Racism, Rand Paul, and Red Herrings

A political storm is brewing in bluegrass country. On Tuesday, Tea Party endorsed Rand Paul, son of former presidential candidate Ron Paul, earned a smashing victory over his challenger in the Kentucky Republican primary for the U.S. Senate. But, for reasons detailed in today’s NY Times Caucus Blog, the younger Paul’s view on civil rights could eclipse his chances of victory in the general election. Continue reading “Racism, Rand Paul, and Red Herrings”

Racism, artistic value, and Tintin

 The Moulinsart Foundation, who own the rights to the Tintin series, have recently been taken to court in Belgium for the racist content in Hergé’s 1931 book Tintin in the Congo. Bienvenu Mbutu Mondondo argues that the book should be banned because it “contains unacceptable racist and xenophobic words which are designed to convey the idea that the black man is inferior.” Specific examples from the book include the depiction of Congolese villagers attempting to add two and two; a black woman bowing to Tintin out of respect towards white men; Tintin commanding Congolese to assist at a train crash and the depiction of villagers fighting over a straw hat.

While Georges Remi, better known as Hergé, toned down the racism when the book was published in colour in 1946 and described the work as a “mistake from my youth” he also defended himself from accusations of racism by claiming that the book should be read as a testimony of a bygone age which reflected the prejudices of the colonial period.

This case provides a good example of the problem of the impact of immoral content on the value of a work of art. Continue reading “Racism, artistic value, and Tintin”

Personal identity and race in Avatar

James Cameron’s Avatar is a cousin of some famous thought experiments from the philosophy of personal identity. For example, here’s a product of Daniel Dennett’s imagination circa 1978:

Several years ago I was approached by Pentagon officials who asked me to volunteer for a highly dangerous and secret mission. [They] had succeeded in lodging a warhead about a mile deep under Tulsa, Oklahoma, and they wanted me to retrieve it for them. … The difficulty that brought the Pentagon to my door was that the device I’d been asked to recover was fiercely radioactive, in a new way. According to monitoring instruments, something about the nature of the device and its complex interactions with pockets of material deep in the earth had produced radiation that could cause severe abnormalities in certain tissues of the brain. No way had been found to shield the brain from these deadly rays, which were apparently harmless to other tissues and organs of the body. So it had been decided that the person sent to recover the device should leave his brain behind. It would be kept in a safe place as there it could execute its normal control functions by elaborate radio links. Would I submit to a surgical procedure that would completely remove my brain, which would then be placed in a life-support system at the Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston? Each input and output pathway, as it was severed, would be restored by a pair of microminiaturized radio transceivers, one attached precisely to the brain, the other to the nerve stumps in the empty cranium. No information would be lost, all the connectivity would be preserved.

Sounds pretty Avatar-like to me! Even the plot devices are similar: In Avatar, one reason why the hero needs to remotely control an alien body is that the alien planet’s atmosphere is toxic to humans but not aliens; in Dennett’s thought experiment, the hero needs to remotely control his own body in order to avoid exposure to toxic radiation. (Of course, there are some differences. Dennett’s essay has a cooler ending whereas Avatar has more dragons.)

Anyway, it looks like Avatar’s implications about race have gotten a little more attention than anything it might have to say about personal identity. I was especially interested by this widely-linked io9 piece by Annalee Newitz accusing Cameron of being motivated by “white guilt,” as if that’s a bad thing. I’ll put a few spoiler-ridden thoughts on this below the fold.

Continue reading “Personal identity and race in Avatar”

Does justice matter after death?

In 1908, Jack Johnson became the first African American to win the heavyweight title in boxing. In 1912, after marrying a white woman named Lucille Cameron, Johnson was twice charged with, and later convicted of, violating the Mann Act, which banned inter alia the transportation of women across state lines for “immoral purposes.” Johnson eventually spent a year in prison for this alleged crime. Continue reading “Does justice matter after death?”

Punking the BNP

Scientific_racism_irishK-Punk (aka writer Mark Fisher) writes about possible responses to the BNP on his blog:

“Much of the BNP’s appeal derives from its granting of legitimacy to those feelings of resentment and aggrievement – yes, it says, you’re right to feel angry and betrayed…Here, class emerges…But this brief flash of class antagonism is immediately subsumed by race-logic”.

Later on he notes that any effective response to the BNP cannot simply argue with the BNP within the current framework, but seek to undermine the framework itself, this thing that sublimates class differences into racial differences. He describes this process using a particularly philosophically-loaded term: Narrative.

Narrative is that which gives structure to everyday human existence – it is historical, social. In After Virtue, Alasdair Macintyre argues that the self is a “narrative self” (as opposed to an “emotive self”) – identity is constructed by the myriad roles an individual plays in multiple systems. The good for an individual must therefore be “the good for one who inhabits these roles” (AV, 220). If Macintyre’s argument holds water, this means that social critiques – such as the one detailed in the previous paragraph – have not only political implications, but moral ones.

Related articles:

Contemporary virtue ethics
By Karen Stohr, Georgetown University
(Vol. 1, February 2006)
Philosophy Compass

Race, Colorblindness, and Continental Philosophy
By Michael J. Monahan , Marquette University
(Vol. 1, September 2006)
Philosophy Compass

The Rhetoric of Right Wing Extremism Today

(Cross posted in Religion Compass Exchanges)

Nick Griffin (top) and right wing ideologue Lyndon LaRouche (bottom)
Nick Griffin (top) and right wing ideologue Lyndon LaRouche (bottom)

‘Speaking with Forked Tongues: The Rhetoric of Right Wing Extremism Today’ –
International Symposium Held at the University of Northampton Reads Between the Lines

by Christian Egners

On the 26th of June 2009 a one-day international symposium on the language of far-right movements was held at the University of Northampton. The symposium’s title, ‘Speaking with Forked Tongues: The Rhetoric of Right Wing Extremism Today’, duly recognized and drew attention towards a major shift in the way organisations and groups of the far right in various countries present themselves and their policies to the public. Fascist and right wing groups parading and marching in our city streets, wearing distinctive uniforms, are no longer the usual picture, nor does the problem of right wing crime exhaust itself in a few skinhead thugs kicking in heads of immigrants and homosexuals, or setting fire to their homes. While the statistics on politically motivated crime in several countries show a sizeable number of right wing crime, the theorists and political leaders of the far right deliberately aim to style themselves and their organisations as sensible political forces speaking the truth to the people, and opposing the established ruling political elites, who are supposedly betraying the interests of their national communities Continue reading “The Rhetoric of Right Wing Extremism Today”