Subsidiarity and the outline of your next novel

Noah Smith’s post, “The liberty of local bullies,” does a good job describing the inadequacy of contemporary libertarian ideology.

The modern American libertarian ideology does not deal with the issue of local bullies. In the world envisioned by Nozick, Hayek, Rand, and other foundational thinkers of the movement, there are only two levels to society — the government (the “big bully”) and the individual. If your freedom is not being taken away by the biggest bully that exists, your freedom is not being taken away at all.

Smith recognizes that this ideology ignores the obvious reality of our world. It’s view of society is far too thin and constricted. There’s far more to society than just the individual and The State. Society also includes, for example: “… a large variety of intermediate powers like work bosses, neighborhood associations, self-organized ethnic movements, organized religions, tough violent men, or social conventions.”

All true. But Smith’s list is too short and is too much shaped by the other inadequacy of that libertarian ideology, which is its tendency to treat anything other than the individual almost exclusively in negative terms — as a “bully” limiting or restraining the freedom of individuals. (I don’t think this is what Smith means to argue, but his critique of libertarian ideology here  winds up adopting the shape of his subject.)

All of these intermediate “powers” — to use that oddly Pauline termcan be bullies, or can become bullies, but that is not their only or their proper or their primary function in our society or in our lives. We are not all and always Stephen Dedalus — the romantic, heroic individual struggling against kinships, institutions, traditions and all the other bonds that serve only to keep us in bondage. These powers and principalities do not function exclusively as “bullies.”

Just consider the first of Smith’s examples — “work bosses.” Like about 14 million other Americans at this point, I do not have a boss right now because I do not have a job. I do not regard this as a form of liberation, as a welcome enhancement of my individual liberty. To be unfettered from employment does not make me more free, but less so.

If we’re going to get anywhere addressing problems like the jobs crisis that has left millions of us unemployed, then our solutions have to be based on society as it actually is, rather than on some theoretical model that fails to account for the actual world. It won’t do to follow a model that is unable to acknowledge the existence of anything other than the individual and The State. Nor will it do to follow a model that is unable to conceive of institutions, relationships, associations and governments as anything other than “bullies.”

A better model of society is one that can recognize the existence of a vast and multilayered network of such institutions, relationships, agencies, associations and governments, identifying the complementary role each has to play and their mutual responsibilities.

Let’s first consider “the big bully” of The State, which isn’t really the massive, monolithic, centralized “The State” at all. Government encompasses a vast variety of actors large and small that we relate to and rely on in a multitude of ways. Each of us lives in a network of levels of government, with each level in turn differentiated with various agencies, services, bureaucracies, offices, officers, regulators, responders, police, courts, councils, legislatures, schools, libraries, etc. Treating them all as a single, undifferentiated entity takes away our ability to think about what each should or shouldn’t be doing. And determining beforehand that they are all just “bullies” or a single “big bully” begs the question — mistaking a presumption for a conclusion.

As vast and various as all those aspects of government are, put them all together and they’re still dwarfed by multitude of non-state, non-individual entities that make up our world: families, friendships, clubs, teams, bands, troupes, affinity groups, congregations, denominations, businesses, banks, exchanges, markets, unions, neighborhoods, theaters, leagues, societies, charities, associations, etc.

This is the point at which I usually begin to talk about “subsidiarity” or about the “inescapable network of mutuality” or, since I already mentioned the jobs crisis here, about “direct” and “indirect” employers.

But instead let’s just talk about stories. Let’s talk about the outline of your next novel.

Look again at that list of entities above — families, friendships, etc. Any one of those might, at some point, come to function as a “bully” in the life of an individual. In doing so, it would be betraying its intended purpose and function, but any single one of those entities so corrupted could turn a person’s life into a hell.

So instead of using that list above as the starting point for another lecture on subsidiarity, let’s instead think of it as a novel-generating machine. Pick one item from the list. Twist it into a bully. Voila! There’s your next novel.

If you like, you can pick more than one item from the list and turn several of these entities into bullies in the life of your protagonist. But don’t overdo it — don’t use all of them.

If you portray all of them as bullies then your readers will begin to suspect that the problem doesn’t lie with the rest of the world, but with your protagonist. Also, how would you resolve such a story? If, for example, the story is one in which the hero’s family has become a bully, then you can resolve the story by having her liberate herself from that bully. But you can’t have a hero who liberates himself from that entire list.

