Incidental Racism

I am a racist. Well, to the extent that there is only one extant human race but some choose to construct races out of ethnicities, skin colour, and other allele expressions, I am a racist. It’s difficult to escape the distinction that the perpetrators and targets or victims of these fabricated races.

The haters need to create a target group to feel superior over. The do-gooders need to be able to identify groups who have been harmed or historically underserved. Of course, there is a right way and then there’s this wrong way. In a manner of speaking, it’s an easier effort to broad-brush people into race categories. No mind that they have no basis in biology or in science more broadly. These people have issues with science, mainly because they don’t feel fully included in their designation as soft scient and social science. They get pretty defensive when they get called out as pseudoscience, but if the shoe fits. Playing these race games only underscores the pseudoscience charge.

All of this said—or by this tepid definition—, I am a racist. Here’s why.

I am a racist

When I see a person from a designated group, I consciously reflect: that’s a human who’s been identified as an other—sort of like an endangered species, they need to be protected. Sure they can protect themselves, but they need assistance. Besides, they deserve extra attention because of so many centuries of not only neglect but of malice. Perhaps not that person in particular, but since we’re broad-brushing.

Where my racism comes into play is that I’ll smile and nod; I’ll engage in phatic exchange; I’ll hold a door; I’ll recognise them as a person—as a human; I’ll feel a slight boost of empathy and compassion. I’ll see this person as different, whereas without this constructed designation, I’d only see another person. But I’ve been instructed to see them as different.

Growing up around Boston in the 1970s, a time of desegregation and forced bussing, my best friend was a negro. That’s how we labelled blacks or African-Americans or whatever the latest label is. He was very aware of his colour. We’d joke about it as kids tend to do. He was coloured. I was a cracker. To us, his colour (or race, if you prefer) meant nothing to us.

My family were racist, though they’d deny it. To them, Lenny, my friend, wasn’t an individual. He was a part of that larger race construct. Sure, he was an individual, too. He was my friend who played baseball with me and shot hoops in the driveway. But to me as a child, race didn’t yet exist. I hadn’t yet been indoctrinated into the race nonsense. Lenny may have experienced things differently.

Don’t get me wrong, looking back, Lenny did conform to racial stereotypes. His dad was an absent parent, an alcoholic shipworker, who spent more time at the shipyard and in bars. I barely even saw him. His mum was a large woman, who was very nice to me but was frustrated with her lot in life and the lack of emotional support from her husband.

Lenny was the youngest of three brothers, but he had a younger sister, Karen. His brothers were high school basketball stars, as it were, in a suburb. Tookey was the oldest and tallest. His given name was Raymond, but only his parents called him Ray. Steve* was also a football star, who went on to play at Boston University during the Doug Flutie years.

It wasn’t until I joined the military that I learned about race. This was mainly about the people of colour who had joined the military owning to economic necessity and the promise of a better life. This outlook was not unique to what we now refer to as BIPOC. The majority of enlisted personnel were victims of the system they at least tacitly believed in. If I were to be so bold, I’d say there were two flavours, the bitter and the hopeful. I won’t elaborate further.

Eventually, I moved to Los Angeles and was steeped in Hispanic/Latino culture—primarily from Mexico and Central America. Again, I was an observer. I participated with people connected to this culture. I don’t particularly abide by any culture. I don’t view it as important, but this also means that I have no culture to defend either. Maybe that’s a significant difference. If I’ve got no cultural ego to defend, then I am not threatened by other cultures that I might feel as encroaching.

Don’t get me wrong. Whilst I tolerate cultural expression and say ‘to each their own‘, I do find traditional clothing and rituals to be silly or quaint. But so do I find some of this silly in what would be said to be my cultural heritage, whether ethnically to Norway or nationally to the United States. I’ll spare the commentary.

I picked up enough conversational Spanish to get by—mostly phatic speech and politesse—, so if I am interacting with a Spanish speaker, I will use what words I know: gracias, de nada, compromiso, desculpa, por favor, and even pendejo doesn’t go to waste. I’ve also been known to utter merci, danke, spasibo, xièxiè nǐ, or domo arrigato (mister roboto, cuz let’s be honest here).

