Evidently some person wrote a rather sad article on Salon about why they can’t stand white women belly-dancing. I won’t link to it, because Salon deserves no reward for publishing it. This whole PC-ness campaign has gotten so far off base it is meeting itself coming around the other direction. In a misguided attempt to not be racist and be more sensitive to other cultures they’ve created a paradox in which no one can not be racist, and we shouldn’t even learn about other cultures. It’s really…sad. I can’t think of a better word for it.
I will, however, direct you to a fine rebuttal from Euqene Volokh, which includes this sample of rabid PC-ism on steroids:
Women I have confronted about this have said, “But I have been dancing for 15 years! This is something I have built a huge community on.” These women are more interested in their investment in belly dancing than in questioning and examining how their appropriation of the art causes others harm. To them, I can only say, I’m sure there are people who have been unwittingly racist for 15 years. It’s not too late. Find another form of self-expression. Make sure you’re not appropriating someone else’s.
To which Eugene Volokh responds thusly:
Appropriation — the horror! People treating artistic genres as if they were great ideas that are part of the common stock of humanity, available for all humanity to use, rather than the exclusive property of some particular race or ethnic group. What atrocity will the culturally insensitive appropriators think of next? East Asian cellists? Swedish chess players? The Japanese putting on Shakespeare? Jews playing Christians’ Christian music, such as Mozart’s masses? Arriviste Jewish physicists using work done for centuries by Christians? Russian Jews writing about Anglo-American law? Indians writing computer programs, using languages and concepts pioneered by Americans and Europeans? Japanese companies selling the most delicious custard cream puffs? Shame, shame, shame.
But, wait: Maybe — and I know this is a radical thought — artists, whether high or low, should be able to work in whatever artistic fields they want to work in. Maybe they should even be able to work in those fields regardless of their skin color or the place from which their ancestors came.
Maybe telling people that they can’t work in some field because they have the wrong color or ancestry would be … rats, I don’t know what to call it. If only there were an adjective that could be used to mean “telling people that they mustn’t do something, because of their race or ethnic origin.”
I know I am trying to avoid controversy and not be negative lately, but this sort of thing absolutely must stop. Our desire to not be offensive is becoming its own self-parody. Meanwhile, we have people with no qualifications to speak for another culture shoving their noses and opinions in where they’re not needed, telling other people what to do and how to think. Seriously, just who is the one conscripting another culture for their own personal gain here? I’m tired of stupid people, well-intentioned or not, telling me what to do, as if they possess the one, ultimate, time-proven, irrefutable approach to how to live.
Does she seriously think people in other countries have nothing better to do than worry that somewhere in America women might be learning belly-dancing without proper appreciation of the cultural context? Absurd. As if it should bother me at all that somewhere in the New Guinea highlands a melanesian is doing a bad Elvis impersonation (that’s not knocking New Guineans–there are few Elvis impressions that aren’t bad).That’s not to say appropriation with the intent to make fun of people is okay. It’s not, though even there I defy anyone to uniformly define the appropriate use of humor. But…well, again, let’s hear from Mr. Volokh:
As to the blackface analogy that the article offers, the objection to blackface is that it originated as mockery of blacks, and is generally understood as continuation of such mockery. When white woman are “dressed in Orientalist garb with eye makeup caked on for full kohl effect and glittery accessories” — or for that matter, when people who aren’t of European extraction wear traditionally European formal clothing to play classical music, or non-European ballet dancers dress in European costumes — they aren’t trying to mock or belittle the group whose garb they are using. Rather, they are doing what performers have done throughout history: dressing the part.
Precisely. Wouldn’t it be more offensive to borrow just some of it without paying any credit to the original context? True, they may not completely understand why they’re dressing that way, but the attempt itself has merit toward understanding those who originated the art form. And if they do end up modifying it to the point that they’re abandoning the cultural context–well, they wouldn’t be the first. As if the 60′s peace/hippie movement developed spontaneously without any cultural appropriation.
