Friday, May 23, 2014

"Check Your Privilege!" and "Micro-Aggression"

EDIT:  If you get angry and want to skip the post, make sure you watch the Eddie Murphy SNL bit at **.  It's worth more than the rest of the post put together, anyway.

A bit ago, I did a visit to an educational institution.  And found myself talking to some students.  They were perplexed by two phrases.  One of the phrases, "Check your privilege!" I had heard, though only distantly.  The other, "Micro-agression," is so absurd I had to ask them repeatedly whether they were serious.  They were.


1.  Check your privilege (no, that is not satire.  Seriously.  Not. Satire.)  The "Know Your Meme" info...

2.  Micro-agression.  Some examples, which are actually just people being rude.  Look, folks, people are rude to me all the time.  Well, it's usually Angus or de Marchi, but you see what I mean.

A recent attempt to get a former U.S. Army Colonel to "check his privilege turned out well....for Colonel Schlichter.  His claim was that his "privilege" was that he was better and worked harder.

I'm not so sure.  It's really just a point about the benchmark.  If women are disadvantaged compared to men (and they may well be, systematically so), then that's a problem.  Using "Check your privilege!" just because you are losing an argument and have your facts wrong doesn't seem very persuasive.

And that was the point the students were making.  They were having a discussion, suggesting an alternative interpretation or presenting evidence on some policy question.  And the "social justice activist" would interrupt, shout "Check your privilege!" loudly in the other person's face, and strut away, as if repeating a memorized phrase won the argument that otherwise was being lost egregiously.  It's no better than "That's un-Islamic!" or "That's not what the Bible says!"  It's no better because it's no different.  It's just a way for a loser to counterattack and be seen to win, at least in the eyes of co-religionists.

Except....that in fact the indignation-professionals actually do have a point.  There are a set of behaviors that really do single out black, Asian, Hispanic, Arab, etc. folks.  And women are hit with a whole set of attacks, some conscious (and therefore threatening) and some just clueless (and therefore hurtful).  Some examples.  White men are disproportionately the rudeness inflictor, and women and minorities are disproportionately the rudeness target.  It doesn't even out, and usually no one even says anything.  So the reaction is not totally off-base, even though I think the "micro-aggression" moniker is useless.  If people are rude, ignorant jerks, or bullies, they have to be confronted.

And the white men doing it need to be confronted by other white men.  "Hey, not cool. You can't say that."  Until that starts happening, we won't make much progress.  And I don't how it can happen when we are also telling white men that they are so privileged that they have never had to struggle for anything.  That's not true:  they have had to struggle against other white men.

**I have always thought this SNL skit with Eddie Murphy was a bit disturbing.
**And now I see why.  It is exactly the "Check your privilege logic."
**  White people just give each other free stuff!

I have to say, Colonel Schlichter, we sort of do that.  No, you had to work hard, and all that.  But a black person who worked just as hard might well have been passed over for promotion, and a woman certainly would have been.  People are tribal.

Here's the problem, in a nutshell.  Black people sometimes see race as an explanation for almost everything.  White people usually see race as being essentially irrelevant.

Any loser will tell you that success is nothing but luck, or privilege.  The game is rigged.  THAT's why I lost.

And any winner will tell that success is nothing but talent, a pure meritocracy.  The game is fair.  THAT's why I won.

Who's right?  Nobody.  Sometimes losers really did get cheated, and sometimes the winner really did have an unfair advantage.  But not all the time.

UPDATE:  From comments, ZB writes:
Munger, I like you. But your age is showing. I've worked in management in a large company in the last decade, and preferring white men in a promotion or hiring choice is the opposite of what happens now. People are fighting the old fight and the consequence is the violation of moral prohibitions. And it's hurting economic activity.

My response:
ZB, that's a fair point. But, to be clear, I'm talking about old men. Like me, or the Colonel. We worked hard, sure. But the selection process was biased against others, if only because they had no chance of being educated or making connections.

There are two things that are true, simultaneously. 1. Some white men lose out on jobs taken by minorities and women who are, by the "usual" standards, less qualified, but were chosen BECAUSE of their minority or female status. 2. In many, many businesses, and especially including my business, academics, women and minorities are grossly under-represented compared to their share of the population. And that's even more true in management. You being right that #1 is frustrating doesn't change the fact that #2 is frustrating.

