GABlog Generative Anthropology in the Public Sphere

May 21, 2016

Family Resemblances

Filed under: GA — adam @ 6:00 am

It’s very interesting to explore forbidden topics—not only is the field wide open, with fundamental questions barely touched on, but there is the added, “meta” topic of all the ways we talk about the forbidden topic without talking about it. Naturally, I’m talking about race again. Here’s the starting point for this reflection: explicit racial politics is noxious, but implicit racial politics is just part, if not much, of politics. Explicit racial politics is always defensive. It is the politics of a group that assumes it can only advance its interests by fighting from within and exacerbating the racial categories to which it has been confined. So, white nationalism is very unlikely in the US—most whites see themselves as “white” only in vague terms, and are reminded of it mostly when they have to fill out government mandated forms or hear themselves denounced by some minority activist—I think if you were to ask most American whites to “identify” themselves, they would choose ethnic, religious and regional terms. White nationalism will only be a problem if those government classifications and political denunciations (along with the bio-politics of demographic transformation) become so prevalent and intrusive that there is no other way of protecting a normal everyday life. The defensiveness becomes noxious insofar as the transformation of tacit categories into explicit ones inevitably turns those categories into the stake in the struggle within the “movement”—who is the real white becomes the question, as the identification of “race traitors” takes over.

Still, when leftists assert that American institutions and principles (the favoring of free enterprise, the insistence that “all men are created equal,” the expectation of minimal government interference in daily life, etc.) are really “white” institutions and principles, they have a point. We could get even more specific and say they are Anglo institutions and principles, dating back in their most explicit forms to Lockean liberal individualism but even much further back to medieval patterns of land ownership, family formation, and the relative weakness of the British monarchy. And, who knows, maybe even further back. Things go down the memory hole quickly these days, but I clearly remember lots of talk about the “Anglosphere” a decade or so ago when relations between the US, Canada, England and Australia seemed to establish these countries as a kind of spear of liberty in the war on terror. That seemed a mostly safe, if vaguely problematic, form of “identity politics,” as long as it remained on the “cultural” level—some accidents of history led to certain ideas being discovered by a particular group of people and now, presumably, those ideas can be propagated and implemented deliberately, rather than relying upon chance. I think that very few people thinking along these lines realize that this claim is a hypothesis that might be subject to disproof, revealing, perhaps, the accretion of “accidents” was really essential to the “ideas,” which can’t therefore be easily transplanted or, more disturbingly, that the ideas are products of a specific people in its entirety, including their genetic make-up. The Left, in seeking to tar foundational American institutions as “white,” could just as easily be “privileging” whiteness as a source of remarkable and unrepeatable institutions and ideas. The question for opponents of the Left has been, how to respond to this charge—the approach up until now has been to deny the charge and assert the universality of the ideas and institutions; the approach of the alt-right is to reject the whole assumption that it’s a “charge” rather than simple description in the first place. The rhetorical and political advantages of an approach that allow you to turn your opponent’s trump card into your own can’t be denied.

Would “Anglo” nationalism be less frightening than the “white” variety? Probably, because of the differing historical resonances (the KKK didn’t identify itself as “Anglo”) as well as the fact that “Anglos” would, I assume, be perhaps a plurality but certainly a minority of the American population—so, Anglo nationalism would be less threatening than the “dictatorship of the majority” we are enjoined to fear, and far more difficult to even imagine. It’s not all that different, though, if we consider that, if Anglos share a transmittable culture and even (more controversial, of course) a heritable set of character traits, it’s likely that the closest “relatives” of the Anglos, first of all the other Germanic peoples, and then other Western Europeans, would share a bit more with the Anglos than more distant peoples and would therefore be better equipped to conform to Anglo institutions. This is no doubt questionable as well: one thing that biological investigations (that, say, tie—so far—a few genes to specific traits, or establish degrees of consanguinity between peoples) can’t tell us is which differences are meaningful, and how meaningful they are. In my ongoing explorations into corners of the internet I was previously unaware of (the vast caverns of the alt-right and Dark Enlightenment), I have seen arguments, for example, to the effect that Germans and Scandinavians who immigrated to the US in the 19th century brought customs and dispositions (too much respect for authority in the case of the Germans, too much power for women in the case of the Swedes) to this country at odds with and corrosive of its foundational Anglo culture. Perhaps people who are more different, and would therefore have to more radically transform themselves, will ultimately fit in better. If such radical transformation is possible, or possible without various deleterious side effects.

