am not a victim of it.

          then not only is it hard to be sympathetic towards him but the overreaction of the officer becomes understandable (if not excusable).

          You clearly haven’t read the analysis I linked you to. Your argument might work if Professor Gates had been shouting at a cop in the street. He wasn’t. He was trying to get hte badge number of a cop who had just treated him like a ghetto kid in his own home. The Sergeant, obliged by law to tender the badge number, refused to do so indoors (why?) and as soon as Gates, by now understandably irate, was outside the cop arrested him. It was a set-up.

          • Mark

            “See, one man’s idiocy which he cannot impose on me is still going to piss me off if he’s got the power to impose it on other people. ”

            Completely agree… by “me” I meant “everyone”.

            • johnqpublican

              Then your comment is irrelevant; white people (in America, in Britain) are able to impose their will on black people. White people are richer, white people are less likely to be stopped by the Police, white people are charged with “breach of the peace” for … compiling an explosive arsenal and promising to kill a Muslim per week.

              White people are able to assume that “the norm” == them. 90% of the time, in Western society, the apparatus of society and of the law will support them.

              • Mark

                “White people (in America, in Britain) are able to impose their will on black people.”

                Hmmmm… rich people certainly have a greater degree of influence in society than poor – but if this influence is largely based upon previously acrued good will, then I have a hard time finding it offensive. As such I`d say our current system is one of the better means of distributing power. Yes – as humans our relations must at some stage be based upon threat of violence, but I certainly don`t feel that that the rich man in Britain fucking around with property laws or such like is an example of racism, whereas a (theoretical) gang of young black men going out to beat up a chinese would be – no matter their position in society.
                However, given that there is no caste system within our society and a rich indian man (they`re richer than whites on average) would be able to “impose his will” on me (by giving me money to do a job?), i`m not really too sure what you`re getting at.
                The averages really aren`t relevant unless you`re a very lazy thinker.

                • johnqpublican

                  but if this influence is largely based upon previously acrued good will, then I have a hard time finding it offensive

                  It isn’t. It’s based on private law (privilege): we went through this in the Great Machine bunfight.

                  whereas a (theoretical) gang of young black men going out to beat up a chinese would be – no matter their position in society.

                  Nope. This is kindergarten thinking, Mark.

                  The query isn’t position in society, it’s geographical location. If said group of young men are in Britain, then they are displaying racial prejudice (and it should be pointed out that the direction of prejudice is much more likely to be the other way around) because neither ethnic group possess systemic power. White people have that, here.

                  If the incident happened in Sichuan, then the black group would also not be being racist (the Chinese “race” have the systemic power, there). If it was happening in Lagos, Nigeria, then maybe.

                  Your wittering about caste systems makes it clear you did not in fact read the definitions I am using.

                  Racism is not just prejudice + power; it’s racial prejudice plus privileged, or you might say systemic, power. That’s why I provided the slightly more complete definition than the typical prejudice + power argument; because it prevents people like you from throwing up straw men like this. However, if you don’t read it, I guess that work went for nothing.

  4. Mark

    OK… just checked out your definitions.
    You say that racism requires a combination of predjudice and power and that this means it is impossible for black people to be racist against whites (in north America)
    Are you seriously suggesting that in the modern world black people have no power of any kind?

    Hmmmmm…. rather flies in the face of the nightly news doesn`t it?

    I`d also say that even in the past when black people didn`t have power within national institutions, if their racial predjudice was combined with violence, it would have to be taken every bit as seriously as white racism of the same kind.
    Because violence is a form of power, no matter where you stand in the social hierachy.

    • johnqpublican

      Are you seriously suggesting that in the modern world black people have no power of any kind?

      You are familiar with the concept of analytical classes, yes? Class a (white people in America) compared to class B (black people in America): which has more power, measured as economic or class-based power, educational opportunity, ownership (of corporations, of capital) and domination of both houses of Congress and virtually the whole Judiciary? Oh, and the Armed Forces? What do you call a country where their reaction to a moderate man of mixed race winning the White House is to fabricate conspiracy theories claiming he’s ineligible?

      More to the point; as incidents like the arrest of Professor Gates prove, being black in America can get you arrested for breaking no law. How much power do people of colour in America really have?

      if their racial predjudice was combined with violence, it would have to be taken every bit as seriously as white racism of the same kind.

      Your criminal/terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. Welcome to the real world.

      More philosophically, your attempted argument founders on the “racial prejudice” clause. Black slaves committing violence against their white … er, slave-owners were not racially prejudiced. They had seen and judged the case on its own evidence and merit.

      Before you tilt at windmills: I am not saying that (for example) the Meerut Massacre or the excesses of the Haitian revolution were “ok”. Murdering children is murdering children. Cause does not need to be considered in assessing such acts.