Everyone borrows from everyone else, usually with complete sincerity, even if they don’t retain much context. But then if a cultural element has deviated from the original to where it has lost its cultural context is it still that original art form, or some sort of derivation subject to an entirely new context? Should we be concerned about our Chinese or Italian food not really resembling their original models, or do we just acknowledge it’s not really indicative and move on?
In any case, these proponents of PC-ism like to believe they are intellectuals–the only ones smart enough to tell everyone else what to do. And perhaps they are, but considering how they go about it, I doubt it. They’re engaging in thinking without having really learned first. They forget about the greater context of history (if they even took the time to learn it in the first place) and view everything through the very small, narrow lens of their modern, politically-motivated sensibilities, forgetting that sensibilities themselves are subject to change. In the process they miss everything of consequence.
I’m currently reading “Guns, Steel, and Germs: The Fates of Human Societies” by Jared M. Diamond, in which he examines the various elements that allowed cultures to develop and evolve through time, and why some cultures became more dominant. Cultural and technological appropriation is just part of the evolutionary process. If Primative Man A saw Primative Man B out planting millet he didn’t worry about whether he’d be offending PMB by borrowing that handy little idea. Likewise, if PMB saw PMA’s village developing social structures for the redistribution of resources to benefit the entire tribe, he would borrow the idea and modify it to suit, not fret over whether or not it would make PMA feel insulted. And if PMA saw PMB playing a shawm or sackbut he might try to trade for one and perhaps even learn a few tunes from PMB before he headed back home to share what he’d found. That’s one reason why Euro-asian cultures developed more quickly–they had ample opportunities to borrow from one another, and they used them.
Which raises another point. In “The Great Sea: A Human History of the Mediterranea”, by David Abulafia, we learn that it is practically impossible to totally separate European cultures from Middle-eastern cultures from African cultures, etc. The Mediterranean was an aquatic highway of cultural exchange. Jews, Muslims, Romans, Greeks, Moors, Slavs, Francs, Bretons, Gauls, Celts–hundreds of cultures all interacted with one another, shared with one another, borrowed, and stole from one another. They even conquered, enslaved, and forced their cultures on one another. There cultural elements far too numerous to count were adopted and made part of other cultures. The same goes for languages.
In that light, how can we say people from Western Culture shouldn’t appropriate from Middle-eastern culture? Is it even possible not to? We already have, and we aren’t even conscious of it. That trireme sailed a long time ago, sweetheart. And can we be completely certain that arabic belly-dancing wasn’t influenced by Egyptian or Jewish dancing, or that they didn’t adopt some steps from Slavic dances? Do the Arabs really “own” belly-dancing from a cultural purity standpoint?
I would love to issue a challenge to the writer of that Salon article: Pick the culture you are most familiar with. Now live that culture pefectly, eschewing anything appropriated from another culture. I’ll even give you an easy time limit: say, everything up to twenty years ago is fair game. Just nothing appropriated since 1994. Don’t borrow anything from any other culture after that point. Now, live for five years without appropriating anything from any other culture.
Why would anyone even want to push for cultural purity in the first place, even under the guise of cultural sensitivity? As Mr. Volokh suggests, the very notion is racist, or at least elitist. It’s saying “I don’t believe your culture has anything worth borrowing.” Because anyone with a modicum of intellect knows that if something has intrinsic value, it will be borrowed, adapted, and synthesized–political correctness be hanged. You can’t stop cultural dissemination. Just ask any culture that has tried to resist the influence of American culture. The idea that we should leave someone’s culture entirely to them should be the gravest insult one can give that culture: “You keep it all to yourself because frankly, you’re welcome to it.”
I would think it would be much more affirming and empowering, to appropriate some PC catch-phrases, for one culture to say to another, “hey! I see what you’re doing there, and I think that’s pretty darn cool! Let me try!” Doesn’t anyone believe that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery anymore? Sometimes we’ll get it wrong, but are we really making fools of the culture we borrowed from, or are we making fools of ourselves? Seriously, in a world of 7 billion people, why should the opinion of 300 million matter that much. They’re laughing at us, often deservedly, and no one is worried they might hurt our feelings.