This is my racism or my sensitivity to culture. To be honest—and why not be honest, am I right?—, this has not always been without controversy. Arbitrarily, I might spam gracias, merci, or domo to a whitebread American. In most instances, they’ll nod and acknowledge the intent and accept it or respond with no problem, you’re welcome, or even de nada or de rien. I’ve even gotten a German bitte in response to a domo, so I suppose I am not alone.

I think it’s safe to say that most Americans know what grazie or merci mean. Perhaps not domo. In one encounter, I said domo to a non-Japanese Asian and was immediately derided with an I’m not Japanese. From her perspective, she may have felt that she had been homogenised into being Asian and she wanted to be identified as whatever her heritage was. She never shared this information with me. Perhaps she was Korean or Cambodian, Vietnamese or Laotian, Chinese or whatever. But she did communicate that she wasn’t Japanese. She might have been under the impression that from my perspective, I saw that all Asians look alike.

From my perspective, I could have as alternatively exchanged a merci. This would not have likely triggered the same emotional response—I’m not French. On the one hand, I felt bad for triggering her—despite that not having been my intent. On the other hand, I didn’t feel I needed to engage her free-floating rage. So I’m a racist.

In my own defence, studies show that people are more able to discern people within their own ethnicity. I’ve shared this story before. When I lived in Tokyo, I was dating a woman whose dad was Japanese and her mum was Chinese. I had met her once, and I was to meet her at a train station. I’d be lying if I told you I had no trepidation about not being able to recognise her in a crowd. My, perhaps narcissistic, consolation was that she’d recognise me being taller and ‘Caucasian’. I can’t really say ‘whiter’ because although I was brought up to identify Asians as yellow (and Indigenous Americans as red), most Japanese were a lighter shade of pale than I (or most so-called ‘white’ Americans) were. I’ve always been suspicious of these colour attributes, but I won’t go even further down this rabbit hole.

In the end, I see colour. I see the history.

In the end, I see colour. I see the history. Even though my family didn’t even move to the United States until World War II, somewhat exempting me from culpability, I still recognise the injustice that still prevails. With empathy, I want things to be better—to be more inclusive—, but cultural homogenisation is not the approach I support. I support tolerance.

If I feel that a certain costume is silly, so be it. I don’t have to wear it. When I was growing up in the 1970s, I felt that my own clothing options were silly—polyester and bellbottoms? No thank you. This is just a preference thing. I don’t like to wear headcovers—hats or caps. Do I care if you wear a headcover? No. Might I think you look silly? Sometimes. Do you want to know what else I think looks silly? Beards? What’s even worse? Moustaches—or as I am more apt to call them, pornstaches. Am I going to judge you are being less of a person because of any of these? No. I could go on and on about my reaction to certain accoutrements, but I’ll let you in on a secret: I have worked and interacted with people who prefer to present themselves in these ways, and these people have risen to the occasion and disappointed in the same ratio as people who dressed like me or looked more like me, so clearly it’s not a factor.

In summary—and despite the fact that there is only one human race—, I admit to being a racist. I do recognise that negative and positive stereotypes exist, as well as I know that these are vague generalisations. I know white people who can dance and Asians who suck at maths. I know Mexicans who aren’t gardeners and Italians who couldn’t cook to save their lives. I even know black people who can swim—but not my friend Lenny; he can’t swim. Sometimes stereotypes happen to encapture a person.


* As I was writing this, I decided to perform a Google search for Lenny. We lost contact decades ago because he adopted Jehova’s Witness religious beliefs that didn’t allow him to socialise with persons outside of his religion, so we parted ways. But I did locate Steve. I reached out to Steve on LinkedIn. Unless I’m mistaken, we probably haven’t communicated with each other since 1978—that’s 44 years— when he went off to college. I always admired Steve, the way we sometimes admire our big brothers. Steve was Lenny’s big brother, and Lenny looked up to both of his big brothers.

Steve responded on LinkedIn. We exchanged best wishes. Maybe one day I’ll ask him about his experience with race. It doesn’t seem to be a topic one can engage in because of the lack of shared perspective and the hot button triggers just waiting to be tripped.