If your story ends with your hero saying, “I am not bound by and do not care about my family, my friends, or any clubs, teams, bands, troupes, affinity groups, congregations, denominations, banks, businesses, exchanges, markets, unions, neighborhoods, theaters, leagues, societies, charities or associations,” then your hero won’t turn out to be much of a hero at all.

He’ll just be a libertarian and, well, kind of a jerk.

  • Lori

    This is quite untrue. When he makes polite, on-topic comments (in Left
    Behind comment threads, because I can’t remember ever seeing him do so
    on other types of comment threads), people respond pleasantly or not at
    all. As Tonio noted, in other comment threads, whenever people make
    comments critical of right-wing politicians regardless of how atrocious
    their behavior is, if aunursa comments at all, his comment is guaranteed
    to be some variation on “So’s your old man.”

    This. Considering the number of times he’s made rude, inaccurate and/or completely illogical statements, especially about politics, it speaks well of the group that he gets as much positive response as he does.

    The fact that he’s playing the misunderstood victim in this thread doesn’t mean that he actually is a misunderstood victim.

  • http://accidental-historian.typepad.com/ Geds

    It’s Ana Mardoll!

    I…I do not know who that is…

  • hapax

    http://www.anamardoll.com

    She comments here and at the slacktiverse frequently.

    She is currently engaged in deconstructing TWILIGHT, the Chronicles of Narnia, the CLAYMORE anime series, and various other one-offs.

    Funny and thoughtful, and HIGHLY recommended

  • Anonymous

    Thank you.

  • Anonymous

    But whenever anyone criticizes a specific conservative, he posts some version of “You’re all a bunch of hypocrites!”

    I regret if I gave the impression that people who criticize conservatives are all hypocrites.  That was not my intention.

    When one criticizes conservatives for statements and sins that one excuses or ignores when the same types of statements and sins are made by liberals, one isn’t guilty of hypocrisy.  Rather, one is guilty of employing a double standard.

  • Anonymous

    I invite everyone to read this post and the second comment.  And then let me know

    (1) whether it’s possible that someone who is sensitive to discrimination against a group can mistakenly interpret a comment in a discussion (real or fictional) as hostile, and

    (2) in particular, whether or not two people can reasonably disagree about the intent of a fictional character when the alleged intent is not explicitly stated.

  • Anonymous

    The fact that he’s playing the misunderstood victim in this thread

    This is truly perplexing.  If I don’t respond to hostile comments, then I’m “not brave enough to discuss issues.”  On the other hand, if I do respond and continue to respond, then I’m guilty of making multiple “rude, inaccurate and/or completely illogical statements, especially about politics”.  Now I am to understand that if I explain myself and seek to burn straw men and correct misconceptions about my position, then I’m “playing the misunderstood victim”?

    Truly, you have a dizzying intellect.

  • Kish

    Ooh, watch the goalposts sail.

    You didn’t say “I disagree.” You said, “You’re reaching,” and then, “Like it or not, you’re reaching.” That’s not reasonable disagreement by any stretch.

    This is truly perplexing.  If I don’t respond to hostile comments, then
    I’m “not brave enough to discuss issues.”  On the other hand, if I do
    respond and continue to respond, then I’m guilty of making
    multiple “rude, inaccurate and/or completely illogical statements,
    especially about politics”.  Now I am to understand that if I explain
    myself and seek to burn straw men and correct misconceptions about my
    position, then I’m “playing the misunderstood victim”?

    Yes.

    Understand, that’s not at all the same as saying “anyone who doesn’t respond to hostile comments isn’t brave enough to discuss issues,” “anyone who does respond to hostile comments is guilty of making multiple rude, inaccurate and/or completely illogical statements,” and/or “anyone who tries to explain himself/herself is playing the misunderstood victim.” It’s a series of statements about your personal style: you, aunursa, seem to be consistently fundamentally dishonest. You provided an example in your reply to Invisible Neutrino directly before you made this comment; your dismissively telling him “you’re wrong and I’m right” is now “reasonable disagreement.”

