Discoveries This Week

This week’s reading was more scattered than last week’s, which was focused mainly on US surveillance and politics. Still lots of interesting stuff this week — it’s amazing what comes to light when I allow myself to care.

I thought a lot this week about worker’s rights and democratic companies. I realized that Google’s workforce has no real decision-making power for the company — we do what the leadership tells us to do. This realization came with the awareness that it doesn’t have to be this way. Google does not have a worker’s union, but if we did, we could democratically control the company — the power is already available, we need only claim it. But we have no need to claim it because the leadership is doing a good job. All systems which rely on labor of the many are eventually democratic, the question is only how much resistance the many need overcome to affect the decisions of the powerful (however, I might stop classifying them as “eventually democratic” at the point where power’s resistance is physically violent). Hence education plays an incredibly important role: the more this is known, the more powerful the people are. But Google makes me wonder, how powerful should the people be? I like Google’s leadership, and honestly if Googlers were encouraged to vote on important company decisions instead of having them decided by the leadership, it’s not clear that Google and/or the world would be better off. Google is made of geeks whose views of the world are often idealistic, opinionated, and out-of-touch. I wouldn’t trust me to make good decisions for a company, no matter how many of me there were.

Chomsky noted that the USA must oppose the democratization of Iran because the census showed that 80% of the population supports Iran building nuclear weapons. It is fairly convincing that more countries with access to nuclear weapons creates more chance of total nuclear annihilation due to local political instabilities. I believe in democracy, but now I must ask: do I support a US-controlled oppressive monarchy as an alternative to a democratic, nuclear-armed Iran? Do I support US hegemony as an alternative to a yet-more dangerously unstable world? Am I only doubting democratization of Iran because I live in the USA? I don’t know these answers.

With those happy thoughts, here are the pieces I found notable this week. As always, comments and suggestions for further reading are welcome and appreciated.

World Affairs

Social Justice

  • Talking about how much you get paid is protected speech; that is, you have legal recourse if your employer retaliates against you for talking about how much you get paid. Pay as a taboo subject benefits the employer, and contributes to pay inequality between men and women.
  • The graphic design community is against “spec work”, for example logo contests, claiming that it devalues their industry. I support the community and will raise awareness of this type of exploitation when the opportunity arises.
  • The State of Working America, a site that collects data and trends in US demographics. They published the book Failure by Design which analyzes the policies which led to the horrendous economic inequality we have today (I haven’t read it, but might).

    The good news is that policy works, it does what it’s actually designed to do; the bad news is we designed it to do, in my view, a very bad thing.

  • Walter White Supremacy, an essay about the racist themes in Breaking Bad.

    The white guy who enters a world supposedly beneath him where he doesn’t belong yet nonetheless triumphs over the inhabitants is older than talkies. TV Tropes calls it “Mighty Whitey,” and examples range from Tom Cruise as Samurai and Daniel Day Lewis as Mohican to the slightly less far-fetched Julia Stiles as ghetto-fabulous. But whether it’s a 3-D Marine playing alien in Avatar or Bruce Wayne slumming in a Bhutanese prison, the story is still good for a few hundred million bucks. The story changes a bit from telling to telling, but the meaning is consistent: a white person is (and by extension, white people are) best at everything.

  • The Catholic schoolgirl & the wet nurse: an important paper to read for social justice-aware people sharing about racism. It describes the way our narratives of racism both simplify and dehumanize the victims and make the oppressors invisible. I felt +1 to Nuance after reading this.
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8 thoughts on “Discoveries This Week

  1. @Vilhelm, thanks, fixed! (Actually I couldn’t find the original article I was referencing there (?), but I found a new one)

  2. The replacement article is from Februrary, before the current Kiev government came into power, so it probably doesn’t illustrate the point you wanted to make.

  3. “The white guy who enters a world supposedly beneath him where he doesn’t belong yet nonetheless triumphs over the inhabitants is older than talkies.”

    And Wisdom is older than Sophistry: there are no people who are not the heroes of their own myths (no matter how foolish those myths might be). Why would anyone expect otherwise?

    You will find that no matter where you go, that most people (of whichever culture) will naturally think higher of themselves than their neighbours. I have spent some nine months living in a non-white culture and I know that racism and cultural pride are not limited to white people. I have a number of non-white friends and they are no more nor less racist than my white friends. Should we be surprised that people are people more than they are black and white?

    I am a white man and it is not my job to write myths for other people from their perspective: to do so would be awfully disingenuous. I am content to let them author their own myths, and probably in these myths they are the heroes and I am the villain (how do I know?) — but I have a hard time figuring out why I should [also] be the villain in my own myths.