Ambiguous Normalcy

I’ve never really liked the concept of normal being applied to behaviour, whether individually or societally. At a micro level, it might be fine, and one can assess a deviation from a norm, but at a macro level, we have averages of averages, so how many dimensions need to be out of calibration and for how long to be considered abnormal.

Moreover, statistically speaking, where we have a normal (Gaussian) distribution, we might consider a mean and a certain variance or standard deviation from that mean to be normal, but the reaction to deviance is asymmetrical.

An example that comes to mind is that of cheating. It is well documented that humans are predictably cheaters (and liars). Nonetheless, there are two measures of normalcy. There is a fundamental attribution bias in play.

We view ourselves as basically honest and justify occasions when we act the same way. Regarding the chart below, we like to believe that cheating is uncommon. In fact, we chastise or otherwise punish cheaters.

Descriptive versus Prescriptive Normalcy

Full disclosure this is not to scale nor representative of actual data. It’s merely an illustrative tool for conversation.

Prescriptive Normalcy

The bottom range in green represents the accepted and prescribed normal range of cheating. In this example, it might be anticipated that an average person might cheat on things like their taxes, their diets, not returning extra change at a vendor, and so on, about a third of the time, give or take. Anything more would be considered abnormal and unacceptable. Anything less and the person might be considered to be uptight or a goody-two-shoes, perhaps like Ned Flanders of the Simpsons franchise.

Ned Flanders – Hokily Dokily

Descriptive Normalcy

In practice, people operate well outside of this range. As illustrated by the top red range, people tend to cheat closer to two-thirds of the time. If a person is caught cheating, they are treated as being well outside of the prescribed range, society will look upon them harshly despite this actually being normal behaviour for those judging, those who know that they are guilty of the same activity.

One reason for the overreaction may be to signal that they are among the righteous. Here, it’s good to remember Jung’s quip: The brighter the light, the darker the shadow.

The brighter the light, the darker the shadow

Carl Jung

Intelligence Quotient

If I use IQ* for a reference, normal is the mean plus or minus a standard deviation (or sigma [σ]) of 16 points, so between 84 and 116. In the early to mid-20th century, clinical psychology nomenclature grouped IQs by bands:

ClassificationIQ Range
Idiot0 – 24
Imbecile25 – 49
Moron50 – 69
Dull or Borderline70 – 79
Below Average90 – 89
Average90 – 109
Above Average100 – 119
Superior120 – 129
Very Superior130 – 139
Genius140+
Willam Stern Intelligence Quotient Nomenclature

Later moron was replaced by moderate mental retardation or moderate mental subnormality with an IQ of between 35 and 49. As with many things, and in the case of IQ, an observation above the norm is associated as better with an observation below the norm being considered as worse.


* IQ has many problems. At first, an IQ of 100 is supposed to represent the average (mean) of a population, yet the average IQ of the world population is just over 82, a number outside and below the 1σ threshold. In the United States, the average IQ is an unremarkable 97% (ranking 26 among 199 countries). Japan and Taiwan top the list at over 106. In fact, Asian countries comprise the top 6 slots. Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom are almost an even 100, falling ever so short. at 99 and change. Guatemala, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Nepal fall at the bottom of the ranking, each with average IQs under 50.

Illusionism and the Illusion of Determinism

One reason I prefer to look at agency is to avoid the claims and counterclaims of proponents of free will and of determinism, each having factions causing the other side of clinging to an illusion. As I’ve noted previously, at present I am a self-described soft-determinist insomuch as I declare myself to be agnostic.

My hypothesis is that humans have little or negligible agency. Under hard determinism, this would collapse from nil to zero. In either case, it is criminal to presume to be able to assign moral responsibility to any person.

Illusionism

Determinists charge free will advocates of being fooled.

Illusionism is the position that free will does not exist and is merely an illusion.

Many ancient and modern thinkers have made this claim. They have usually been strong determinists, from Hobbes to Einstein.

Classical compatibilists, from Hobbes and Hume on, have held that free will exists but that it is compatible with determinism (actually many determinisms).

