Saturday, May 17, 2014

Discriminationism


Firstly, I know the title of this piece is crap, but I guess that is part of the point.  Perhaps there is actually a real word for this, but I don't know it, so I made one up.

Discriminationism:

"The propensity for people to jump to the conclusion that prejudice is the motivation behind other people's thoughts, words, and actions." 

I bring this up mainly because of all the talk of culture being involved in the recent Sewol disaster and allegations of "Culturalism" (again) against those who propagate the idea that Korean culture might have played a role.

There are other reasons, however, and they link to the foreigner experience in Korea.  I do believe that many people who come to Korea to work end up spending much more time on the internet than they would back home for a variety of reasons.  I think that this makes people come into contact with many popular causes that sweep around the web on social media.  I notice a few involving prejudice that make daily appearances on my Twitter and Facebook feeds:


  1. Discrimination against women
  2. Gay marriage
  3. Celebrities saying naughty racist remarks, racist TV programmes, and music videos
  4. Immigration 
  5. "Culturalism" (Korea only)

The first 4 seem to be part of a liberal crusade at the moment and stories involving them are everywhere.  Let me first start by saying that I have many beliefs you might say were liberal.  I would be, pro-choice, anti-gun, for gay marriage, anti-death penalty, pro stem cell research, pro-euthanasia, and in the "Climate Change is real" corner.  I do also have a few classically libertarian and conservative views as well, however.

In all 5 of the listed above I see a great wave of "Discriminationism" going on.  Let's use some classic examples:

1. The disparity in pay between men and women is because of prejudice against women.  People who don't agree are sexist (most right leaning politicians fall into this bracket).

I would argue that there are a number of reasons for the difference between the pay of men and women, the least relevant is unfair discrimination.  The fact is that men and women make vastly different choices in life and prioritise different things, women tend to:
  • Choose different lines of work
  • Have babies (therefore take breaks from work to bring up children)
  • Work less hours in full-time positions
  • Choose less dangerous professions
  • Want more flexible working hours (tend to choose flexibility over high pay)
  • Do more part-time work
  • Are less inclined to travel long distances or relocate for work
  • Are less inclined to ask for pay rises than men
Instead of addressing these well-known points, most just ignore them and bang the drum of prejudice. They jump to the conclusion that Western society is still inherently sexist and people who don't see any unfair discrimination in pay are sexist too.  There is very little sensible debate between opposing sides.
2.  People who are against gay marriage are homophobic.

I actually think gay people should be allowed to marry if they so desire, why not, right? What harm can it do?  I don't accept the arguments from the other side, but that doesn't mean I think they are all motivated by prejudice.  Some are, sure, but to jump to conclusions, like Will Self does in the video below is wrong. Peter Hitchens thinks this is a form of Liberal bigotry, I think he is right to point out what Will Self is doing is wrong, but this doesn't mean that I am on his side in the gay marriage debate (and I think the accusation of bigotry in return might be unhelpful).  I respect his right to a different opinion and would not make accusations of homophobia.




3.  Hypersensitivity is all the rage in popular culture

No doubt there are examples of racist celebrities, racist TV shows, and music videos and those that produce them should get their comeuppance, but the search for racism is going too far, to the point where every TV show has to show racial diversity, any music video that depicts another culture is using them or making fun of them, and any off-the-cuff remark by any celebrity is evidence that they are bigots.  But jumping to conclusions about celebrities is fascinating news for a celebrity-obsessed culture as we are, and we love to see the rich and famous humiliated or shown as flawed individuals.
4.  A world without borders is a happier place, those who disagree.... well, you get the idea

I would love the world to be border-less, as an avid traveler it would be a dream come true.  However, at this moment in time it is not at all desirable.  The fact is, cultures clash. I know this better than most being married into a different one.  Some differences are irreconcilable for many people and this causes conflict. Multicultural nations can absorb people from other cultures, but it does take time.  Too much immigration, too fast, is a recipe for disaster and I think the open borders policy of the EU at the moment is causing too much friction in Europe, with right-wing parties starting to pop-up all over the place.

