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The American Caliban

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Your racist friend [Feb. 1st, 2003|01:06 am]
The American Caliban
[Current Mood |angry]

So, there's this woman who is sort of on the periphery of my scene; she's married to a friend of a friend, basically. I see her a couple times a month. She is well-educated and a good storyteller, and at first I thought she was kind of fun, although she's a terrible egotist. If she's not the center of a conversation she drifts away, and she likes to drown people out. Not fatal flaws though.

The other day I was in a conversation with her and others, and the topic turned to the Korean crisis. I mentioned that I felt very bad for the North Korean people because of the starvation in their country and the government they've got: totalitarian and insane is a rotten mix. But particularly the starvation: the numbers aren't hard, but it seems that hundreds of thousands if not millions of people are at risk of death at any time.

She responded in a very dismissive way that they deserved their fate. "Any people who can't overthrow their government under those conditions deserve their fate" was her line. She repeated this twice, a bit more loudly each time.

I was shocked. I asked her if she really had though this through. Let's say five hundred thousand people die of starvation. Did anyone really deserve that fate? How easy is it to rebel in a totalitarian state? Had she been there?

She responded again, in a very dogmatic way, that peoples who cannot overthrow a bad government are responsible and deserving of whatever troubles they get, up to and including death. I said that was beyond my ethical reach; I couldn't ever say that any huge group of people like that deserved collective punishment by a painful death. I was really upset by this time.

Her reply was "Well, I'm a historian. History tells us that people choose their government and their fate." Literally with a dismissive wave, as if historians were anointed by God to dispense moral judgment on populations. I said "Well, I'm an educated person too, and I've read lots of books, but I have ethical limits."

Two weeks later I'm still angry about this. Really angry. I saw her tonight and she was going on and on about how Europeans are irrelevant or something else equally offensive and inane.

I wanted to say to her, and maybe I'll have the cojones to say it next time: "Hey you know what? You're rich, privileged, arrogant, and morally vacant. History tells us that you're the last decayed remnant of a dying empire and that your high-handed racist hand-waving at the miseries of millions will be an example of evil to the schoolchildren of tomorrow. Enjoy the legacy, you stuck-up little bitch."

Bonus points: she's a high school teacher.
LinkReply

Comments:
[User Picture]From: flipzagging
2003-02-01 02:01 am (UTC)
Why are high school teachers automatically respected? Assuming they didn't fail at something else first, there's really only two reasons to take that job.
  1. you love working with kids of that age.
  2. you enjoy lording your intellectual superiority over 8th-graders.
My high school was pretty good, but there were still plenty of type 2.

....

Not sure if this will work, but you might try this next time she pulls out her "historian" card.

I once saw Mordecai Richler deal a death-blow to a similar dimwit on a Canadian chat show. This stuffed shirt edited a conservative think tank newsletter, and had very similar physiognomy to George W. Bush. He was blabbing about how fascists don't have the monopoly on hate, that Karl Marx was a man who was filled with hatred.

Somebody asked the W-clone to justify this, and he replied, with finger upraised, "Read a history book!"

Without skipping a beat, Richler quipped, "Name two."

Silence from that guy, for the rest of the show.
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From: tony_laetrile
2003-02-01 06:25 am (UTC)

Must find this footage

What's the chat show called? I am going to have to order transcripts :)
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[User Picture]From: flipzagging
2003-02-01 03:41 pm (UTC)

Re: Must find this footage

It was some short-lived Canadian public television show, this was around a decade ago. Aired on PBS or just our Parliamentary Channel, I think. I don't remember the name.

Every now and then our culture-crats get the idea to imitate some American show -- in this case the McLaughlin Group -- in a Canadian context. Never works. I saw a few episodes of this -- they got this slow-witted American W-clone specifically to be the voice of capitalist unreason. But it was like he was in a different room from the Canadians -- somehow his sound bites just didn't latch onto anything.
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[User Picture]From: i_get_stabby
2003-02-01 02:14 am (UTC)
"Well, I'm a historian. History tells us that people choose their government and their fate."
Translation:
Well, I'm an idiot. I take what I want to hear/understand from what I've learned and choose what conclusions fit with my own biased stereotypes.

Lots of people spout this kind of bullshit. I figure it has some superficial ability to calm the little voice inside their head that objects to the injustices of the world but feel completely overwhelmed.
Of course, how it could be accepted for more than a millisecond by anyone with even the most subpar but technically functioning brain is beyond me.
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[User Picture]From: turnip
2003-02-01 04:01 am (UTC)
Well, I'm a historian. History tells us that people choose their government and their fate.

historians don't say that; Americans do. She has the luxury of having that perspective. and it sounds like she's taken it for granted.

yeah, it's GREAT that she's a high school teacher. I can imagine the kind of stuff she's ingraining in her students.
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[User Picture]From: rpkrajewski
2003-02-01 06:43 am (UTC)

It's an oversimplification

Your so-called friend is way off base, and even if she's "right," in some sense, that doesn't excuse an inhumane posture.

However:

If you beleived the converse, how would that guide your actions ? I mean, if people can't influence the fate of their countries, why not just fuck off and do whatever one wants, right ?

In fact, I believe this how a lot of quasi-lefties conduct themselves. They want to beleive all that stuff about the hopelessly entrenched ruling class superstructure so they can fritter their time away on Tibetan restaurants and IFC on cable.
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[User Picture]From: marm0t
2003-02-01 07:45 am (UTC)

Mm, fritters.