Since the discovery of irreducible quantum mechanical indeterminism, most scientists and some philosophers have come to understand that determinism is a dogmatic belief unsustainable from the evidence.

It is determinism that is the illusion.

Nevertheless, most philosophers remain compatibilists, even as the evidence of indeterminism has caused them to declare themselves agnostic on the truth of determinism or indeterminism.

Illusionism <https://www.informationphilosopher.com/articles/illusion_of_determinism/>

The Illusion of Determinism

Adequate determinism is an emergent property in a universe that was initially chaotic and which remains chaotic at atomic and molecular levels. Consequently all physical processes are statistical and all knowledge is only probabilistic. Strict determinism is an illusion, a consequence of idealization.

Statistical knowledge always contains errors that are normally distributed according to a universal law that ultimately derives from the discrete quantum nature of matter.

The existence of this universal distribution law of errors convinced many scientists and philosophers that the randomness of errors was not real, that strict deterministic laws would be found to explain all phenomena, including human beings.

To the extent that randomness is needed to break the causal chain of strict physical determinism, many philosophers continue to think that free will is the illusion.

The Illusion of Determinism <https://www.informationphilosopher.com/freedom/illusionism.html>

Peter F Strawson

Peter Strawson said he could make no sense of ideas like free will and determinism. In this regard he was one with those English-speaking philosophers who, following Ludwig Wittgenstein, thought such questions were pseudo-problems to be dissolved by careful attention to actual language use.

Strawson made a contribution to the free will versus determinism discussions by pointing out that whatever the deep metaphysical truth on these issues, people would not give up talking about and feeling moral responsibility, praise and blame, guilt and pride, crime and punishment, gratitude, resentment, and forgiveness.

Peter F Strawson

To be fair, I feel that Peter Strawson and I agree on the insufficiency of language to settle the matter of whether the universe offers free will or is deterministic, that questions such as this are pseudo-problems.

Myselves

Disappointed from the start, I was hoping to have coined a neologism in myselves, but I’ve been beaten to the punch. Although my spell-check doesn’t appear to agree, myselves is a legitimate albeit nonstandard term.

Followers of my content will recognise that I don’t fully subscribe to notions of self or identity, so being a philosopher and linguaphile I am constantly on the search for another way to describe my reality.

Galen Strawson — What Are Selves?

I became aware of Galen Strawson through Daniel Dennett and who I share perspective on in a recent post, Testudineous Agency. In an attempt to better understand his position, I resorted to a Google search and unearthed some first-person narratives. I find I share a certain affinity with him.

Ostensibly, Strawson feels that free will and moral responsibility don’t exist. But he goes deeper. He acknowledges that not only do the concepts of free will and moral responsibility not have shared meaning for unequivocal communication, but even if we parse the terms more fully into free, will, moral, and responsibility, we still don’t come to accordance. More on this later.

In the case of myselves, one of my first reactions was to consider the anti-plural-pronoun application-as-singular-object-reference cohort: It’s not proper to refer to he or she as they and him or her as them—or for that matter, his or hers for their.

As for me—the me interacting with this keyboard in this moment—, the idea of thin-slicing my differentiated selves, nanosecond by nanosecond, picosecond by picosecond—or by femtoseconds or attoseconds. Or why not Planck time slices?  

Just a short post for now. I’ll see where is ends up.

Instead Laugh

I promise not to make this blog about child development anecdotes. The house toddler exhibits an interesting adaptation.

I’ve raised a few toddlers in my day, and this one is different in the most delightful way. All other toddlers I’ve encountered—especially the pre-verbal variety—cry to solicit attention. Particularly, if they are napping in another room and awaken, eventually they beckon for attention. Where all others I’ve known—mine or those of strangers—have cried or fussed, this one laughs.

I can explain it in cognitive terms. She somehow connected laughter with attention, which was further reinforced with attention to her laughter. Having seen Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker, I am hoping she doesn’t go there. (Joking). It’s interesting. I wonder how common this is. I’d be interested in knowing if any readers have experienced this.

She still cries and fusses at frustration or discomfort—hair washing or brushing, falling, or wet diapers—, but not when it comes to attention.