      • Mark

        Yaa… whats the justification for comparing white people with black people rather than looking at individuals?
        The american reaction to everything is to make a conspiracy theory… we`ve got conspiracy theories about micheal Jackson, Elvis, Princess Diana, (the election of George Bush!) just about every signifigant event of the last hundred years – it`s not significant.

        “Your criminal/terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. Welcome to the real world.”

        No idea what your point is here.

        “Black slaves committing violence against their white … er, slave-owners were not racially prejudiced. They had seen and judged the case on its own evidence and merit.”
        Um.. but slavery doesn`t exist anymore in North America or Europe. (Even if you think it does it applies equally to white people and ownership isn`t neccesarily based upon race.)

        • johnqpublican

          Yaa… whats the justification for comparing white people with black people rather than looking at individuals?

          The fact that the people who make the laws do it. They (see Hillary Clinton’s infamous “Who are your base?” “Honest, Hardworking White Americans!” quote) see America in those terms.

          More to the point; we are talking about analysis. And you’re at it again.

          White people as a class include some poor people in America. People of Colour, as about four different classes at least, also include some rich people.

          The number of rich people in class A is 99% of those in the top 25% of American society. The number of poor people in Classes B-E account for about 75% of those below the poverty line in America. That’s why you talk about classes of people; because it allows you to see that America is systemically racist, and that the system is now upheld not by the law, white sheets and strange fruit but by stereotyping in media, by intersectional discrimination and by the Great Machine. When the white people have all the money and your society is capitalist, the white people have all the power.

          Um.. but slavery doesn`t exist anymore in North America or Europe.

          Bzzzzt! You are deliberately corrupting my words. Here’s the original context. You said:

          I`d also say that even in the past when black people didn`t have power within national institutions, if their racial predjudice was combined with violence, it would have to be taken every bit as seriously as white racism

          You are explicitly referring to the situation of black people not having power in national institutions. I.e. slavery, apartheid and Jim Crow. I answered in those terms. Slavery did exist then. QED.

          Another note; I will not continue to engage politely with someone trying to tell me that racism does not exist in White industrial plutocracy. Continue to try and argue that factually inaccurate case and you, yourself, become a racist fellow traveller. At which point, I stop talking to you.

  5. Mark

    http://uk.reuters.com/article/idUKTRE51B34S20090212

    Given that south asian people are more likely to own corner shops, is it impossible for white people to sell milk?
    Or given that black people are far more likely to make successfull track and field athletes – chinese athletes don`t exist?

    • johnqpublican

      That makes no sense. Or is this back to yet again the thing where you genuinely and honestly don’t believe in the concept of “starting conditions”? Or suggesting that you’re really so stupid that you think physical aptitudes for sprinting provide a good analogue for white, Christian, prejudice and slave-holding?

      Your analogies are meaningless, and you’re more than bright enough to know it. You’re not a total idiot; you know that, among many other pieces of evidence, the Birther movement indicate systemic racism in America. You’ve already had your one strike. Please don’t be a dick on my journal.

    • johnqpublican

      Also, how does a link about the Bishop Blake case inform a discussion of racism? I commented on the case at the time, though not here, as an instance of both nannyism in our culture and police bias (said Bishop wasn’t a “proper Bishop”, i.e. Anglican or Catholic). It has nothing to do with corner-shop proprietors or African sprinters.

      In fact, if I didn’t know better I’d say it was a blatant attempt at derailing.

  6. Mark

    In the modern western world the privelege that the average white person possesses is familial, cultural and associative rather than legal.
    Precisely because a white person has no special legal advantage on the basis of their race, it is entirely possible for an individual white person to be less priveleged and powerful than an individual from an ethnic minority, even if an analysis of the averages tells a different story.
    Your definition doesn`t state that racism is systematic, simply based upon individual privilege. (If you are stating that racism must be systematic then it is unlikely that the Gates case would qualify.) If we are dealing with individual prejudices within what is mainly a non-racist legal framework, why shouldn`t the privilege of a non-white racist be taken into account.
    Probably because it`s exceptionally difficult to account for privelege on an individual level – but just because it`s exceptionally difficult to account for the advantages or disadvantages that any individual might have had, doesn`t mean that we can sensibly claim the predjudice of all members of one race is in a different class to that of all members of another.
    And yes – the cultural and familial disadvantage that black people may possess is a direct result of racist laws and slavery, but the success of other minority groups who didn`t suffer the same level of cultural destruction suggests that it is possible for non-whites to succeed under the current system. That the law is not presently racist.
    We may well owe the under-priveleged – but we certainly don`t owe the priveleged member of an ethnic minority a seperate definition for his prejudice.