I certainly fail to see what good drawing lines between us is supposed to do. Aren’t we supposed to be trying to make connections with one another? Aren’t we supposed to be learning how to empathize with others? Shouldn’t we be trying to imagine what it’s like from their perspective? How are we supposed to do that if we don’t walk a mile in their shoes, or dance a dance in their slippers? Cultural exchange used to be the way we were supposed to bring peace to the world. It may not have worked as well as that, but it did work. The world is smaller and flatter than it used to be. We understand more about other cultures than we used to. And that is a good thing.
We did that by making connections through culture, and it never would have happened if we’d have been constantly alert against appropriation. Wasn’t the addition of black baseball players one of the first steps to gaining cultural acceptance for blacks as a whole? Is anyone suggesting we should have kept our culture pure and not allowed them to appropriate our sports? You may recall that people tried that for a while, and not only didn’t it work, but both sides lost out.
We’ve certainly appropriated Asian culture, but along with that has become a greater acceptance of asians as well. Heaven knows the Japanese have appropriated elements of our culture–and now out-American America at our own game sometimes. It could even be said that we’re now up to the point of appropriating their appropriations of our appropriations of their appropriations. If you could follow that. My daughter is excited about these anime rock star characters that are now being translated into English for American consumption. Who had first dibs on cartooning and animation? And rock-n-roll? And yet my daughter is largely ignoring American pop stars to go gaga over Vocaloids. Well played, Japan. Well played indeed.
Oh, wait. I mean, bad Japan! Bad! Stop that appropriation!
No I don’t mean that. I find the ideas expressed in that Salon article to be ludicrious, if not outright repulsive. Wasn’t the idea of “one world” supposed to be our brightest, best destiny? How exactly do we do that if we don’t share culture? Every time we borrow from someone else with the intention of studying and understanding that thing, we open another avenue for understanding those who developed that thing in the first place. Every time we show appreciation for something created by someone else–enough appreciation to try it ourselves–we build a bridge over which we both can walk. Every time we say “No! Mine!” we build a wall.
The world has enough walls.
I say let the white women belly-dance. And let the arabic women rock and roll.
I’m having difficulty finding anything to write about this week. This wouldn’t be so difficult if I hadn’t decided to cut back on political commentary. No one cares what I think, and those who do already know. Yes, I admit I’m itching to mock a recent New York Times article about what the Democratic Party can do to win over white male voters (Why would they even want us? We’re the root of all evil! Unless, of course, we become a Democratic president, then we can do no wrong). But I’m tired of the negativity, and if I don’t want to read it, I shouldn’t write it, either.
But I don’t feel like regaling you with the boring details of my life, either. Who cares that I watched “Dragonheart” for the first time last night? Who with kids is at all surprised that sometimes they misbehave, some times they’re amazing, and most of the time they’re good kids. I’m not seeing much positive to say about pop culture these days, either. I didn’t watch The Academy Awards. I really don’t care which of all the movies I didn’t watch won the approval of the navel-gazers. I learned a long time ago that Hollywood and I have very different ideas about what makes a movie great.
I haven’t finished any books lately, either, so no reviews to write. Yes, there are some books I read that I haven’t reviewed yet, but I tend to want to take the Thumper approach with my reviews: If I don’t like a book, or have a hard time discussing it without bringing up a bunch of negative points I’d rather not say anything. I’m starting to move in (the far outskirts of) writers circles, and it’s not inconceivable that I’ll meet some of the people I review. I’d rather not go on the record at all than be on the record as panning their work, especially when it’s just because the genre/subject/approach just doesn’t appeal to me personally.