5.  "Culturalism" 

I have been purposely brief with the first 4 on my list to pay more attention to something more relevant to Korea.  Let me first say that I am sure some people have their prejudices towards other cultures and I am sure they jump to conclusions sometimes. However, I do not think that, a) There is an obvious pattern of culturalism in the Western media or in Western people generally, especially for explaining disasters, and b) that when wrong conclusions are drawn sometimes that this implies prejudice.  A couple of points below to illustrate what I mean:

a)

b)
  • I believe people were wrong to conclude that Korean students were too obedient because of respect hierarchies or Confucianism, and that's why they stayed below deck, leading to their deaths. However, I can understand how someone with experience of Korean culture might think it.  It was an over-reach, though, as I am not sure it applied very well to that situation.  Wrong conclusion, yes, but was it because of simple ignorance, filling in time on 24-hour news or columns in newspaper or was it true prejudice?  When a Korean-American news reporter (Kyung Lah) thought Korean culture was a factor, I have difficulty thinking it was prejudice in her case. Generally, I think it was just a bad argument, but not the result of prejudice. Perhaps there were some reports where prejudice was a factor, but I think they were the exceptions rather than the norm. 

I see a hypocrisy in the whole culturalism argument.  Those who advocate this idea place incredibly high demands of proof before we can even question whether culture was even partly involved in a disaster.  Yet they require no proof whatsoever to assert that when people do question cultural involvement they do so as a result of a prejudice.

No only this, but surely there is a cultural accusation going on here, and that is the West regularly shows a prejudice in explaining disasters in Asia.  If the statement said, the West regularly gets things wrong explaining disasters in Asia, then I'd have no problem with it.  However, many go further than this (like TheKorean), they claim to know the mind and the motivation of writers like Malcolm Gladwell, journalists, and just ordinary people with an opinion.

If it was a simple matter of "you are wrong, I am right, and here's why", there would be little to worry about and we could have a good debate about it.  But it is worse than that, instead one side is saying, "I am right, you are wrong and the reason you're wrong is that you are prejudiced against Asian cultures."  Unfortunately, it is only then a short step away from accusations of racism as well and then moral superiority over the opponent is truly asserted and debate can be silenced, as funnily enough, people don't much enjoy being accused of racism, especially when they know they are not.  People that oppose modern-day liberal viewpoints are most at risk of being labeled racist and instead of debating with liberals, this fear drives them to watch sometimes radically right-wing radio and TV programmes in large numbers.  This could actually have the effect of turning people who genuinely have a point worth arguing about on some issues into an actual racist or inflame or create real prejudice.

This is extremely problematic, encouraging a whole lot of emotion and push-back from the other side.  Just like in the other debates I have mentioned, as soon as a prejudice is accused of good, unbiased people (not everyone will fit this category, but many are) merely with a differing opinion, you create a real "us against them" tussle.

The accusation of prejudice is something that must be much more carefully made or tension and resentment will be the result when it is made unfairly.  Black people having to drink from different water fountains to White people is clear-cut prejudice.  Explaining poor communication in a cockpit by invoking Korean respect culture is not an example of clear-cut prejudice as there are reasons to believe this could be the case. Argue the conclusion is wrong if you like, but keep the accusations of prejudice out of it.

Culture is not race, gender or sexual orientation, it is learned behaviour, not innate. Different cultures can be prone to different problems through certain aspects of their culture.  Respect hierarchies could affect clear communication and safety and attitudes to safety among Korean people could make dangers more likely. Attitudes towards food in many Western countries could make obesity and ill-health more likely.  Cultures are not equal, therefore the prevalence of explanations regarding ill-health and Western food culture will happen more often and disasters will be explained more often by using Korean attitudes to safety and the interaction with their elders and superiors.  We are not obligated to explain negative connotations of cultural attitudes equally between all cultures in all situations.


Unfortunately, I do think there is a real concerted effort going on in liberal circles to silence arguments, not with good points, reason, and evidence, but with slurs on the opposition and appeals to emotion.  There is a way of thinking going around at the moment that if you don't subscribe to, you are a fit target for abuse and are always on the defensive.  You are guilty until proven innocent of prejudice, and to prove this innocence you have to absorb a series of barbed verbal and/or written abuse (I know this better than most on this blog).  I think most just give up the discussion because of fear or social ostracism.  What a sad state of affairs for good, honest, reasoned debate and the search for truth.  Sure, name and shame those that are truly bigots, racists, sexists, homophobes, etc.  But people should start by making sound arguments first and benefit of the doubt should be given.  Innocent until proven guilty, remember.


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