    Those analogies aren`t meaningless – unless you are suggesting that we have a systematic set of racist laws which favour White people, we are dealing with individual racism here. As such, even if 99% of rich people are white, there is no good reason to have a seperate definition for the other 1% or ignore their existence.

    The point about the Bishop Blake thing was that the police can arrest innocent people (even professionals) without there being any racism present. It`s impossible to tell if he is a racist or not – he may well be. Equally, he may have just been having a bad day and been shouted at by an irate college professor.

    Fair enough with the context thing – my bad.

    • johnqpublican

      In the modern western world the privelege that the average white person possesses is familial, cultural and associative rather than legal.
      Precisely because a white person has no special legal advantage on the basis of their race, it is entirely possible for an individual white person to be less priveleged and powerful than an individual from an ethnic minority, even if an analysis of the averages tells a different story.

      Not strictly true; it just means that a person who is privileged by class may be white or not (class == money plus education, at its simplest level), no matter how rich a black person gets in America, or Britain, they are still victims of racism. For practical evidence, look at the behaviour of white racist football fans towards black Premiership players. Also, learn about what ‘intersectionality’ means.

      Your definition doesn`t state that racism is systematic, simply based upon individual privilege. (If you are stating that racism must be systematic then it is unlikely that the Gates case would qualify.

      Bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzt!

      My definition states that ‘privileged power’ is required. In the nations where the laws are written and enforced by white people, where “normal” is defined by culture as looking white, where the white people’s religion is so dominant that they’re attacking their mixed-race President for being the wrong religion (which he isn’t), where the white ethnic group has all the money and a history of hanging black men for looking at white women funny, white people as a group have privileged power.

      The Gates case is precisely an illustration of how racism in America is systemic (not systematic, in most states), but no longer legally protected. Gates was arrested for the familiar African-American crime of “contempt of cop”: a cop was being a racist at him and he had the gall to object, so the guy hauled him away knowing that Gates was simply another uppity black boy and that the cop, as a white man, was right. That’s systemic racism. It’s systematic racism that the cop in question is still a serving officer and hasn’t in turn been arrested and tried for wrongful imprisonment.

      If we are dealing with individual prejudices within what is mainly a non-racist legal framework, why shouldn`t the privilege of a non-white racist be taken into account.

      Because we aren’t dealing with individual prejudices. I would never inflict you on some of the sources I use to educate myself about the experiences of People of Colour in the real world. They don’t deserve that happening to them, but I will try one more time. We are not talking about individual prejudices within what is a mainly non-racist legal framework. We are dealing with the prejudices and embedded (that means “pre-existing”: again with your blind-spot about starting conditions) privilege of a class of humans (people of northern European origin) over another class (people who aren’t) within Britain and the USA.

      A ‘mainly non-racist’ law code is one which is still racist in some parts. Thank you for shooting yourself in the dick there.

      And your analogies are meaningless because you are wriggling, you are derailing, you are trying to pretend that your original comment wasn’t in support of a racist cop. Racism is not a special word for one ethnic group’s struggle. Racism is a concept which needed to be defined by those who suffer it rather than those who impose it. White people don’t see racism; this is the single most frequently repeated information in PoC politics. White people don’t see racism because it isn’t happening to them. In the same way as intelligent, well-educated middle-class men genuinely think sexism doesn’t happen any more, even when they’re doing it, because, well, we’ve had feminists for ages, haven’t we?

      You will not get anywhere trying to redefine prejudice here. Nor will you get anywhere trying to argue a case that even the Cambridge PD are not trying to defend. You are pissing me off by trying to claim that racism in the West doesn’t exist; I’m better placed than most whites to spot it because I grew up in West Africa and that’s a place where people can be racist against white people. You will notice that I embedded that information in the article, but I’m starting to think you don’t actually read what I say all the way through.

      It seems I don’t have the instincts for running a one strike ball game; you have crossed the line again in this defense of racism and its rhetorical tactics. Please, please don’t do it again.

  7. Mark

    “Racism is a concept which needed to be defined by those who suffer it rather than those who impose it.”

    Well, if you`re black I guess I`ll have to bow to your superior wisdom.
    Otherwise, perhaps we need an ethnic minority adjudicator?

    But yes, maybe you`re right and racism is more widespread than I realise. I`ll try to keep an open mind.

    • johnqpublican

      Thank you.