It’s a little too late in some cases to have made this decision, I realize. I’m a little nervous about one day running into Stephanie Meyer. I’ve not been kind to Twilight, although I have no authority to speak to it at all. Twilight was not written for me, that’s all. It was very successful at connecting with those for whom it was written. To repeatedly target it for that is…well, from a writer, likely sour grapes. I’ve got nothing against Stephanie Meyer. She got it right, and she got it right in a big, completely unpredictable way. Good for her. We can debate about the messages she sent and the influence she’s gained, certainly, but really, where does it say she had to use her talents for some narrowly-defined “good”? She is writing entertainment, and that covers a very broad territory. To debate about what she should have done is rather pointless. Someone else is already doing that, guaranteed. And others are doing exactly the opposite, and much more dangerously, guaranteed. To hold someone else to my own standard is pointless, and only invites others to hold me to theirs.
So I’ll leave Stephanie Meyer alone, and I’ll not review a book that I can’t be positive about. That doesn’t mean I won’t ever say anything negative about a book. But if I review it, it’s because I saw the positives as much more prevalent than the negatives.
But I’m still at least a week away from finishing my latest audio book (and it’s a good one, if you’re me), probably months away from finishing “The Way of Kings” at my present rate, and at least a few more days away from finishing the latest book I’m reading to my family. Nothing to review for awhile.
I’m also up to my eyeballs in to-do list. I’ve been behind on things for the better part of a month or more, so that’s not entirely conducive to blog posting, either. It’s hard to convince myself to go spend some time writing today’s latest inanities when I’ve got responsibilities staring me in the face. I still haven’t edited and sent out all the family pictures I took at Thanksgiving! At this rate half the kids won’t be recognizable by the time I get this done.
So anyway, if you get posts this week consider yourself fortunate–or unfortunate, depending on your point of view, but if you’re coming here intending to hate my stuff, well…why are you coming here? You’re a masochist, and you deserve what you don’t get. We’ll see what we can do, but I’m just not very interesting this week. Sorry about that, chief!
Sorry, but I’m going to have to end the week with a “Video Cop-Out (TM)”. Today’s VCO is brought to you by the Letter ‘M’.
First up: Mr. Mister!
And then: Mike + The Mechanics
No, these weren’t random, and no ‘M’ theme was intended. Just a few things on my mind lately.
Arizona Governor Jan Brewer’s statement on her veto of Arizona’s Senate Bill 1062 is interesting, as much for what it doesn’t say as for what it does say:
Good evening and thank you all for joining me here this evening.
I’m here to announce a decision on Senate Bill 1062. As with every proposal that reached my desk I give great concern and careful evaluation and deliberate consideration, especially to Senate Bill 1062.
I call them like I seem them despite the cheers or the boos from the crowd. I took the necessary time to make the right decision.
I met and spoke with my attorneys, lawmakers and citizens supporting and opposing this legislation.
As governor I have asked questions, and I have listened. I have protected religious freedoms where there is a specific and present concern that exists in our state, and I have the record to prove it.
My agenda is to sign into law legislation that advances Arizona. When I addressed the Legislature earlier this year, I made my priorities for this session abundantly clear. Among them are passing a responsible budget that continues Arizona’s economic comeback. From CEOs, to entrepreneurs, to business surveys, Arizona ranks as one of the best states to grow or start a business.
Additionally, our immediate challenge is fixing a broken child protection system. Instead, this is the first policy bill to cross my desk.
Senate Bill 1062 does not address a specific or present concern related to religious liberty in Arizona.
I have not heard one example in Arizona where a business owner’s religious liberty has been violated. The bill is broadly worded and could result in unintended and negative consequences. After weighing all of the arguments, I have vetoed Senate Bill 1062 moments ago.
To the supporters of this legislation, I want you to know that I understand that long-held norms about marriage and family are being challenged as never before. Our society is undergoing many dramatic changes, however, I sincerely believe that Senate Bill 1062 has the potential to create more problems than it purports to solve. It could divide Arizona in ways we cannot even imagine and nobody could ever want.
Religious liberty is a core American and Arizona value. So is non-discrimination. Going forward, let’s turn the ugliness of the debate over Senate Bill 1062 into a renewed search for greater respect and understanding among all Arizona and Americans.
Considering the lack of gloating on my Facebook feed from the usual suspects over the veto, I can’t help but wonder if they see something there, either in what was said or what was missing, that has dampened their enthusiasm.