Dammit. You're taking away my last two guilty pleasures?
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[User Picture]From: rpkrajewski
2003-02-01 12:40 pm (UTC)

Re: Mm, fritters.

Dammit. You're taking away my last two guilty pleasures?

No way, man. If fritters are outlawed, only the outlaws will have fritters.
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[User Picture]From: substitute
2003-02-01 10:37 am (UTC)

Re: It's an oversimplification

I agree with your parallelism there. There was a specific political issue hovering in the background here, though. I support food aid to starving nations and I'm willing to pay taxes for it. She doesn't, and isn't. Bleargh.
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[User Picture]From: rpkrajewski
2003-02-01 12:42 pm (UTC)

Re: It's an oversimplification

She doesn't, and isn't. Bleargh.

Bleargh indeed. The whole thing is giving warm fuzzies about our educational system.
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[User Picture]From: flipzagging
2003-02-01 03:32 pm (UTC)
For the sake of argument, let's assume that the North Koreans, even the ones who were born just yesterday, are the authors of their own misery.

Even so, there's a distinction between saying that they are responsible for their own situation, and that they don't deserve humanitarian or other forms of assistance.
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[User Picture]From: rpkrajewski
2003-02-01 09:24 pm (UTC)
The problem with North Korea and other miserable places is that the people in charge beleived they could control the destiny of a nation, without bothering to consult the nation. Their belief in their ability to affect events was so powerful that it became a self-fulfilling prophecy. Of course, it also helps to bash a few heads together, too.

I was reading Jonathon Spence's mini-bio of Mao and I was struck by how Mao was a such a marginal figure (an outcast in a group that was offering a rather unpopular ideology) and yet was able to ride the manifest destiny (so to speak) of Marxist-Leninist "vanguard" ideology straight to the top. The momentum of a determined clique to rule is a scary thing indeed. But it seems that the populace of even politically mature countries (such as, say, Germany in the 1930s) either will not recognize the phenomenon or welcome it as a cure-all for real or imagined historical wrongs. It can happen here.

Even so, there's a distinction between saying that they are responsible for their own situation, and that they don't deserve humanitarian or other forms of assistance.

Of course. Substitute's "friend"'s line of reasoning is abhorrent and full of hubris to boot.
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[User Picture]From: flipzagging
2003-02-02 01:43 am (UTC)
> It *can* happen here.

I guess you're right. But your country has so many virtues, and values freedom so highly, it would have to be very subtle, at least at first.

I'm no "historian", but I can imagine how it might go.

It would be in your weak spots first: lingering racism; ignorance and fear of the rest of the world; faltering belief in due process; a relish for direct, even brutal action; and a history of rhetoric that America has a special destiny to remake the world. There would be provoking incidents, there always are. The first actions might be well justified. And then there might be a few mentions in the paper about disappeared foreign nationals, or unsavory interrogation methods being used on them.

For things to get really out of hand though, there would have to be a similar breakdown in all countervailing forces -- the press, the judiciary, the political opposition, the intelligentsia, popular organizations. America survived Hoover, McCarthy, a period of brutal industrialism and depression, and a civil war. In your country's infancy you confronted, and triumphed over, an amazingly similar situation. One hopes there will always be that sort of resilience in your country.
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[User Picture]From: marm0t
2003-02-01 07:49 am (UTC)
I really like your proposed response. You might want to eliminate the "stuck-up little bitch" parting shot, only because that'll be ringing in her ears at the end and will prevent her from having to actually think about the rest of your indictment.

I hope you find the cojones. She needs to hear it.
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[User Picture]From: nosrialleon
2003-02-01 08:46 am (UTC)

And:

The bonus point makes it a moral imperative.
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[User Picture]From: nosrialleon
2003-02-01 09:04 am (UTC)

Also

I know not of whom you speazk, but chances are:
She has a degree in history. This is different from being a historian.
I certainly don't call myself a sociologist, nor would I be inclined to if I had gone into teaching.
History, like sociology or psychology, is one of the 'easy' degrees to get from a four-year. You are expected to learn the stuff, spout it back, and only think about it if you plan on getting a higher degree in it. In the meantime, you drink a lot and try to find a future spouse.
I have 2 friends with history degrees. One of them is not a particulary enlightened person; the other is a way out new-age guy who exibits just enough sanity to function in the world, barely.
I don't place much truck in the idea that "higher education = higher learning"
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[User Picture]From: eyeteeth
2003-02-01 09:43 pm (UTC)
I agree with marm0t: tear her a new one, but skip calling her a bitch. Fighting her nationalist rhetoric with a sexist slur can only weaken your argument. Plus it's, you know, a sexist slur.

Other than that I wouldn't change a thing.
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[User Picture]From: substitute
2003-02-02 11:00 am (UTC)

yeah

I think the reason I put "stuck-up little bitch" on the end of that is 1) the comedy of changing levels of usage right at the end of the rant and 2) unfortunately it describes her perfectly; she's a stereotype.

Since in person I'd never deliver either version of that speech it's academic, but you're right that leaving the last bit off makes it more pure.
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[User Picture]From: frobisher
2003-02-03 12:11 pm (UTC)
Well, I'm a PHILOSOPHER. I outrank her.

She's a fuckhead.

Since, sadly, it would be wrong to KILL HER PAINFULLY, merely for that, I'd ignore her if you can. Eventually, I'm sure someone will set her on fire for you.
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