      I am, of course, not black; my definition of racism that I had evolved on my own was “racial prejudice”. I became aware of the reasons why this definition is insufficient when I became aware of how many bigots hide their attitudes behind accusations of “reverse racism”. To begin with I thought it was just Bible Belt Republicans, and no-one really listens to them; then I discovered that a) there’s 30 million of them, b) they have a lot of money and several cable channels, c) Lots of people do listen to them, enough to put an incompetent alcoholic in the White House, and d) it’s not just them who think that way.

      My definition was formed from the scholarship of the early civil rights movement. I needed to know what had been written on the subject since, because that was 40 years ago; the definition I am using is the one I found current in identity and civil rights scholarship.

      If you really do want to get educated on post-slavery racism in America, which is where most of the scholarship is getting done, I would recommend reading the back archives of ABW, particularly the entries and comment threads in the category “Things You Need to Know”. The more comprehensive argument for the definition I’m using of ‘racism’ is summarised there. I think it’s #1.

      British racism is different in history and in kind (as I mentioned in the post). The two main differences are that slavery was a remote trade, rather than a lifestyle, for the British and the issue of the indigene. We have had more than our fair share of straight-forward, white-is-might racists here but once the Enlightenment got past eugenics they’ve gained no political or social traction. Most of our racism has been inextricably linked with a xenophobia which is not racist; the people in my bar are just as likely to swear about Poles as they are about North Africans.

      In America, no-one except the First Peoples is indigenous. White people dominate because of financial power, violence, an imperial religion and religiously-inspired racism. Also, somewhere between 30 and 50% of the population are of colour. In Britain, using a definition of ‘indigenous’ which accepts the Angle, Jute, Saxon and Norman invasions as being long enough ago to count, 90% of the country is indigenous and only 7% of it is not white. We’re a crowded island and North America is a very big continent divided between only three countries; as a result, the history of racism here in some ways looks more like Japan than it does like America.

      Racism was a fact of life across Europe in the early modern period, it was causally related to Protestant Imperialism. By the time the Windrush men entered Britain, it was morphing into a new form, and the xenophobic (rather than purely racist) aspects can be seen in the shape of our apartheid. No Blacks, No Irish, No Travellers; this is racist, no doubt, but it’s also intrinsically xenophobic.

      By the time we get to the modern day, the percentage of Britain that is actively racist is quite small, and the percentage which embodies racist attitudes simply because those attitudes have not been challenged is probably less than 75%, which is good. But that is also bad, because if you could get the British to stop being xenophobes, I suspect a healthy chunk of the racism would disappear as well.

  8. Mark

    To change the subject, whats your opinion of other forms of discrimination – such as discrimination against the ugly?
    I have a hard time with the idea of attacking privilege and increasing equality because it seems to me that the definitions of what constitute a privilege are too narrow, and that greater monetary equality won`t in any way lead to an equality of life outcome.

    • johnqpublican

      To change the subject, whats your opinion of other forms of discrimination – such as discrimination against the ugly?

      Hmm. Interesting question.

      I do not know of any institutional prejudices against ugly people which are clearly definable (in the ways that race and sex discrimination are) because the definition of ‘ugly’ is quite so spectacularly subjective. The general run of my society identifies as beautiful women I think look ill, and as such, unattractive. The society I grew up in identified the precise opposite as beautiful; big, physically padded, very dark women with large bottoms as opposed to stick-thin, breastless, blonde women.

      I think the closest political discrimmination to ‘the ugly oppressed’ which can be clearly drawn is ableism. One could argue that, for example, cleft palette operation which caused people to treat you funny (because you look odd) is a form of ablist prejudice.

      I have a hard time with the idea of attacking privilege and increasing equality because it seems to me that the definitions of what constitute a privilege are too narrow, and that greater monetary equality won`t in any way lead to an equality of life outcome.

      Which is what “equality of opportunity” is about. You’re also entirely right about money; just re-distributing income will do damn all. We have to redistribute wealth, i.e. centuries-worth of accumulations, and bloody stupid land ownership systems, to have any real effect that will make us richer as a species (as opposed to making less than 5% of us richer by comparison with the rest of their species).

      Life outcome cannot be guaranteed. But the underlying wish of liberals is to see the differences in life outcome determined as far as possible by the individual; that means that I, the village kid in North Korea and the child of a future Warren Buffet need to all get the same education quality and availability (for free), the same opportunities to get capital on even terms, the same opportunities to get access to law making (so no lobbying or “legal” bribery such as there is today).

      No capital inheritance, either; until every person is succeeding or failing on their own merit, rather than abusing the merits of their ancestors, we aren’t even modeling meritocracy, let alone living in one.