    It is foolish to blame one group of people for a sin that we are all guilty of: Pride.

  4. @James, I have no doubt that many cultural identities like to tell tales of their own superiority. The problem I see in your interpretation is that you don’t recognize or don’t care about the effects of cultural dominance (and in so doing you are reinforcing your dominance).

    This isn’t something special or wrong about people with light skin, it’s a criticism of cultural dominance. The USA is a multi-race and multi-cultural country: White people are not the only potential viewers of Breaking Bad, yet the narrative still centers around and heroizes them, marginalizing the others. It racially groups people: the White people are the “us”, the other races are the “them”. Of course, most media of this sort will have some sort of us/them dichotomy. The problem is that, again and again in popular media, we see middle class White men as “us”, either other races or more White men as “them”, and women only as side characters or love interests. There is very little diversity of such messages, and that’s what makes the narrative of the White male dominant in the USA. Despite there being plenty of non-White Americans, non-Whites are all made to feel like outsiders by the USA’s popular narratives. Whites are not being blamed; rather, the media is being blamed for presenting a monocultural perspective to a culturally diverse country. Combine this with the negative stereotypical images of people of other races and genders and you have something harmful to everyone but White men.

    I am a White man, but “we” are not. In our myths, let us interact with people of other races and genders as peers rather than “others” and objects — that’s the world we are trying to create when we oppose racism and sexism (it just struck me that you may not realize that this is part of an attempt to transform the world). And, importantly, let us publish rather than silence the diversity of myths of people from our world.

  5. It’s important to keep “democratization” and “democracy” separate.

    Democratization is all about giving people power to control the decisions that affect their own lives. In particular, democratization is about lifting large communities out of poverty and silence. Approaches to democratization are often rooted in some form of Marxist theory, and thus the term “democratization” is frequently used as a politically safe alternative to calling one’s actions “Marxist”— a term which is still considered a slur in most of the USA. (N.B., it is also important to distinguish Marxist philosophy from socialist political ideology.)

    Democracy, on the other hand, is a particular form of governance. While democracy may seem like an easy ally to democratization, in fact democratic governance is often very far removed from the people and frequently exists as a tool of oppression. Democratic governance is easily corrupted by those already in positions of power: the upper class/caste, the rich, the racial/ethnic majority, the men, etc. Moreover, many democratic bodies use “first past the post” which is deeply problematic, and antithetical to democratization (cf., http://youtu.be/s7tWHJfhiyo). In practice, “democracy” all too often means plutocracy, oligarchy, corporacracy, etc. Remember, the USA is democratic and yet we live in a police state ruled by corporate interests, the hyperrich, and people born and raised in the political caste.

  6. Luke, an affirmation of one’s life and people does not equate to a negation of others. Who are you to speak as an ambassador for others who allegedly have no voice? Let them have their own voice or you will find yourself becoming the very thing you are against.

    Cultural dominance? There is none. You guys have already won. Cultural Marxism (in its many forms) is accepted as truth by the vast majority of those who have come into contact with it. I know this because I was once a part of it. It was cool because it was counter culture, but now it IS the culture. We followed it and threw away all of our traditions. We cleaned our feet on the old ways.

    But then it happened: the internal inconsistencies of this system led to its own unraveling. You are open minded right? So that means you are willing to listen to the other side? I did. And I am no longer a Marxist (but not because I did not give my heart to it).

    Why is it that the truth has so few friends? I suspect it is because it convicts us all in one way or another. One day you come home and look in the mirror and you wonder: who am I anyway? Slowly you come to realize that the end does not justify the means, and the many wicked sins committed in the name of Marxism are far worse than what it claims to remedy.

    Wren Gayle, I suspect that the [small] opposition to Marxism is that of its ideology and not its name. I think it is deceptive to play these kinds of word games to gain followers. Is the truth not sufficient on its own?

    Friends, I speak genuine to you: I have nothing to hide nor any tricks up my sleeve. I am a willing follower of the truth, and if your ideology possesses the absolute truth then I am certain you can sway me back to your side.

  7. @wren, thanks, I wasn’t really aware of that distinction.

    @James, you have a point about “speaking as an ambassador for others who allegedly have no voice”. I don’t wish to do that. My intention when sharing that article was just to amplify — a practice I engage in often. I amplify the things I resonate with so that they can be heard more widely. I got sucked into arguing on behalf of the author (and I felt like I did a crappy job anyhow).

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