OneSide Zero, Instead Laugh

I leave with an old favourite tune…

Kid Speak

A toddler lives with me. She’s been on the brink of verbal language for the past few months, and I am sharing some observations.

Listen on Spotified

Juicy Shoes

Juice (in a sippy cup) and shoe(s)

Two objects that play a large part of her verbal life are juice and shoes. As I hear her employ these words, they are virtually indistinguishable. I may actually misperceive her, and she could be uttering the same morphemes. I captioned how I perceive these images with IPA references.

In English (in IPA), juice is spelt / d͡ʒˈuːs / and shoes is / ˈʃuːz /. She simplifies ‘juice’ by not voicing the leading alveolar plosive ‘d’ and by shortening the diphthong to a monopthong vowel. For ‘shoe’, she similarly shortens the vowel sound and annunciates a voiceless rather than voiced alveolar fricative.

Awhr

Left to Right, Top to Bottom: Windscreen Ice Scraper, Silicone Dinosaur Hand Puppet, Stick, Cap Shaper

Can you guess the common thread the above objects share?

Spoiler Alert: They are each signified by the same signifier— Awhr, which I believe may be transliterated as Rawr. Bear with me.

She loves dinosaurs. Seeing one, she reflexively roars onomatopoeically, awhr. I know. You are thinking to yourself, that’s a no brainer. Dinosaurs roar. At least in the modern-day mythos. I don’t speak dinosaur, and perhaps dinos had regional dialects or species nuances. She’s just a toddler, so ‘awhr‘ is representative of all dinos.

But, you are thinking, these other things not only don’t roar, but they’re also inanimate. Sure, you tell yourself, the dinosaur is a puppet, but you can envisage the connexion. That’s a toy dinosaur, but these other things are an ice scraper, a stick, and who knows what that last thing is? It’s a hat shaper. It was an insert to a cap—like a baseball cap or trucker cap. It was removed for the cap to be wearable, and the insert is one of her favourite toys. All of these rank high on her list of preferred toys.

As far as I can tell, she envisages the cap insert as teeth—resembling, perhaps, the teeth of a dinosaur—hence ferocity, hence a roar. I believe the roar-stick connexion has an aetiology that involves the ice scraper, so I’ll share that origin story.

Whilst shopping for an ice scraper in Winter, we were in the automotive aisle. As she was interested in the variety of air fresheners, I parked her trolley and surveyed the aisle looking for scrapers. Finding one—and for reasons unknown to me; perhaps the ‘teeth’ on the back of it—, I represented it as a claw and produced my own roar. The impression was made. It’s been months, and whenever she interacts with it, she roars as if it were a dinosaur.

By extension, I believe, the stick is a simulacrum. We’ve travelled from the signified to the first-level signifier (puppet) to a second-level signifier (scraper) to a third-level signifier (stick). Absent the causal narrative, one would be hard-pressed to suss out why a child might be representing a stick with a roar. And now you know.

But wait. There’s more. I was so busy geeking out, that I almost forgot the story that prompted this post in the first place. We were driving somewhere. She sits in a car seat that, by design restricts her movement, and sometimes her playthings go out of reach, where ‘sometimes’ means ‘almost invariably’.

As we were heading wherever, I heard the cue, awhr. A quick glance in the mirror caught the dinosaur puppet. I reached back and handed it to her. Crisis averted. She played with the puppet for a bit, and that leads to a brief diversion from the narrative. Her roars have two noted contexts. The first is playing, awhr. She finds herself amused to be a dino ventriloquist, and she bursts out laughing if you acknowledge her playing. The second is serious business, awhr. Laughter is not the expected reaction. Anything less than feigned terror will get you the look. This is no play dino. This is a dino incarnate. But I digress.

A minute or so later, awhr. This roar is neither play nor serious. She wanted something else. A quick survey of available candidates, and I sussed out the cap stretcher cum teeth. Crisis averted. But only for a minute. After satisfactorily animating the stretcher, another roar. Another glance back. No good candidates. But there was a stick. What do I have to lose?

Awhr. Yep. This is what she had in mind. She animated the stick for another few minutes. And that brings this chapter to an end.