  • Lori

    When one criticizes conservatives for statements and sins that one excuses or ignores when the same types of statements and sins are made by liberals, one isn’t guilty of hypocrisy.  Rather, one is guilty of employing a double standard.

    This may be what you think you do, but as has been pointed out to you very clearly again and again and again, it is not what you actually do. What you actually do is accuse people of double standards and hypocrisy when they are not guilt of any such thing.

    We’ve been through this cycle many times:

    -Someone criticizes a Right Wing public figure for X problematic behavior, of which s/he is guilty.

    -You chime in with an example of a Liberal doing Y. Sometimes said Liberal is guilty of doing Y and sometimes not. X and Y are virtually never equivalent things. You either pretend that they are or are unable to understand why they are not.

    -You then make some snarky attempt at a j’accuse and then disappear when people point out the flaws in your statement.

    -People understandably get annoyed with this and express their displeasure at your behavior with varying degrees of politeness or lack thereof.

  • Lori

    There is a great deal of difference between engaging with an argument (which you do not do) and whining about how people react to your political posts. Not all responses are created equal.

    I can certainly believe that you’re dizzy, but my intellect has nothing to do with that.

  • Anonymous

    You provided an example in your reply to Invisible Neutrino directly before you made this comment; your dismissively telling him “you’re wrong and I’m right” is now “reasonable disagreement.”

    That’s correct: “you’re wrong and I’m right” is reasonable disagreement.  When two people disagree, it’s common that one person is right and the other person is wrong.   In that situation, I sincerely believed — and continue to believe — that my opponent was wrong and I was right.  If I believed otherwise, then I would reconsider my position.  I have frequently been told on this and many other blogs by my opponent that my opponent is right and I am wrong (often in nasty and condescending terms.)  But I haven’t made a federal case out of it.

    When someone dismisses my opinion as wrong, mistaken, or misguided, I choose to respond or not respond.  I try not to take offense as if my opponent were attacking me (unless the comment includes a personal attack.)  And I certainly wouldn’t nurse a grudge for an entire year, bringing it up on multiple occasions in discussions that have nothing to do with the original argument, and demand that my opponent apologize for dismissing my opinion.

    What is my sin?  It’s okay to disagree … for me to believe that my position is correct … but it’s not okay to express my conviction in the truth of my position?  Or is it the fact that I dared to express the corollary conviction that my opponent is mistaken?  Or is it the way that I expressed my conviction that is offensive?  I should not tell my opponent “you’re reaching” – despite the fact that I believe that my opponent is reaching?  I should self-censor my comments in order not to offend someone else’s delicate sensitivities … despite the fact that others do not feel the need nor the pressure to self-censor their own (often derogatory and condescending) statements?

  • Anonymous

    -You chime in with an example of a Liberal doing Y. Sometimes said Liberal is guilty of doing Y and sometimes not. X and Y are virtually never equivalent things. You either pretend that they are or are unable to understand why they are not.

    In your opinion X and Y are never equivalent. 

    Gosh, Lori, it’s almost as if you are telling me that you are right and I am wrong.  Because it surely cannot be the case that two people can reasonably disagree about whether X and Y are equivalent or comparable.  Can it?

    I’m perfectly willing to let the readers consider my position and my opponent’s position that then decide for themselves whether or not X and Y are equivalent.

  • Kish

    Oh, I’d be the last person to say you should refrain from expressing your views as strongly as you please.

    What is unlikely to work for you, is making condescending assertions of your views and, when you get aggressive responses, unleashing a torrent of whining and dishonest reframings of previous conflicts. As you have in this thread.

    Then again, maybe it will work for you; it has this long.

  • Rob Brown

    The Democrats aren’t any better by the way, Obama hasn’t done much about
    any of this either.  I’m going to have to vote for him anyway as the
    lesser of two evils…

    No, you don’t have to and IMO you shouldn’t.

    Obama’s done a lot of things I didn’t expect him to do and that came as
    extremely nasty surprises to me.  Assuring the torturers at Gitmo and
    other such places that they would never be tried for their crimes and
    that if any other nation attempted to put them on trial that the Obama
    administration would protect them.  Expanding offshore drilling.  The
    wars and the killing also continued as though nothing had changed.  He
    opposed the Palestinian bid for statehood at the U.N.  But the last
    fucking straw for me was signing the NDAA this year, the one that makes
    it legal to imprison American citizens indefinitely without a trial.