      • Mark

        My A-Level physics teacher was a great bloke – always doing interesting shit like throwing water balloons at people and electrocuting himself for the entertainment of his students. We’d ask him about aliens and the pyramids and he’d give us a lesson about it. We’d have philosophical discussions about the likelihood of the matrix being real. Unfortunately, this interesting stuff wasn’t on the curriculum, so when it came around to exam time *everyone* failed the exam. Except me. My Dad is a physics lecturer, so he taught me at home. (I was in for a nasty shock when I went to university and I realised that aliens weren’t part of the course.)
        The difference between a failing inner city school and a top private school isn’t just the amount of money being spent on education. There is also a difference in the attitudes towards education and a difference in the amount of support that can be provided by parents. It’s going to require a lot of money/intervention to account for differences in upbringing. It may well be impossible. Is it fairer for an individuals life to be determined by his genes, upbringing and personality than by his financial inheritance? In fact – most of the richest people in the world were not granted their wealth as a result of inheritance (Walton family excepted) but received their advantage from their upbringing or genes.

        http://www.stlouisfed.org/publications/re/2005/b/pages/appearances.cfm

        According to this you have a pay gap of about 14% between the ugly and the beautiful which is comparable to the gender pay gap in Britain and seems to be fairly similar to the difference between personal income of black and white people in the US. This is after adjusting for relative levels of education, so it doesn’t take into account the fact that ugly people tend to do worse at school as well.
        You’re right – beauty is to some extent subjective but there are also some more or less universal standards of physical beauty. Broad shoulders and height in men, hip waist ratio in women, (does anyone actually like stick thin, breastless, blonde women?) facial symmetry for all of us… also within any given community standards of beauty don’t tend to differ that much, giving plenty of opportunity for discrimination.
        Obviously these problems can be solved through redistribution – but the wage differences are not the problem in themselves, they are simply a signal of discriminatory attitudes which exist in society. There can be no equality in human relationships. No figures on this, but common sense (and personal experience) tells me that ugly people find it harder to find sexual partners. People with nice personalities and winning smiles make more friends. People who are charming and intelligent have more influence. Is this fair? Will equality of income or equality of wealth actually change anything significant? We won’t all have an equal amount of influence – it’ll be based upon charm, education and intelligence – as it is now. (Neither Obama or Blair were gifted with a massive inheritance.) Beautiful people will have an advantage over ugly people, intelligent over stupid.
        No argument that racial prejudice should be taken care of and that we can do so relatively easily – but even if you attack inheritance and redistribute income you’re still left with privilege and inequality. I’m not convinced that the problem can be solved to any significant extent. I am sure that if you go too far down the road of distribution a mechanism which has the potential to reward hard work (no matter how it may currently be abused) will be destroyed. And that the hard working plain man is going to lose out.

        • johnqpublican

          This is after adjusting for relative levels of education, so it doesn’t take into account the fact that ugly people tend to do worse at school as well.

          Artifact of bullying, I suspect.

          The difference between a failing inner city school and a top private school isn’t just the amount of money being spent on education. There is also a difference in the attitudes towards education and a difference in the amount of support that can be provided by parents. It’s going to require a lot of money/intervention to account for differences in upbringing.

          Yes!

          This is, yet again, your blindness to starting conditions. All you have said here is “If your parents belong to a systematically disadvantaged group, they will be less able to help you become middle class than if your parents were already middle class”.

          The argument is quite simple; until you’re at least two generations into a world where every single person within the culture you’re examining had access to a quality and breadth of education equivalent to that reserved for the very wealth today, you will not be able to even assess accurately how much damage was being done by inherited disadvantage.

          does anyone actually like stick thin, breastless, blonde women?

          Ask the fashion industry. Or David Beckham.

          Obviously these problems can be solved through redistribution – but the wage differences are not the problem in themselves

          Of course not. Entrenched wealth accumulations are most of the problem, as well as antiquated and intrinsically inefficient traditions on land ownership.

          People with nice personalities and winning smiles make more friends. People who are charming and intelligent have more influence. Is this fair?

          Yes; those are things about the person. Whether their parents had an education of university quality is not. My point, again, is about opportunity. I don’t get to deny someone an opportunity because they are black. I do get to do so because they are “thick”; unqualified for the position. If you level the playing field such that everyone has identical opportunities available to them (i.e. all of the possible opportunities), then what they make of those opportunities is in their hands. Today, unless one is born into a tiny minority of the human species, such choices are not in one’s own hands.

          I am sure that if you go too far down the road of distribution a mechanism which has the potential to reward hard work (no matter how it may currently be abused) will be destroyed. And that the hard working plain man is going to lose out.

          That, to me, is a statement of ideology. I grew up in virtually egalitarian culture; one in which no-one had capital wealth, and therefore everyone made the life they earned.

          Let me suggest a model (not original to me): all corporate entities must be wholly collective (owned by worker share) and can be no larger than 125 people. Any person hired is hired as an independent contractor operating as a sole trader.

