The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

More interesting race-swap stuff...

A thoughtful reader offered the followign commentary on my entries:

“"No one said that whites were identical."

Then who wrote this?

"I would consider Jews a sub-set of white people, and their resiliancy might (or might not) be matched by some particular group of Asians of Africans -- only white people care much about the difference between Jews and other white people..."”
That doesn’t mean that whites are identical—only that white people care more about the difference within their group than do Asians or Blacks—just as Asians care more about the differences between Asians, and Africans care more about the differences between Africans.  There’s nothing inconsistent in my attitude at all, as far as I can see. 

“If you had told Socrates that both he and the barbarians of the north were "white", he would have found the assertion quite interesting, but he'd have probably argued that it was also pretty trivial; what mattered was the distinction between Greek and barbarian. Likewise with the Romans (among whom it was entirely possible for dark-skinned northern Africans to own blond, blue-eyed Celtic and German slaves). And if you'd asked anybody from about 1200 B.C. onward whether they and the Jews were a single ethnic group, they'd have told you no.”
Once again, you’re just giving examples of how people WITHIN an overall racial group are extremely sensitive to the differences—far more than people OUTSIDE the group are.  Nothing inconsistent here, either.


"... you seem to want somehow these hypothetical whites in Darkush both to have and not to have the characteristics they had when they were in the real world here. On the one hand, you want them to be exactly the way they are now when it's emotionally gratifying, i.e., when you can imagine them being spoiled brats and suffering for it. On the other hand, when I point out to you that other whites might well have innate characteristics that made them somewhat less fun to watch, you suddenly seem to want to have them be controlled by their environment rather than by their innate characteristics."
First, I never stated that Darkush was an example of such a reversal.  As I pointed out, there were many, many ways in which that was not possible, either in the name of realistic extrapolation, or for the sake of writing a successful book.  Individuals obviously have some innate qualities, and some acquired.  The only argument is over which percentage of which is which.  My position is that the differing situations of black and white in America are due primarily to acquired differences doesn’t change the fact that I think that the type of person who has the least understanding of this would be the most likely to howl were the positions reversed.


"which led you to fall back on this line:

"... my basic premise, stated clearly, is that people are pretty much the same in their hardware, but their software varies greatly."

So, you believe that the whites who you'd like to see "howl" do indeed have "essential, intrinsic qualities":

"I've entertained myself by imagining the kind of black people they'd make. Usually in dealing with such a person, I come to the conclusion that the experience would break them. Not all, of course, but those who have a strong sense of entitlement would have a horrible, horrible time of it..."
Would the same soul be the same person, given the different life?  No, which is why this is a pure fantasy thought experiment, with no real way to believably bring it about.

“but, when I point out to you that other whites might well be talented enough to do humiliatingly well, then you snap back to the we're-all-the-same argument”

I’ve never said “we’re all the same.”   My position IS that the major racial groups have about the same stuff, and the differences between them in America are more software than hardware.  Obviously individuals have great differences, as do sub-groups within a major group.


"Of course, they would have to be raised from birth, with parents who have also had whatever deprivations we describe -- or else the situation wouldn't be the same. Nor could they have memories of ever being anything different--or else the situation wouldn't be the same."

I don't mind your arguing one side or the other; this is, after all, your personal weblog. I do think that your argument would be a lot more convincing if you could manage to stick to one viewpoint through the course of a single blog posting, though.”
I really don’t think I’ve taken more than one viewpoint.  You may not have grasped what I was saying—which may or may not be my fault.  I’ve made my position clear: I think it’s more software than hardware.  My thought experiment, to put whites into black lives, CANNOT really quite be done.  I probably came closer than anyone ever has with “Lion’s Blood” but there are still far too many differences to represent a real “role reversal.”  That’s why it’s just a blog post, and not a story or book.
“Either you think that the whites you dislike really are hardwired to have a "sense of entitlement", or you don't.”
First of all, I don’t necessarily dislike them.  I just disagree with their attitude and beliefs.  And as I’ve said, I understand that the experiment would be impossible to conduct.  No, I don’t think some people are hardwired to have a “sense of entitlement” (although they may—I don’t know) but that doesn’t stop me from thinking  that IF they found themselves in that situation, they would howl.  That’s a pure “what-if” suspension of a logical law for the sake of story-telling or point making.

“ If you don't, then your thought experiment wouldn't be very amusing for that unevolved part of your brain, since presumably the whites you dislike would acquire the same sturdy, uncomplaining virtues that blacks apparently have in real life.”
Sure it would. That unevolved part would listen to the howls and say: “serves them right.  If they were white, they’d probably be bigots.”  No, it’s not logical—that’s why I CLEARLY labeled that part of my brain “unevolved,” guy!  Vengeful, illogical, petty, childish—unevolved.
"... there is a HUGE amount of resistance to the idea, that deep inside, whites feel that, were positions reversed, they would do better than blacks have done."

The "resistance" you're getting from me, here is to the following assumptions:

“1. All cultures are equally stable under intense stress.”

I never said that.  However, black “culture” in America isn’t a natural culture, created after centuries or thousands of years of isolation and developing its own language, religion, etc.  It is specifically a sub-culture, created to serve as slaves.  In fact, I would say that different cultures definitely react differently under stress---but that white people, stripped of their culture and subjected to the same stress, would behave in the same approximate way.

“2. All behavioral variation is identical within ethnic groups.”

I certainly never said that either.  Not even sure what you mean by it.

"Asians", "blacks", and "whites" are homogeneous ethnic groups."

Never said that either.  Just that in looking at any of the groups, it is only fair to use the same level of differentiation.  If you split Whites into different groups, you have to split blacks into different groups, and Asians into the same number of sub-groups.  Otherwise, your arguments are going to get wonky.

“ Most biologists would like there to be zero difference genetically between different ethnic groups, and are really unhappy about anything (like academic test scores) that would tend to suggest any actual differences.

So my guess is as good as yours, as far as how-well-would-whites-do. There's little, if any, science yet that could even begin to address that issue, and may not be for a long time.”
Or never.  I didn’t say my position was truth.  I said that it is my position: that the differences are extrinsic rather than intrinsic.  I can support that position, but not prove it.

And I then invited you, or any other reader, to clearly state your own position.  When you say that your guess is as good as mine, that is likely correct.  What you DIDN’T say was what that guess was.  Come on, guy—how about a clear statement?

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