The insistence on conformity to existing institution, ideas and habits is already, then, racial politics, of the tacit kind. The resistance to such conformity is also racial politics, of a somewhat more explicit kind—one complains about the WASPs and belittles the supposedly superior dispositions one is required to adopt (what the WASP sees as proper, a sense of fair play, and respect for the individual is really unimaginative hypocrisy, etc.). The resentment at what appears ingratitude is likely to get yet a bit more explicit. And so on. As long as all this remains on the cultural and interpersonal level, and institutions are not forced to include (and, by now, include “proportionally”) members of groups with whom such reciprocal resentments are exchanged, all this remains on simmer. When it becomes political, and the cultural becomes politicized, and the personal becomes political, it heads toward the boiling point. The anti-whiteness left is playing with fire, but it’s easy to understand why most mainstream conservatives sound as if they should be starting each discussion with “some of my best friends are…”—they themselves have no idea how to either direct or put out that fire. They just don’t want to get burned.

The anti-whiteness left feels free to play the pyromaniac because they feel sure that there will never, in fact, be the backlash to their activities that they are always ringing the alarm over. This means that they assume that whites are, in fact, more civilized than they themselves are—even in response to significant property damage and physical assault all whites will do is pack it up and go home. This envious contempt for civilization includes the whites among the anti-whiteness left, who de-civilize themselves in order to be good whites—still, the very fact that significant portions of the white population decamp to anti-civilizational forces is a sign of a higher level of civilization, since only civilization contains such ambivalence over the justness of one’s institutions and the limits of one’s more tribal loyalties. White privilege is simply civilization, that is, and so is the attempt to repudiate it. What I am doing here, by the way, is modeling the way in which I think defenders of civilization should answer the anti-whites: just keep flipping their own words, showing how their denunciations of whiteness are really implicit confessions of failure in their own civilizing process. No positive claim ever needs to be made—you just turn their discourse inside out, like a glove. And this is in fact easy when habits like punctuality, politeness, application and objectivity are among those most energetically denounced as “white.”

This is why the argument I made a while back, in my “Unified Field Theory of the Left,” that the left is fundamentally anti-civilization (determined to discredit the internal relation between deferral and discipline, on one side, and wealth and power, both individual and communal, on the other) is so important. One can not only “decode” all of leftist discourse with this mind (why, for example, due they attack one form of “inequality” but not another?), but one can treat the left fairly and enter into dialogue with less crazed leftists along these lines. There is always much that is arbitrary and unnecessary in the restrictions imposed by civilization, and sometimes one set of impositions in fact interferes with efforts to create higher forms of discipline. It’s very hard to tell which elements of civilization are arbitrary or outdated and harmful—very often it’s not the most obvious and irritating ones—but it’s a very worthy topic of discussion. We should always be open to controlled experimentation. There are very good grounds for contending that the extreme marginalization of homosexuality that persisted well into the 20th century is such an outdated and harmful element, even if one understands the likely significance of that marginalization in the process of constructing the family forms required for the expansion of civilization. I also think there are very good grounds for arguing that things are not nearly that simple, and that we are moving much too fast, but the point is it should be possible to argue—that it is not is itself a marker of indiscipline and a de-civilizing trajectory. (Doesn’t the virulence with which LGBT activists suppress even the slightest expression of disapproval of homosexuality provide some evidence of patterns of concerted behavior that might reveal more than current ideological divides? Could such patterns be part of the reason for “homophobia” in the first place? Just more mischievous lines of questioning for engagements with SJWs.)

Racial politics, sexual politics and migratory politics are all forms of bio-politics, which seems to be the only kind we have these days. One thing my peregrinations throughout the white-o-sphere (“albasphere”?) has enabled me to notice is how common it has become for whites, and especially Christians and conservatives, to tout their bi-racial families and adoptions of Third World children. As the famous Seinfeld episode had it, “not that there’s anything wrong with that!” Still, it’s hard to deny that there’s a bit of trolling going on here—part of the point of publicizing and boasting about these non-traditional families seems to be, not only to inoculate oneself against anti-whiteism, but to draw out the “bad whites,” who will make “snide” (or worse) comments, allowing one to distinguish oneself from them in a great ostentatious burst of self-righteousness. They are daring you to notice something that you “shouldn’t” notice. But what are the consequences of training yourself to not notice? What other blindnesses would one be inadvertently cultivating? What are the consequences of noticing but training yourself not to say anything? What else will you deduce you must keep silent about, and what kind of distinctions will emerge between those with whom you can speak freely and those you must deceive because they, contemptibly, are too weak to ask some obvious questions?