          You telling me a smart collective can’t make money? A smart collective can make money today, when the dominant paradigm has a vested interest in preventing that from happening: look at the John Lewis partnership. With a level playing field and zero pre-existing capital wealth accumulations? That way lies meritocracy.

          Which is precisely why the owners of the Great Machine will fight tooth and nail to prevent anyone from implementing it. In a meritocracy, they wouldn’t have cheat codes to the system.

          • Mark

            I would never dream of saying that a collective can`t make money. But I don`t see why we have to have a strict regulation of ownership – why not have different forms battle it out and see which is the most effective. It may well be that different industries are better suited to different forms of ownership.

            Under your suggestion, what happens when I want to quit from a company and do something else? Chances are you are at best going to get a reduced price for your share of ownership, if anything at all. That means you have less incentive to invest in the business – not such a big problem for a service industry job, but a big problem if you`re making cars.
            What happens when someone dies?

            • johnqpublican

              But I don`t see why we have to have a strict regulation of ownership – why not have different forms battle it out and see which is the most effective

              Great idea! Now tell the land magnates that see how likely they are to permit the contestation of their land rights based on the fact that the Enclosure Acts were in breach of human rights.

              You cannot have a viable competition between forms of ownership while one pre-existing form has all the power, all the guns, and all the land. You’d have to re-distribute that wealth more evenly first; … and here we are.

              Summary: the current system is managed by people who have a vested interest in defending it because in any other system they would not be in power. As a result, you can’t establish competing systems; everyone that has tried has ended up looking into the barrel of a gun, either literally or financially.

              What you can do is out-perform. This is what the OSS movement and Google are currently doing. They are taking capital away from the historically-minded and doing new things with it that really and actually create new wealth. So we move to a hybrid system where we are competing with the Great Machine by circumventing it. Until at length, we can dismantle it.

              Under your suggestion, what happens when I want to quit from a company and do something else? Chances are you are at best going to get a reduced price for your share of ownership, if anything at all.

              Nonsense, that doesn’t follow at all. Chances are that if your collective is competent you’ll be paid out with an increased share, not a reduced one. Bear in mind it’s the other members of the collective paying you out, not an external force purchasing your stake. If your collective is not competent, you want to be gone anyway. The model I’m referencing included a legal encoding of the idea that “initial stake” was the minimum you’d realise if you chose to leave a co-operative, unless the co-operative can show legally submissible evidence that your personal actions had diminished the total value of the collective. It also included legal cases for collectives going bankrupt and how liability would work.

              Also, bear in mind that in this model it is anticipated that somewhere between one third and one half of the free-market labour force would be operating as sole tradership contractors at any given time. The point of collective ownership paradigms is two-fold; one, it means no worker is enriching non-contributors with his labour, and two, it eliminates the risk of entrenched capital power-bases that are immortal (such as the Disney corporation and its anti-competitive effects, achieved through bought-law modifications to the concept of copyright). The aim is to make a person’s success as dependent as possible on their choices; today, for 95% of us our choices can only have a very limited effect on our security and success.

              The last thing those who depend on unearned wealth want to see is a free labour market.

              That means you have less incentive to invest in the business – not such a big problem for a service industry job, but a big problem if you`re making cars.

              Again, nonsense. You are suggesting that collective worth is guaranteed to go down; in fact, evidence suggests the reverse. Look at Basque-country collective gift-economies, look at the Co-Operative Society of Great Britain, look at John Lewis Partnership. In each case, someone who started out in the owning classes protected the nascent collective from anti-competitive activity (typically, armed actions) by the rest of the owning classes while it gained critical mass and became too large to easily kill. In the time since, each has illustrated how well a collective can function, even in a market which is explicitly rigged against it.

              You should try talking to a John Lewis shop assistant some time. Every one I’ve interviewed has felt passionate about their work, even till minding, because they own the business and the employee voting block is the majority share-holder. I know generational JL families; mother worked for them and was treated well so persuaded daughters to work there in school holidays, so that daughters started life with a pre-existing capital stake and a clear understanding of how important joint ownership can be.

              What happens when someone dies?

              Inheritance law is a whole separate paradigmatic issue. The model I’m referencing does not include land ownership at all (it includes legally-enforced land stewardship overseen by a scientific/qualified equivalent of the US Court structure; but the person who created the model was American). Since all corporations larger than one person are collectively owned there is no need for capital inheritance law; every person’s capital is that which they earn.

              So all that is heritable is personal possessions; actual things that a person owned, which can be passed on by their will. Their share in the collective can be handled more than one way, including ceding their current stake value to another or ceding it to the collective.