Last night our cub scouts den meeting ended a little early. Since we were already in the garage making birdhouses, I figured we could play some basketball until the parents arrived to pick up the boys. I did surprisingly well. I thought I’d share some of my secrets to becoming the neighborhood basketball star:
- If you must practice, do so on a little “cubicle toys” hoop that hangs over a door inside your house. That way a real hoop will seem huge–practically too huge to miss!
- Use an adjustable backboard. Set the basket height to around 7 foot.
- Play against nine year old boys. Press your height advantage for all it’s worth.
- Play in the near-dark. This may not work for everyone, but even with the outdoor lights on it was pretty hard to see the rim. Oddly enough, I seem to have an easier time making baskets when I can’t see.
- Play against nine year old boys who don’t like to pass the ball.
And there you have it. Just follow these simple tips and you too can astound and amaze!
Speaking of astounding and amazing, you should have seen the look on the face of one of my scouts when, after demonstrating how to drill a pilot hole, I handed him the drill and told him to do the next ones. He clearly thought I wasn’t going to trust them with a power drill, because his whole face lit up. I had to help him a little–it’s a heavy drill–but he did just fine. Boys that age can be fairly wild, but so far all the boys we’ve taught seem to have a healthy respect for power tools. And clearly, they’re not expecting adults to recognize that.
There are times when I definitely enjoy being a den leader.
If there’s one thing American’s love it’s getting up a full head of outrage. You know the real reason why Facebook won’t give us a “Dislike” button? Because what we really want won’t fit on a button: Click here to hate this to the point of aneurism! To merely “dislike” something would probably cause an outbreak of moderation that could be fatal to most Americans.
Of course what usually accompanies our outrage over those idiotic, close-minded fools would couldn’t see the light if we staked them out in the desert with their eyelids taped open (but we’d like to try, nonetheless) is intense myopia about our own inconsistencies, hypocrisies, and cognitive dissonance. I’m enlightened. You’re anti-science.
But are you? Am I?
I recently came across an interesting article by Michael Schulson that pokes a few holes in the conventional wisdom and the open-minded fairness of, well, everyone:
Still: a significant portion of what Whole Foods sells is based on simple pseudoscience. And sometimes that can spill over into outright anti-science (think What Doctors Don’t Tell You, or Whole Foods’ overblown GMO campaign, which could merit its own article). If scientific accuracy in the public sphere is your jam, is there really that much of a difference between Creation Museum founder Ken Ham, who seems to have made a career marketing pseudoscience about the origins of the world, and John Mackey, a founder and CEO of Whole Foods Market, who seems to have made a career, in part, out of marketing pseudoscience about health?
Well, no—there isn’t really much difference, if the promulgation of pseudoscience in the public sphere is, strictly speaking, the only issue at play. By the total lack of outrage over Whole Foods’ existence, and by the total saturation of outrage over the Creation Museum, it’s clear that strict scientific accuracy in the public sphere isn’t quite as important to many of us as we might believe. Just ask all those scientists in the aisles of my local Whole Foods.
Read the whole thing. None of us are nearly so smart as we think we are. We all have areas where we take things on faith. We cherry-pick our information to only pay attention to information that seems to validate our beliefs and ignore contrary information. It’s human nature, and we’re not likely to change, especially in the Information Age where we have far too much data and pseud0-data at our fingertips to ever consume. We have to filter our data intake as a means of survival.
But in acknowledging that perhaps we should try harder to remain calm and avoid rage. Everyone is doing the best they know how with the time that they have. We all live by faith to some degree. Perhaps we should cut one another some slack.
Okay, after last week’s semi-downer attitude, I want to get this week off to a better start. So, here’s what we’re going to do. I’m going to open it up to audience input here. Leave me a comment below with a favorite inspirational or positive quote, a link to something that makes you smile or inspires you, whatever. Show me something you feel makes you a better person, or at least in a better mood, for having seen it. Ready, go!
Fair’s fair. Here’s mine:
Not necessarily inspiration, but it makes me smile. I love the repeating blunderbuss!
Okay, this one is almost inspirational: