Posts Tagged ‘Classism’

In any given news cycle there is likely to be a story about someone who said something or told some joke that is described as “offending” some persons. Earlier this summer there was the “rape joke” told by Daniel Tosh. This week Pam Palmater wrote about a racist joke in an Royal Canadian Legion newsletter.

Usually after such occasions the person or organization issues an apology “for offendingthe group or individual in question (or in the case Palmater describes, fails to apologize at all since “only one” person was offended).

I'm Sorry

I’m Sorry

In fact, this response is so common that Wikipedia even has an entry on it titled “The Non-Apology.” The Wikipedia article focus mainly on the apology as lacking the requisite contrition or admission that something was wrong. I think that is right, but I also want to focus on something else: the “I’m sorry I offended you” line misses one important target group for the apology.

You see, I am not so worried about those who were “offended.” Sure, it sucks to have to live in a culture that is basically a mine field waiting to explode with “humour” that reinforces one’s lesser status. But at least those who were offended recognize what was wrong with the statement. I am also worried (perhaps more worried) about those who were not offended.  As Palmater writes:

 Racism against Indigenous peoples in Canada is so ingrained that some in society can’t even identify it when they see it. (Source)

Those in the group who were not offended are the ones who really concern me because they are so blind to racism, sexism, ableism, heterosexism, etc. that they were not even able to be offended by the alleged humour. So in addition to apologizing to those groups who were “offended” by the racist/sexist/etc. “joke” I think there should also be an apology to those who were not offended.

Perhaps something along the lines of:

I am sorry my hackneyed attempt at humour reinforced ideas of racial (gender, class, etc.) superiority among those who were not offended by the alleged “joke.” I am sorry that what I said perpetuated and reinforced your privileged blindness to the racism (sexism, classism, heterosexism, etc.) so prevalent in this society…

Because in addition to hurting those who are offended and reinforcing their lesser status in a given culture, such “jokes” also have the harmful effect of reinforcing arrogance and ignorance among those who failed to see what was wrong with the “offensive” “joke” in the first place.


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When parents discuss their choices about their children’s education and extracurricular activities they often mention that they want the best for their children:

I just want the best for my kids.

I want my daughter to have all possible advantages.

I want my son to have a head start.

This attitude is usually taken to be unproblematic and perhaps even praiseworthy. Government programs for poor children often echo these types of sentiments in their titles: for example, Head Start. So what could possibly be wrong with this view?

I want the best for my kids: I want them to stand out above yours

I want the best for my kids: I want them to stand out above yours

Well, things like “advantages,” “head starts,” and things that are “the best” are positional goods. This means that in order to have them, others need to be kept from having them. We cannot all be “the best” or have “the best,” otherwise it would stop being the best and would be average. We cannot all have “an advantage,” otherwise it would cease to be “an advantage” and become the average. You can only have a “head start” relative to some baseline that is somewhere behind. So whenever a parent says something like the quotes above, there is an implicit statement about other children:

I want your son to have disadvantages (relative to my daughter).

I want your daughter to start behind my son.

I want what is average for your kids.

I seriously doubt that when parents make statements about wanting “the best” “advantages” or “head starts” for their own children that they are also considering the flip-side of these statements. In fact, I think that if many parents were asked about the implicit statements about other children, they would probably deny them. Nevertheless, the first set of statements does correlate to the implicit second set of statements.

To the extent that we believe in meritocracy (that people should get what they deserve through their hard work and talent) and to the extent that we think people should have equal opportunities (or a level-playing field) then there is something troubling about these often-lauded parental sentiments.


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Happy Pills

Give me some happy pills so that I can be a better person.

On Monday the Guardian ran an article about using drugs to improve moral behaviour. Some drugs affect our emotions, increasing our feelings of trust, social bonding, empathy and lowering our anxiety. Scientists are now discussing the possibility that these drugs might be used to improve our moral behaviour.

The assumption seems to be  that we would be morally better people, if only we could better control our emotional responses.

“Science has ignored the question of moral improvement so far, but it is now becoming a big debate,” he [Guy Kahane] said. “There is already a growing body of research you can describe in these terms. Studies show that certain drugs affect the ways people respond to moral dilemmas by increasing their sense of empathy, group affiliation and by reducing aggression.”

I think this assumption is interesting, because it reflects one strain of Western Philosophy that has a long tradition of being apprehensive about our emotions. Philosophers, dating back to the ancient Greeks, were often suspicious of emotions and sometimes considered them to be an irrational influence that distorted our otherwise praiseworthy rationality. For some philosophers, part of the task of philosophy was to control our emotions so that they cannot distort our moral reasoning. The Stoics, for example, recognized that some emotions (love, a sense of justice) might be thought to have positive value within our moral life, but they noted that each of these emotions also has a negative side: love can turn to murderous jealousy and a sense of justice can lead to destructive outrage. The Stoics argued that one cannot keep the good part of our emotional responses without bringing along the bad parts, and so they suggested that we endeavour to purge all emotions from our souls.