Moar

Though her vocabulary is so far quite constrained, she does have a few more available words. More was pretty early on her list, almost invariably accompanied with a gesture—thrusting an empty juice cup or just generically declaring that she wanted more of whatever it was that she’d just had. Nice general-purpose word, for sure.

Thank You

Thank you was another early entry. She pronounces it like the German, danke, but with a cut schwa sound at the end and perhaps more: / ˈtaŋk ə /. Schwa is already a short unstressed vowel, and I don’t know how to represent it shorter. In musical notation, I might have opted for a staccato-pianississimo combo in an attempt to capture the dynamics. Alas…

Hello, Goodbye

Other phatic and still enthusiastic utterances are hi and bye with attendant waving gestures.

Enfin

She does have words for dad and mum, respectively da and ma or maman, comme en français, and she employs nods and headshakes to communicate yes and no. And she uses sulking body posture to convey disappointment. Finally, she says ow to any number of things to indicate frustration.

I’m sure she’ll be adding many more words relatively soon and quickly.

Post-Postmodernism

I happened upon an article that notes that the postmodern label is now 50-odd-years old, so what’s next? Just a short response, the label never made sense for several reasons.

First, the prefix post suggests a new era or paradigm. In and of itself, this is not a problem. The challenge is the root: modern.

Effectively, modern means now, the current era, in the same manner as today sits between yesterday and tomorrow. The problem is that we are employing the term postmodern as if it’s tomorrow but today. Of course, except in jest, tomorrow is never simultaneously today. The notion reminds me of the sentiment captured in the quip when asked ‘When will you do this task?’ ‘I’ll do it tomorrow’. When queried the next day, ‘Why have you not yet done this task?’ and the response is ‘I’ll do it tomorrow’, ad infinitum.

I’ll caption this tomorrow

Modern derives from the Latin meaning ‘just now‘. People have been labelling themselves as modern since at least 1585 when it meant ‘of or pertaining to present or recent times‘. As early as 1500, it meant ‘now existing‘, so more toward ‘extant‘.

My point is that one might be able to retroactively reference post-X in relationship to X, but to name something duratively as post-X simply makes no sense. Add to this the complication that Latour mentions that we’ve never been modern or the further connotation that privileges the term adopter over others. Namely, whilst the West are modern at time-zero, being the height of modernity, some other contemporaneous other does not qualify. The United States are modern—just not Appalacia and certainly not Bangladesh. In a temporal sense, premodern takes on a similar meaning, e.g. Aztec or Mayan civilisations.

Besides the unfortunate naming, ‘postmodern‘ attempts to envelop many thoughts. As I’ve mentioned before, it is most typically pejoratively.

Whist I attempt to align myself with certain so-called postmodern figures, and I use the term myself because it still has some referential value, I do so with reservations and the understanding that it’s a nonsensical notion from the start. Perhaps, I’ll suggest a new solution tomorrow.

What are women?

I stumbled on Lily Alexandre’s What Are Women vid on YouTube. And despite already being in the midst of a dozen other things, I decided to watch it. Well, I’d been up all night and super tired, so after ten minutes I listened in bed until the end. After a few minutes, I felt compelled to respond on her channel. And then I was awake, so I figured I comment here as well—despite 2 or 3 of the dozen things I’ve got going on are draft posts here.

Lily presented her points well. And save for a few nits, I agreed fully. Getting the nits out of the way, I feel she took some shortcuts by (admittedly) overgeneralising the historical record of European gender history and anarcho-Communist hunter-gather or hunter-horticultural roots. I don’t disagree with the story point, but it’s a disservice to play the same game as the promoters of the primary narratives. Just say something along the lines that there is more about the historical record that we don’t know than we do, but there is evidence of X, Y, and Z. I recommended David Graeber’s The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity. Moving on.

I recommend listening to her piece directly, as I am going to editorialise rather than fully recount it. Where she ended up is where I want to start. Adopting a Foucauldian perspective, the definition of woman is only important to those who want to employ it to control women, to gain power over them. Any definition of woman is going to exclude some who identify as women and include some who don’t.

