A Philosopher's Blog

As You Sow…

Posted in Ethics, Philosophy, Politics, Race by Michael LaBossiere on March 21, 2008

My conservative friends, such as Magus71, have been watching the infighting between the Democrats with both joy and disgust. The joy is, of course, because they would prefer that the Democrats once again pull defeat from the jaws of victory. The disgust is because they regard the Democrats’ behavior and words as pathetic and hateful.

One interesting point that has come up in our discussions is that some of the fighting involves the very weapons “the left” forged for their past battles with their external foes. One prime example is the use of race and gender in attacks.

Over the years, I have seen (both in academics and in politics) a standard attack made against whites and males. The basic idea is that male success and white success arise because of special privileges that stem from being white or male. If you happen to be a white male, you get to enjoy a double bonus (this is presumably how white males are able to oppress white women).

It is evident that males and whites do have certain advantages (or perhaps another way to put it is that they are free of the shackles of discrimination that all too often hold back women and non-whites). However, it does seem unreasonable to claim that, in most cases, white males succeed primarily because they are white males. This matter is obviously controversial, so it is fortunate that I can simply bypass this dispute in the discussion at hand. What it important is that this attack was (consciously or not) honed and deployed as a standard means of attack and criticism. It has been, for example, used to explain the allegedly unjust success of white males as well as the failures of those who are not white males.

What is rather interesting is that recently Geraldine Ferraro wielded this sort of weapon against a fellow liberal-namely Barrack Obama. She claimed that, in essence, the cause of Obama’s success was due to his being a black male.

The “attack” on Obama being male was, obviously enough, “old school.” Being a man, obviously his success could be attributed to his maleness-as opposed to his ability and his efforts. After all, success and failure are presumably determined primarily by race and gender-or so we have so often been told.

What was new was that Ferraro made an attack based on race against a minority target: Obama’s success was being attributed, in part, to his blackness. This, then, was something new in the liberal camp-attributing unjustified success to blackness.

While the target was new, the method was, of course an old one. Magus71 has put forth the hypothesis that the liberals just cannot help themselves-they are so focused on race and gender that they simply think of the world primarily in these terms. Hence, when they go into a political battle, they break out race and gender based weapons and fire them at their foe. In the past, the foes had typically been white men. But now, Hillary’s foe is a black male and Obama’s foe is a white woman.

Naturally, Hillary and Obama have been careful not to attack each other based on race and gender. As the Ferraro case shows, their supporters have not been so restrained. In Obama’s case, some of his supporters have attacked Hillary for being white and for being a woman.

These attacks have shown that race and gender are still very serious problems in America. Hateful remarks based on race and gender are merely the surface manifestations of what is no doubt a much deeper and serious problem. What is rather ironic is that so many of these remarks are arising from the ranks of those who most profess to be dedicated to justice and equality.

This certainly raises an interesting question about why there is this tension between their professed values and their actual behavior.

One possible answer, as noted above, is that “the left” is so obsessed with race and gender that it is simply a reflex to define things in that manner. So, Ferraro strikes at Obama being a black man. Wright strikes at Clinton based on race.

Another possible answer is that “the left” knows that race and gender are powerful tools and hence chose to deploy them. Such is the concern for power, that they are willing to attack each other.

A third possible answer is that they are pushed to such behavior by their emotions. When people are moved by strong emotions, their powers of reasoning are diminished. Hence, the most ardent supporters of Hillary and Obama might be overcome by emotions and hence lash out in a hateful manner.

A fourth possibility is that the individuals in question actually are racists and sexists who are acting in accord with these beliefs. This has some plausibility. Attacks on people because they are white are just as racist as attacks on people because they are black or Hispanic or Asian, or whatever. Attacks on people because they are men are just as sexist as attacks on people because they are women. Given the way whites and males are often regarded by “the left” it should be no shock that there are racist and sexist elements in the left. They probably do not think of themselves as such-after all, their anger is directed at whites and men (and mostly white men). But, an addiction to prejudice is hard to control and tends to spread. It is but a small step from being critical of white males to being critical of black males. It is also but a small step from being critical to white males to being critical of white females. Hence, the hateful attacks being shot back and forth among the troops supporting Hillary and Obama should not be unexpected. There have long been racists and sexists in the ranks-but now they are shooting at each other.

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  1. zacca said, on March 23, 2008 at 3:06 am

    The Fifth Possibility could be experience. While obsession, tactical, emotion , and belief are possibilities, the most often quoted reason is one of experience. The history of America is rife with inequality stories. Where the woman and non-white have fallen victim at best, to the white male. It seems that living the racism and or sexism is the best barometer for the viewpoint of the white male. As I am sure you are familiar, a non-white in America at least can’t be a racist by definition. prejudiced , yes. But racist by definition necessitates the ability to prevent economic gain. Non-whites and women do not fit that part of the definition. I propose that it may be a difficult but not insermountable task to walk in the shoes of those whom you think may be obsessed or are using this discourse tactically or emotionally, as some may be, bear in mind, there are more who have experienced the racism/sexism thn have talked about it. Enjoyed your thoughts.

  2. Michael LaBossiere said, on March 23, 2008 at 6:41 pm

    Your make interesting points.

    One problem with any controversial term is that defining it is a matter of difficulty. For example, “racism” is defined many ways by people who different theoretical or ideological approaches. Some definitions of “racism” do contain an economic component. Most, however, do not.

    What do you mean by “prevent economic gain”? Intuitively, it would seem anyone could do that as long as they had economic power.

    Also, it is not that white men act as a unified entity. It is some specific people doing specific things to other specific people. Individual white men have done terrible things. Other individual white men have done noble and good things. So, one cannot praise or condemn “white males” as a whole anymore than one can condemn or praise any other “group.”

    Thanks for your thoughts.


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