The assumptions about emotions made by Kahane are a little different than the discussion of emotions by the Stoic philosophers, because Kahane seems to believe there is a positive role for emotions in our moral lives and through pharmaceutical manipulation we might be able to harness the positive aspects of moral emotions while leaving behind their bad aspects. Nevertheless, Kahane’s discussion reflects the ancient Greek discussion because there is a suspicion of emotions in their natural state. The view seems to be that emotions can positively contribute to our moral behaviour, but in order to do so they must be “tamed” and manipulated by pharmaceuticals.


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Image from https://i2.wp.com/www.ynetnews.com/PicServer2/24012010/2629647/CANB104_wa.jpg

A Police Car on fire in Toronto

[Note: Some links are to PDF files]

I have been doing some reading on the Black Bloc tactic since the G20 in Toronto because I did not know the reason(s) for the vandalism, and I thought I should learn more before forming an opinion. Further, I had heard many politicians and  journalists concluding that the tactic was incomprehensible, ineffective, immature, and so forth. Before making conclusions such as these, I prefer to give people the benefit of the doubt and look into the reasons that they articulate for their behaviour.

A number of  journalists (including Jon Stewart around 6:30, click here for the video if your are reading from the USA) commented that they were unable to discern the message of the march because there were too many messages. An example comes from the Canadian news site The Mark, where commentator John Stapleton writes in his piece, “The 2010 G20: The Day the Music Died?”

After a week of searching, I have no real idea who the leaders of the protest are or if we can even talk in those terms. There certainly seems to be neither a claim to leadership nor an overall narrative to articulate their goals or an assessment of the results. Few seem interested in assuming this leadership except to speculate on the motives of police and other security officials. In the 1960s, various groups and their leaders in Toronto and especially in the United States wrote books and articles, made public speeches in town halls, and met with media to carefully and meticulously articulate demands to distinguish the differences between sectors and groups. Back then, you knew in detail what the Students for a Democratic Society, the Chicago Seven or “Danny the Red” wanted. The “Weathermen” and the FLQ had visible and very public leadership, and that leadership appeared to have as much access to the mass media as it wanted.

Now we are left with the distinction that anarchists and everybody else want very different things, but I don’t know where to go to obtain the tracts, the manifestos, or the books that would give me more than half a page on the different motives of violent vs. non-violent protest.

Really? After a week of searching Stapleton could not come up with any writing describing the reasons for the protest? Because it took me about 1/2 an hour to find a number of descriptions about why the G20 protests were occurring, and why some people support using the Black Bloc tactic (including an assessment of its results). What I could find included some descriptions of the way the groups are organized, which details why they specifically avoid leadership and hierarchy. It also includes descriptions of why the various affinity groups avoid talking to the mainstream media, preferring instead to use alternative media and the internet to get their messages across. What I found also included some full-length books, available for free download, that detail the history behind the Black Bloc tactic and what those who use the tactic mean to achieve through its use.

(Note: I was only searching for information about groups that support the use of the Black Bloc tactic, so most (though not all) of the links above focus on that. Many other members of the various protest groups either do not support the tactic, or believe the tactic has its place but would not use it themselves. Information about the structure, beliefs, mandates and proposed alternatives from these groups is also easily obtained through a Google search. One place to start is this website, which provided a place to coordinate the various affinity groups, and links to publications detailing the views of some members of the protest groups. Although not all of these groups are anarchist groups, many of them eschew hierarchical leadership and prefer horizontal, decentralized modes of organizing and are also suspicious of the slant taken by mainstream media.)

The main point of Stapleton’s article is that there is no music to accompany the protests, that too was easily found by searching YouTube. I came up with bands like Test Their Logik, testament, the Dead Prez, Keny Arkana. I had never heard of any of them before attempting a search. He might not like the music, but it is hard to argue that it does not exist or that it is not political. Stapleton also complained that there was no concert arranged for the protest. This also turned out to be false (although from what I can gather from the internet the concert never did happen because all of the artists were detained/arrested by the police at the time it was supposed to occur).

So what is going on here? Are these journalists incapable of doing a Google search? Don’t they have research teams to do this work for them if they are too busy? It did take me longer than 1/2 hour to actually read all of the links I posted above, but it did not take long to find them.

I am not going to summarize all of the linked information, but reading the descriptions of those who support the use of the Black Bloc tactic made me rethink the post that I wrote before about “Classism and Reporting on Toronto’s G20.” In that post, I thought that the use of “middle class” to distinguish good protesters from bad protesters was really problematic because of the classist undertones of the description (I still do). After reading the linked information (especially the linked book), I now think that eliciting this kind of reporting might be part of the intent of those using the Black Bloc tactic and perhaps shows that the tactic is somewhat effective from their perspective.


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There is much to criticize about the policing of the G20 in Toronto last weekend. Many reporters have already done so.

The police did too little to stop vandals, and too much to stop protesters. The police might have lied or been misleading about the extra powers they had to request IDs, detain, and arrest people over the weekend. The police were  misleading about the “weapons” they seized from protesters at the G20. The list goes on. Instead of repeating what has already been said, I want to talk about the classism in some reporting on the G20 and the way the protesters have been described.


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