    Obama signed that into law.  Not reluctantly.  Not because he had to. 
    Because he wanted to.  I would have expected that sort of thing from
    Bush, but when I voted for Obama in 2008 I never expected that he was
    capable of the same thing.

    I’m not voting for him again.  I’m not voting for anybody this time
    around.  I refuse to vote for the lesser of two evils.  Give me a choice
    between evil and not-as-evil, and I’ll go with “Fuck both of these
    guys” every time.

  • Lori

    That’s correct: “you’re wrong and I’m right” is reasonable disagreement. 

    Not really. “I believe that my position, rather than yours, is correct
    and this is why”, followed up with reasons that are factually true and
    logically consistent is  reasonable disagreement. Simply saying “I’m right and you’re wrong” is just being a dick.

    When someone dismisses my opinion as wrong, mistaken, or misguided, I choose to respond or not respond. 

    Once again you mischaracterize the issue. People haven’t dismissed your
    opinions. They state their reasons for thinking that your opinion is
    incorrect. The usual problems involve some manner of false equivalence
    or a total failure to see anything from another person’s POV. That is
    not dismissal, it’s engagement.

    These days many people do tend to dismiss you, but that’s because you so
    rarely engage (at least outside the LB threads) that you’ve essentially
    trained people not to waste their energy.

    As for choosing to respond or not, it’s true that’s up to you. However,
    when you consistently opt not to respond when your arguments are weak
    and yet never seem to learn to stop offering weak opinions it’s not
    exactly a surprise that people have little respect for the choices that
    you make.

    What is my sin?

    See above re: being a dick.

  • Lori

    In your opinion X and Y are never equivalent. 

    In your case, they rarely are.

    Gosh, Lori, it’s almost as if you are telling me that you are right and I am
    wrong.  Because it surely cannot be the case that two people can reasonably disagree about whether X and Y are equivalent or comparable.  Can it?

    Equivalence actually means something. On the occasions where you have made equivalent comparisons I haven’t argued against you. When you engage in false equivalence and I bother to respond at all, I state why your comparison is not apt. Many other people have done the same. The fact that you seem to want to reduce everything to a matter of opinion vs opinion is simply another demonstration that whoever taught you to put together an argument failed you badly.

    I’m perfectly willing to let the readers consider my position and my opponent’s position and then decide for themselves whether or not X and Y are equivalent.

    They have. Quite a number of people have taken issue with the way you present yourself in non-LB threads, both in this thread and in many others. Several of those people have been far harsher with you than I have. This is not Lori vs aunursa, so don’t try to make it seem like it is.

  • Tonio

    They’re not the “same types of statements” mostly because of the context. To use an example from an earlier thread, there’s no double standard in saying that it’s worse in practice for a white politician to condemn civil rights and excuse segregation than it is for a black politician to make bigoted statements about Jews. That’s because the former is about systemtic bigotry and disenfranhcisement. We live in society where being white is still considered the norm. If society treated being black as the norm and blacks held the vast majority of the nation’s economic and social power, then black prejudice would be worse in practice than other forms.

  • Anonymous


    I invite everyone to read this post and the second comment.  And then let me know

    (1) whether it’s possible that someone who is sensitive to discrimination against a group can mistakenly interpret a comment in a discussion (real or fictional) as hostile, and 

    (2) in particular, whether or not two people can reasonably disagree about the intent of a fictional character when the alleged intent is not explicitly stated.
    It is possible for someone to be mistaken about someone else’s intent. It is also possible for two people to disagree about the intent, stated or unstated, of a fictional character.

    The thing is, though?

    INTENT IS NOT FUCKING MAGIC.

    If Verna Zee (that is who we’re talking about, yes?) interpreted Buck’s comments as ‘if you do not do this for me I will out you’, then whether Buck intended his comments to be heard as threatening IS NOT FUCKING RELEVANT, because HE MADE A HOSTILE REMARK. It’s the same as the use of the (ROT13ed) word ‘tlcfl’. It’s a slur. Any Romani and any vaguely knowledgeable non-Romani will assure you it is a slur. I have never yet encountered a use of the word where the ignorant non-Romani saying it meant it to be a slur, but that does not make the word any less of a slur.