              The other thing that was embedded in this paradigm (politically rather economically) was an extremely comprehensive level of power devolution. Virtually no central executive. Consensus/direct-democratic rule at the local level. Two types of business: for-profit, which pays local and court taxes calculated based on resource consumption + pollution created = cost to the biosphere of you doing business. Not-for-profit are untaxed: infrastructure projects, scientific research, etc. For-profit businesses are exactly what they have always been. You may by now have realised that the model is designed based on the idea that rational economies which apply realistic costs to modifications of our biosphere are likely to work better and more sustainably than heavily irrational ones which apply no cost at all to a business which is costing the whole species in pollution and resource depletion every day.

              • Mark

                I actually think that there are very good arguments for having a national ownership of land and natural resources (which could them be sold to private individuals). But given that that boat has sailed, how can we make it work? Tax?

                Of course you can have viable competition between different forms of ownership – I know you`ve heard of John Lewis, because you never shut up about it. What is that if not an example of a collectively owned organisation competing effectively with privately owned organisations in the marketplace? How about Law Practices, or Accountancy firms?

                And you *completely* ignored what I said.

                I said.
                “That means you have less incentive to invest in the business – ***not such a big problem for a service industry job, but a big problem if you`re making cars.****”

                To which you replied-
                “You are suggesting that collective worth is guaranteed to go down; in fact, evidence suggests the reverse. Look at Basque-country collective gift-economies, look at the Co-Operative Society of Great Britain, look at John Lewis Partnership.”

                (Uh…those are in the service industry… doh!)

                I am not suggesting that a collective won`t make a profit, in fact I clearly said the opposite. What I am saying is that in some organisations it won`t be the most effective form of ownership.
                Firstly on the point of the price you`ll get for your share of the company. If you`re unable to sell your share to anyone but other members of the company – I`d imagine you`ll get a lower price for it since it`ll be less liquid. All other things being equal people would rather own an asset which is easily sold.
                If the ownership isn`t going to be sold on the basis of supply and demand but due to some contractual obligation – how is the price going to be determined? Must the collective hold in cash enough money to buy itself? Is this even possible?

                So let`s say that you have less incentive to invest – in the service industry this is less of a problem, beacuse the people are the major asset and don`t require any massive amount of initial expenditure.

                But if you want to start a car company and need a billion dollars to build a factory plus the billion dollar research budget etc. etc. investment becomes incredibly important. If you`re likely to recieve less back from your investment, then you`re less likely to want to invest.

                Which is probably why we have lots of service industry businesses which are collectively owned by workers (Accountancy firms etc.) but big car companies are not.

                No idea what the difference is between a “sole tradership contractor” and an employee.

                • Mark

                  Oh…there is no reason why collectives can`t borrow money…. or start themselves up from their own resources.

          • Mark

            A persons upbringing effects their academic achievement – but academic is actually fairly irrelevent to how your life plays out.
            What about the case of a child who is neglected by their parents vs. one who is showered with praise. The second child will probably have a better personality due to the quality of parenting and have many more advantages in life than the first – personal and professional advantages.
            Just seems to me that people concerned with redistribution don`t actually care about people – just have a bizarre fixation with money.

            • Mark

              Sorry…
              We have to accept that life is fundamentally unfair because of personnal differences between us. So, while an argument for support of the poor for reasons of technical efficiency holds water – an argument from fairness does not. Because life is unfair.

              • johnqpublican

                We have to accept that life is fundamentally unfair […]

                Why?

                while an argument for support of the poor for reasons of technical efficiency holds water – an argument from fairness does not.

                As it happens, I agree. I make the functionalist argument first, and then I make the argument based on responsibility (not fairness). We (the industrialised) have fucked the world with 500 years of stupidity and greed. We, the industrialised, have most the money, most of the weapons and really all the power. We got the stewardship of it by accident, and then by design, and we abused our position very badly. As a result, it is our collective responsibility as “those who can” (the haves) to help heal the catastrophic harm we have collectively caused. If we don’t, I suspect 60% of the human species will die off, so now we’re right back to functional. We can; they can’t, we therefore should. The only thing standing in the way is the idea that people should be able to get rich off work they didn’t do.

                Life is fundamentally unfair because of personnal differences between us.

                You keep saying that. And there we totally agree. There are genuine personal differences that are arbitrary; a person deals and uses or abuses them. Some people are always going to fail to take advantage of opportunity.

                The thing that is missing from your view is that opportunity is currently apportioned on a schema that is in no way at all arbitrary. It is planned, organised, efficient and effective; it’s the Great Machine. Those who have the largest lists of opportunity are not those born with natural talent, it is those born to robber barons.