A quick aside: When I was in my young twenties, I loathed being called sir, the polite title. It wasn’t the maleness that this suggested; rather I didn’t identify with the maturity aspect it conveyed. Whilst I identified as a male, neither did I identify as a boy nor a man. Sir tried to impose this on me. At least when someone attempted to label me a gentleman, I could retort that I wasn’t wearing a tophat and tails. Gentlemen, I viewed as Rich Uncle Milburn Pennybags, AKA Monopolyman—monocle and all. Did Mr Monopoly wear a monocle, or was that Mister Peanut? No matter.

Mr Monopoly

As anyone who’s read a few of my posts knows, I don’t really buy into the whole notion of identity. I’m not much of a fan of ranks and titles either, in case you wanted to know.

As I was listening, Lily got to where woman is defined in three words: adult human female. In my head, I’m already arguing against it. Like when watching a horror suspense movie—Don’t go in there! Alas, then so did Lily shoot it down as well. Each of these words is arbitrary. Admittedly, all words are arbitrary by definition, but these words have their own challenges

Adult

In turn, adulthood is defined differently depending on time and cultural place. Nowadays, in the West, 18 is probably the arbitrary cutoff most used. This is the age of majority as far as entering into legal contracts are involved—though people can’t drink alcohol or buy cigarettes until they are 21. And the brain continues to develop past 30. It may actually never stop, though it does shrink after 45, so there’s that. We could opt for a less legalistic litmus in favour of a naturalistic approach. As she points out, we could argue this happens at the onset of menses—but that’s a slippery slope on several accounts. Firstly, some females are precocious and might commence their cycle as early as 12 or 10 or even 8. We’re going to need to return to this litmus for the definition of female, so let’s continue.

Human

As she points out, human is ill-defined, and we’ve got a history of dehumanising people. Don’t get me started on negroes and indigenous Americans. This allows legal systems to simply rescind one’s human card. That’s no woman; she’s an animal—blah, blah

Female

And we arrive as female—the synonym we’ve managed so far to kick down the kerb. Lily didn’t spend too much time here, but this is attempting to tee up a CIS defence—a genetics double-X defence. We’ve already touched on the arbitrary categorisation. The intent here is to exclude. This is Beauvoir’s otherness. Derrida’s subordinate pair to the dominant male term. But we’re not discussing intent at the moment. Let’s regard the definition:

Female / ‘fi meɪl / noun

  1. a person bearing two X chromosomes in the cell nuclei and normally having a vagina, a uterus and ovaries, and developing at puberty a relatively rounded body and enlarged breasts, and retaining a beardless face; a girl or woman.
  2. an organism of the sex or sexual phase that normally produces egg cells.

Here, we see the double-X defence, but what about XXY and so on?

We get stuck in a circular logic loop at some point because the definition of female concedes that it is synonymous to girl or woman. A woman is a female who is a woman who is a female who is a woman who is a female who is a woman who is a female who is a woman who is a female who is a…

Normally having a vagina, a uterus and ovaries may not intentionally be trying to exclude transgender females. Rather, some XX females may have some genetic anomaly, and more probably, some women have their uterus and/or ovaries removed due to medical reasons.

In closing

Words have use, but if the intent of object words is to do more than describe, beware an agenda. As for gender words, I have no use for them. As for sex terms, I don’t really have a use for them either. Detouring to Saussure for a moment, we’d got female, the signifier noun, and the signified.

Parental Advisory

There is one and only one situation where I have any concern about the genital manifest, and that’s when I am performing some sex act—talking Crying Game here. I even admit that this is my own shortcoming, but I live with it. Your mileage may vary. Other than this extremely limited scope* of events, it really doesn’t matter.

Anyhoo, this impromptu post has run its course. Watch the vid yourself, and tell me or Lily or both of us what you feel—perhaps even what you think.

* Limited scope of events: Come on now. Don’t be judgy. It’s not that limited.

If a lion could speak

If a lion could speak, we could not understand him.

— Ludwig Wittgenstein

As much as I love Wittgenstein’s quote on language, I find it vastly more amusing aside the lion of Gripsholm Castle in Sweden. Because as talking lions come, this one is certainly more unintelligible than most.