    All that said:

    Fuck you.

  • James Hanley

    Mr. Clark,

    As long as your only introduction to libertarian thought is through the lens of its critics, you are engaging in dishonesty every time you criticize it, because you do not actually ever engage what libertarians themselves actually say.  I find this disappointing, but of course I recognize that you are, as are all of us, only human.  I just wish this particular blindness was not one of your human imperfections.

  • Lori

    Obviously ou are making assumptions about Fred’s knowledge of libertarian thought, but I suppose that’s neither here nor there. If you have something to say about libertarian thought James, just say it. Concern trolling is not helpful and I’m sure we all wish it wasn’t one of your human imperfections. 

  • Anonymous

    …Huh. I’m terribly sorry, I totally forgot that you were Pius Thicknesse. I’m terrible with names in general– carrying identities to cross-board names is beyond my power. But I’ll try to remember in the future.

    I do remember that thread, and being pretty furious with that dismissal. And yeah, aunursa is not always a polite and well-behaved commenter, but really neither am I, so.

    It’s just that it seems like every thread I’ve seen him comment on, he gets an automatically harsh response. He said, basically, “I’ve never known any libertarians with that philosophy,” and was told “Well, you don’t actually interact with human beings.” I should dig up more stuff, but honestly it’s late and I’m tired and I really should know better than start stuff like this.

    But it’s been bothering me for quite some time now. Being a bad debater doesn’t make you a crap person. I’ve seen him say stuff that’s kind of annoying, but the automatic jump to incivility seems unwarranted. It’s a shitty time of year for a lot of us. A lot of bad things have happened lately, I gather to quite a lot of the community; a lot of people are going through crap. Just. Can’t we cut each other some slack?

  • Rob Brown

    Okay.  Well, perhaps you can answer a question about libertarianism for me.

    I’ve said on a number of occasions that based on his stances I would trust Ron Paul 100% if he were in charge of only foreign policy, but that I wasn’t so sure if he’d be good as far as domestic policy went.  Libertarianism as I understand it means that basically the government shouldn’t be hurting you or helping you.  I’m all for the “not hurting you” part, but the “not helping you” thing I have doubts about, because there are some people who are not able to get a job and earn a living.  People with mental health issues, for example.  They didn’t ask for their conditions, but they have them, and if such a condition prevents anybody from wanting to hire them or prevents a person from being able to get a diploma, then what do you do?  I don’t have a problem with them receiving welfare, or–as is the case here in Canada–inexpensive medication to help them function.  (If that last sentence has anybody scratching their heads about my earlier comment re. not voting for Obama again: dual citizen here.)

    Some people, I’d argue, need help.  I’d further argue that they won’t get the help they need from other charitable citizens; if you always could count on people to lend you a hand when you weren’t able to make it on your own, then nobody would ever end up homeless.  So while a libertarian might–and correct me if I have this wrong–see taxation as infringing on her rights to keep what she’s earned, I would say that if it keeps people from living on the streets or dying then it’s worth it.

    What do you think?

  • Rob Brown

    That reminds me of this.

    I’m not really a fan of aunursa, because he’s taken one particular position that happens to be kind of a berserk button for me.  On the other hand, he hasn’t ever gotten really nasty with me or told me to fuck myself or anything like that, so that counts for something, and that’s why I tend not to get nasty with him or tell him to fuck himself.  (Besides, he seems to get enough of that treatment from others to the point where me joining in would be overkill.)  And he’s gotta be right once in a while, just due to the law of averages.  If people are dismissing stuff he says because it’s wrong, then fine.  But if people are dismissing it because it’s coming from him, well…

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    I see and understand your last paragraph. I am, however, unwilling to cut aunursa any slack because he’s gone this long and it doesn’t seem to have occurred to him to fucking apologize, because his opinion is more important and reliable than QUILTBAG peoples’ lived experience.

    Beyond that, there is veritable mountains of data that support the fact that in the time period when Jenkins crapped out that book, there was demonstrable systematic discrimination in at least some sectors of employment. The most famous was of course, in the US military, under “don’t ask, don’t tell”.

    I close with a very personal anecdote. Even today I hesitate to reveal to superiors in my field that my significant other (should I ever have one) may be someone of the same (and not opposite) sex.