                There are some things I do not have the opportunity to do, that are totally arbitrary; I’m a shit artist, I can sew a button but have no eye for dress-making design and I don’t like cold countries. Arctic exploration and serious mountain-climbing are not my bag. And I’m totally fine with all of that.

                All of these are “personal differences”. They’re things over which no-one had any control. A different person might be a great artist but lack my capacity for martial arts. That’s a personal difference.

                There are other things I do not have the opportunity to do that are not totally arbitrary. I cannot, for example, operate from my 22nd birthday as a fully-funded venture capitalist. Maxwell Lord Beaverbrook was left his fortune by his father specifically because his father knew him to be too entitled to get by with out it (which is why his cousin Jonathan, who is a very clever bastard, was cut out of the will).

                That is not arbitrary, that is contrived. Those are not personal differences, those are a legacy from a pre-Enlightened, violence-based feudal society. Being born to rich parents is arbitrary; a society which permits that to make the difference between almost limitless opportunities and having virtually none is just criminal.

            • johnqpublican

              … Good god.

              Ok, once again for the hard of thinking: opportunity and freedom of agency are denied to 95% of the human species. The mechanism is relative wealth. You cannot even assess the situation accurately until that changes because there is no control group. The rich win, the poor (most people) lose, that’s how the system works; this is what your argument boils down to. It does not even occur to you, even after being a tit all over my journal for over four weeks a couple of months ago, that the system is rigged.

              Obviously, people can be disadvantaged by their parents. Right now, people can be disadvantaged by their parents in several ways, including being born to poor people. That is not the child’s fault; that is imposed. Until there are no poor people you cannot tell how much of a person’s achievement is earned and how much is not. You can make guesses but you can’t tell for sure what person x could have done in the absence of a guaranteed handicap caused by relative wealth.

              The precise difference between the politics of the traditional left and the politics of the traditional right is that one is based on compassion and the other on entitlement. The left never came up with such a spurious distinction as “the deserving poor”. A typical example (treating me for the moment as a leftist rather than a liberal) is in this thread. From the right:

              One mans idiocy doesn`t bother me as long as he has no power to impose it upon me.

              From the left:

              one man’s idiocy which he cannot impose on me is still going to piss me off if he’s got the power to impose it on other people

              You tried to backpedal from your remarkably privileged slip of the tongue and claim that by “you” you meant “everyone”; but what you said is, you don’t care if it isn’t happening to you. That reflects a perfect coherence with everything you’ve said in this journal; your underlying discomfort with my economic analysis has from the start been that you do not like my implication that being rich does not confer higher abstract worth; that most of the rich do not deserve their wealth any more than the vast and growing mass of the poor.

              • Mark

                “opportunity and freedom of agency are denied to 95% of the human species. The mechanism is relative wealth. ”

                It`s denied to 100% of the human species and the mechanisms are social rules and physical realities.

                One way in which we express an individuals ability to influence others is through money (which is a rather nifty invention) but I`d say that legal/power structures would be at the heart of any exploitation – wealth differences are a sign rather than a fundamental problem.
                Case in point. The difference between someone on the minimum wage in Britain and that Indian guy who makes the steel (steal?) in (crude) monetary terms is far greater than the difference between kim jon il and one of his subjects. But the difference in terms of power of agency is acually far less.
                It`s the legal/social context in which the wealth exists which is important here.

                Your entire argument is based upon the idea that inherited wealth in the West gives the rich power to make the poor virtual slaves. Unfortunately, it`s pure bunk for three reasons.

                1) The power of the rich in the democratic west is not arbitrary and is limited by the rule of law. The only way the rich could possibly have absolute power in this context is if 95% of people (“the poor”) are complete morons. If the vast majority of citizens are such moronic sheep we have no hope under any system of avoiding domination by some crafty elite.

                2) Elected representitives and buerocrats have more arbitrary powers than business leaders, since they have no (or extremely limited) pressure from competition.

                3)If you look at the great fortunes which exist in the world almost all of them were made by the person who currently possesses them – entrepreneurs rather than inheritence.

                Also, people care more about their families than they do about strangers. Why shouldn`t they be able to leave money to them?

                My discomfort with your analysis is not that you state that rich people do not deserve their wealth (I`d agree with you in the case of Kings), but the fact that you think that great wealth is neccesarily a conspiracy against the common man.
                In fact great wealth is just an expression of the fact that within society we don`t all have equal influence – unfortunately for you, we never can.

  9. Mark

    OR WOMAN!!!

    Goodness that was nearly sexist.

    • johnqpublican

      o_0

      Sarcasm aside, I can discern between a common-usage expression and a deliberate attempt to inflame, such as your first comment on this post.