Dehumanizing the Other
Scott Alexander writes:
"Look for the non-racist motives in actually racist things. …
What about, I don’t know, rural Republicans in South Carolina who wave the Confederate flag all the time and think blacks and immigrants are ruining the country.
... this is pretty much the demographic that elected Nikki Haley (birth name, Nimrata Randhawa; daughter of two Punjabi immigrants) as governor, and that supports her so fervently that she remains one of the most popular elected officials in the country. Also the demographic that loved Ben Carson, making him the only candidate to briefly displace Trump for first place in the 2016 Republican primary polls. One plausible explanation is that the South Carolinians don’t like blacks and immigrants because they view them as having foreign values – specifically, Blue Tribe values (it may be relevant here that 90%+ of blacks usually vote Democrat). If someone like Nikki Haley or Ben Carson proves that they share Red beliefs, they become part of the tribe and will be fiercely defended. Maybe this is ... people using race as a proxy for something they care about, until they get direct information. ...
"James Scott, as channeled by Lou Keep, ... says that the process of development, especially state-building and the switch from traditional to market economies, creates a pressure for “legible” language that renders entire classes of problems very difficult to talk about. This creates an asymmetry between an elite plugged into the global market structure whose concerns make perfect sense (“If we do this, GDP will go up 3% and we can build more roads!”) and the masses left behind whose concerns seem pointless and vague (“I feel like something important disappeared when we turned everything into a commodity”). Keep then proposes a very loose mapping onto cosmopolitan neoliberal Clintonites versus undereducated “I’m angry about losing my traditional culture” Trumpists. ...
"cross-cultural communication is really hard, and so a lot of the concerns of people who aren’t like us will probably sound like nonsense. And most of them say that our demographic – well-educated people proud of our commitment to logic and reason – are at especially high risk of just dismissing everyone else as too dumb to matter. ...
"Racism-as-murderism is ... a powerful tool of dehumanization. It’s not that other people have a different culture than you. It’s not that other people have different values than you. It’s not that other people have reasoned their way to different conclusions from you. And it’s not even that other people are honestly misinformed or ignorant, in a way that implies you might ever be honestly misinformed or ignorant about something. It’s that people who disagree with you are motivated by pure hatred, by an irrational mind-virus that causes them to reject every normal human value in favor of just wanting to hurt people who look different from them. ...
"And I guess it sounds like I’m upset that we’re not very good at solving difficult cross-cultural communication problems which require deep and genuine effort to understand the other person’s subtly different value system. I’m not upset that we can’t solve those. Those are hard. I’m upset because we’re not even at the point where someone can say “I’m worried about terrorism,” without being forced to go through an interminable and ultimately-impossible process of proving to a random assortment of trolls and gatekeepers that they actually worry about terrorism and it’s not just all a ruse to cover up that they secretly hate everyone with brown skin. I’m saying that when an area of the country suffers an epidemic of suicides and overdoses, increasing mortality, increasing unemployment, social decay, and general hopelessness, and then they say they’re angry, we counter with “Are you really angry? Is ‘angry’ just a code word for ‘racist’?” …
"People talk about “liberalism” as if it’s just another word for capitalism, or libertarianism, or vague center-left-Democratic Clintonism. Liberalism is none of these things. Liberalism is a technology for preventing civil war. It was forged in the fires of Hell – the horrors of the endless seventeenth century religious wars. For a hundred years, Europe tore itself apart in some of the most brutal ways imaginable – until finally, from the burning wreckage, we drew forth this amazing piece of alien machinery. A machine that, when tuned just right, let people live together peacefully without doing the “kill people for being Protestant” thing. Popular historical strategies for dealing with differences have included: brutally enforced conformity, brutally efficient genocide, and making sure to keep the alien machine tuned really really carefully.
"And when I see someone try to smash this machinery with a sledgehammer, it’s usually followed by an appeal to “but racists!”
"You say we must protect freedom of speech. But would you protect the free speech of racists?" ...
I don’t want civil war. I want this country to survive long enough to be killed by something awesome, like AI or some kind of genetically engineered superplague. Right now I think going out in a neat way, being killed by a product of our own genius and intellectual progress – rather than a product of our pettiness and mutual hatreds – is the best we can hope for. And I think this is attainable!"
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