So, my claim is really tactical. If women and minorities want to close the gap, they are going to need the support of white men. And calling white men privileged and bigoted is not going to help solve the problem. But that's okay, with many "activists," because they need the gap to justify their fundraising and their "training" seminars. They are indignation professionals, rather than being serious about solving problem #2.

Update 2:  A "checklist," if you want to find out about YOUR privilege.  For comparison, I was a 43/100.  But then I grew up in a very poor house with an abusive alcoholic father who hadn't graduated from high school and was really angry at the idea that other people might get educated.  I was very fat, was called "Mole" all through school (and not in a nice way, if there IS a nice way to be called Mole; the origin of the name was physical resemblance, I should note). 

I was spat on, had my lunch money taken most days until the 8th grade, and I was OFTEN the only white kid in my classes.  I was often called out as "fag," "honkey," "ofay," or "fatso," along with others I've probably forgotten.

I did go to Davidson, but I went because I worked two jobs to pay for it.  It's always felt to me like a secret identity when the rich white liberals I work with secretly admit that they don't really know how to talk to black folk.  Because they have never met one without a mop or a tray at those lilly white private schools where they were taught how to be rich white liberals. 

The answer, of course, is that the very idea of "talking to black people" as a cultivated skill is a mistake.  That's an actual person in front of you, not an abstraction that you learned about in your sociology class.  Just listen; your black acquaintance doesn't really want to hear you jabber how many "black friends" you have, or how you drove your Volvo to Moral Monday.  Some of my colleagues are surprised to see I won an "Image" award from the Durham NAACP.  The reason was that we talk about race in my class, and we talk about it as if we were all people, not representatives of racial categories.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Actual Moment: A Movie of the YYM Getting His Diploma...


Pretty fun.  The scene after....

The Visible Dunk: Is Self-Interest Good for the Team?

Selfish Play Increases during High-Stakes NBA Games and Is Rewarded with More Lucrative Contracts

Eric Luis Uhlmann & Christopher Barnes

PLoS ONE, April 2014

Abstract: High-stakes team competitions can present a social dilemma in which participants must choose between concentrating on their personal performance and assisting teammates as a means of achieving group objectives. We find that despite the seemingly strong group incentive to win the NBA title, cooperative play actually diminishes during playoff games, negatively affecting team performance. Thus team cooperation decreases in the very high stakes contexts in which it is most important to perform well together. Highlighting the mixed incentives that underlie selfish play, personal scoring is rewarded with more lucrative future contracts, whereas assisting teammates to score is associated with reduced pay due to lost opportunities for personal scoring. A combination of misaligned incentives and psychological biases in performance evaluation bring out the “I” in “team” when cooperation is most critical.

Liberalism Day ( #liberalismday )

So, "liberal" used to mean people who were convinced that freedom and equality (of opportunity, meaning no a priori privileges) were the best way to organize society.

And it still does mean that in Europe, to a large extent.

Can we take it back?  Maybe.  Let's give it a shot.

June 16, "Liberalism Day."  Joe Bob says, check it out

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

This week's sign of the apocalypse

People, if crap like this can happen why do we even have a government at all?

Men Are Just Different

Here's my question:  do you think that this technique would be used...or a female type human?  It possible, but I expect that the proportions tend to lean in the male direction, in terms of the population of folks who would try it.

A nod to M.K.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Trigger warnings

Trigger warnings?  Seriously?  Education, itself, is unsettling.  Hearing an idea you disagree, but can't find an argument against, is unsettling.  I'm going to add the following "trigger warning" to my syllabus:

This class contains references to crimes, drug use, sex, racism, and radical ideas about revolution, redistribution, and economic policies you will almost certainly disagree with.  If that's a problem, if you cannot--for whatever reason--hear ideas you disagree with, or stories of the hardships of other people that will make you feel uncomfortable, please leave now.  

Monday's Child

1.  Duke's graduation ceremony...if you have two hours to spare.

2.  Beta parents:  Trying hard to be the best at...nothing, really. Just trying to survive and not screw up.  I am clearly a Beta parent.

3.  For REAL inequality, just head south a little bit from Miami. Cuba looks like there was a war there, but there was just communism.

4.  I'm pretty sure that everyone I know who bought these shoes was injured soon after, from moderately to pretty badly.

5.  Don't Bike With Texas!