If a lion could speak (Gripsholm Remix)

I also appreciate Daniel Dennett’s retort that if we could manage to communicate with this one talking lion—not, of course, this lion in particular—that it could not speak for the rest of lionity. (Just what is the equivalent of humanity for lions?)

If a lion could speak (traditional)

Ludwig Wittgenstein famously said, “If a lion could talk, we could not understand him.” ( [Philosophical Investigations] 1958, p. 223) That’s one possibility, no doubt, but it diverts our attention from another possibility: if a lion could talk, we could understand him just fine—with the usual sorts of effort required for translation between different languages—but our conversations with him would tell us next to nothing about the minds of ordinary lions, since his language-equipped mind would be so different. It might be that adding language to a lion’s “mind” would be giving him a mind for the first time! Or it might not. In either case, we should investigate the prospect and not just assume, with tradition, that the minds of nonspeaking animals are really rather like ours.

Daniel Dennet — Kinds of Minds: Toward an Understanding of Consciousness (p.18)

The Violence of Bureaucracy

Right. So another rabbit hole. Several things I have come across recently have mentioned the concept of bureaucracy as violence. There was a reference by David Graeber and some journal articles I happened upon. I have so much going on that I don’t have time to give the topic justice, but I wanted to employ this post as a reminder—along with the host of other reminders to which I need to attend.

Let’s start with some definitions.

Violence

The intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community, that either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, maldevelopment or deprivation.

Parsing the salient parts, I distil the meaning for my intents and purposes to be the intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community, that either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, maldevelopment or deprivation.

For further clarity, we arrive at a

Violence is the intentional use of power, against another person that results in psychological harm or deprivation

Bureaucracy

Management or administration marked by hierarchical authority among numerous offices and by fixed procedures.

Ostensibly, my train of thought is that bureaucracy is a deontological structure meant to standardise and normalise a process. Problems arise by the facts that (1) one size doesn’t fit all and (2) it’s a system thinking challenge likely missing dimensions—if the domain is even appropriately defined and accounted for at the start. This is where bureaucracy intersects violence.

In my mind, bureaucracy becomes a Procrustean bed. Speaking of bed… Fais dodo.

EDIT: In a manner of speaking, I might suggest that normalisation, as a rule, is violence, but I haven’t exactly thought it through. I am not particularly comfortable with the notion of self, so against whom would this violence be perpetrated? Nonetheless, this Procrustean notion still springs to mind—as a moulding. Some might consider it to be character building. But his lot would either deny the violence or consider it to be a worthwhile crucible. But it’s only a crucible when this character outcome comports with their accepted ideal. The only leeway given is in consideration of those with poor childhoods leading to delinquency. This does not diminish the bloodlust for justice, but it allows for blame to be cast, if not on the perpetrator then on the parents or guardians. I digress.

Hannah Arendt spoke of the Banality of Evil. In a manner, the violence that is bureaucracy is just this sort of metaphoric evil. This 7-minute summary (that could have been 4 if not for the stammering and pauses) is about just this point. In my experience, most bureaucracy is of the sort Arendt write about. I feel that this presenter is a bit more conservative about where he might draw this line.

I’ll exit this post with an observation/rant. I was shopping the other day, and I had one item. There was a short queue situated between a cashier and a self-checkout kiosk. We cutomers seemed to be dequeuing fine when a frontend supervisor appeared to instruct us to choose a register. I was second in queue so his interaction with the person ahead of me went something like this:

Employee: Are you going to use the self-checkout?

Customer: Yes

Employee: [Looks at the kiosk]

Customer: Unless this register becomes available first.

Customer: [Cocks head incredulously]

Employee: You need to choose one.

At that moment, the cashier freed, and she took the vacancy. Thankfully—as my mind pondered how illogical this policy was (if indeed there was a policy) and how poorly the maths skills of whoever created it—, the self-service registered became available. Crisis averted.

The takeaway in the story is that blood pressure was unnecessarily elevated because of this bureaucratic rule. This is trivial. I won’t bore you with more anecdotes. Besides, I’m pretty sure, you’ve experienced this violence to one degree or another—whether at work, in commerce, interacting with government workers, or who knows what.