The most interesting HBD (Human Bio-Diversity, remember?) concept I have come across so far is the “hajnal line” from St. Petersburg to Italy, dividing Europe in two according to patterns of marriage. To keep it real simple (for myself, first of all), to the West of the hajnal line there is much more out-marriage (non-consanguinous) than there is to the East. On a cultural level, it is easy to see how this would lead to the extension of trust outside of the extended family (beyond, say, second cousins) thereby promoting what we see as the values of “objectivity,” “altruism,” and “individualism.” We also cannot help but notice that the most successfully modernized countries are on that side of the line. The question is whether there is a genetic component to this divergence—that is, do descendants of those who fell out on the “right” side of the Hanjal line have a genetic predisposition to those values? (Causing, or as a result of, the divergence in family forms?) Should we be asking these questions? Should I be interested in the Hanjal line? Should I be harangued, harassed, and chased from the public sphere if I am? Once again, I am modeling forms of dialogue: in response to vague and sulfurous alarm ringing, the anti-whiteist should be asked: do you deny the existence of a field of inquiry here? How would you like to see those pursuing these lines of inquiry punished? And why? No doubt you will encounter many enthusiastic inquisitors—the point of such asymmetrical rhetorical strategies is not to persuade (although it may do that on occasion) but to confuse the antagonist, defuse the antagonism, and compel the SJWs to openly avow (or disavow) their totalitarian ends and methods.

The only politics that can transcend the explicit racial one would be a digital civilizational politics. Digital civilization is predicated upon a social order governed by algorithms, which necessarily creates a simulcral reality: what happens is always a particular possibility out of the many continually generated by all the actuarial, marketing, testing and other modeling constitutive of all modern institutions—in a sense, then, whatever happens has “always already” happened. So, a digital civilizational politics first of all wants to allow the algorithms to create order, by letting inquiries into reality guide (and, increasingly, minimize) interventions in reality. Resentments are blunted, disarmed and turned inward to the precise extent that this is accomplished. What happens always exceeds the simulacral, though, insofar as even when the most probable event is the one that occurs, it comes bearing various anomalies that subvert the model that prepared our attention to greet it. The singular deviation from a model is what we notice, and virality is based on this articulation, creating what we could see as a skewed iconicity: the viral phenomenon is the misfitting label on an extremely predictable but ultimately utterly unpredictable conjunction of institutionalized habits and desires. To take a randomly selected example from today’s news, “voting pleas in obituaries go viral”—conventional final requests, for example, that mourners give to some charity in lieu of sending flowers, are both extended into new terrain (pleading with one’s survivors and anyone reading the obituary not to vote for Trump or Clinton) and (deliberately or not) satirized, gently, by being swallowed up in the kind of earthly battles and obsessions that the more eternal perspective provided by commemoration should presumably transcend. It’s like putting a political bumper sticker on a headstone.

So, if all viral phenomena are a bit like campaign bumper stickers on headstones, the discipline required of members of a digital civilization could be likened to finding and placing another sign to complement the bumper sticker on the headstone—that is, to maintain the headstone as an object of commemoration, without erasing its defacement and enhancement (desperately trying to scrub off all evidence of the bumper sticker; placing the opposing sticker on top of it) but, rather, by balancing that defacement/enhancement with another that redirects attention to the headstone as the repository of the dueling and dialoging signs. That means slowing down the virality (without trying, futilely, to resist it) by embedding it in a dense network of signs. Similarly, to try to respond to a racialized politics with anti-racist outrage simply accelerates the virality of the racialized meme; while simply going with the flow of that meme will itself produce splits between less and more radicalized stances (which itself replicates the racist-antiracist binary). Better to redirect the meme to the forgotten tacit racial dimension of politics by placing the polarized difference in a field of less polarized differences.

This would move us away from incommensurable identities toward Wittgenstein’s notion of “family resemblances,” which he saw as providing a better understanding than those provided by a typical dictionary definition or the use of synonyms of the ways words are used and take on meanings. We can gather more and more of those of European descent into the category of “white”; but many of those who might fit that category also overlap with other categories. There will be general identitarian gravitational pulls, which will be pointless to resist, but other affinities will always counter the more “viral” ones at any given moment. We will notice more and more group differences, for good and for bad, and we will become less and less afraid of noticing them; but we will also become more interested in exceptions, in surprising counter-trends, and in situating ourselves across intersecting categories. We already see individuals pile a series of cultural and ethnic categories upon themselves—one is half black, quarter Asian, quarter white, gay, male, from the Midwest, etc.—but now this is done in order to bolster one’s victimary credentials, including mitigating one’s inclusion within “victimizing” groups. As we become more digitally civilized, such articulations will counter the predictabilities associated with all of the categories, including the victimary ones. The point will be to accept the stereotype (label, bumper sticker) others spontaneously place on you, while working within that stereotype to retrofit it interoperatively with all the other inescapable labels. This is where postcolonial theorists like Homi Bhabha could never go because they could never leave the victimary reservation, but it follows up on and incorporates into originary thinking his notion of “mimickry.”

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