    It’s 2011, almost 20-fucking-12.

    People who think QUILTBAG people are just making it all up in their heads should think about that for a while.

  • Kish

    He said, basically, “I’ve never known any libertarians with that
    philosophy,” and was told “Well, you don’t actually interact with human
    beings.”

    I have some issues with both sides of that paraphrase (not least that you left out the middle part…again…). However, since I’m not being addressed directly, I’ll just clarify one thing about the paraphrase of what I said.

    I said (something that could be accurately paraphrased as) “aunursa doesn’t perceive real people”.

    Because he doesn’t. Everything he says outside the Left Behind threads makes that clear. He perceives a fantasy world where QUILTBAGs have no better than a coinflip’s chance of being correct when they think they perceive discrimination against themselves, where all opinions are equally valid and there’s no such thing as evidence or logic, and where every bad thing a Republican does has an at-least equivalent act committed by someone at least as far to the Left as the Republican in question is to the Right.

    No, being a bad debater doesn’t make him a bad person. Taking the positions he does would make him a bad person if he was the best debater ever. You’re calling for us to “cut him some slack,” but I can’t remember ever seeing anyone take a shot at him when he didn’t start it. And he will continue to start it, because, other than the Left Behind analysis, sniping at the stupid liberals is what he’s here for. Again–when (in the Left Behind threads) he makes a comment that isn’t aggressive, he gets treated with perfect civility; that he only makes those comments in the Left Behind threads is his choice and no one else’s. If he wanted to change his position in this community, rather than simply for his “debating partners” to stop shooting back, he wouldn’t even need to apologize; he could just make constructive posts. Even explaining why thus-and-such the Democrat doing something that looks kind of sort of like what so-and-so the Republican was just in the papers for doing was something he thought worth discussing, instead of just dropping “thus-and-such did it, ha ha how dare you condemn so-and-so,” on the floor and disappearing, would probably be enough.

    When he snipes at someone–like he did at hapax here–he gets piled on. Because he’s built up a reputation for himself. He worked hard to build it, he works hard constantly to reinforce it, and I decline your request that I deny it to him.

  • Donalbain

    It’s the same as the use of the (ROT13ed) word ‘gypsy’. It’s a slur. Any
    Romani and any vaguely knowledgeable non-Romani will assure you it is a
    slur.

    What then of the people who refer to THEMSELVES as gypsies?

  • Anonymous

    What then of the people who refer to THEMSELVES as tlcfvrf?

    Such exist?

    If they’re Romani, or other group often called the offending word such as Irish Traveller, I cede the field. Otherwise, it rings like members of a dominant group trying to appropriate the culture of a non-dominant group and screwing up badly in more ways than one.

  • Lori

    But it’s been bothering me for quite some time now. Being a bad debater doesn’t make you a crap person. I’ve seen him say stuff that’s kind of annoying, but the automatic jump to incivility seems unwarranted. It’s a shitty time of year for a lot of us. A lot of bad things have happened
    lately, I gather to quite a lot of the community; a lot of people are going through crap. Just. Can’t we cut each other some slack?

    I understand what you’re saying. The thing is, there’s a reason aunursa gets such a harsh response from a lot of people when he posts on politics. The world does not begin anew with each thread. He has history, and outside the LB threads is pretty uniformly bad. The issue is not that he’s a bad debater. No one debates well all the time. Heck, I actively enjoy it and still often suck at it. See: this thread when I couldn’t get on the same page with another poster and had to just give up. It happens. The problem with aunursa is that his thinking, especially on political issues, is highly problematic, often in ways that are unfair or hurtful to others, and he isn’t responsive to having that pointed out. No matter how obvious or how hurtful the error, when someone points it out aunursa’s response is basically “nah-ah”, with an occasional “you’re not the boss of me” throw in for good measure.

    Obviously we could cut aunursa slack and pretend that’s not the case. We actually did that for a long time, through a lot of his snarky, inaccurate comments in non-LB threads. You don’t have to go back very many threads to see people giving polite, reasonable responses to his bomb-throwing.

    The thing is, the bomb-throwing never stops and cutting him slack  just allows him to go on spouting until he says something really hurtful to/about someone else. As has been pointed out, that has happened before. That’s because, as aunursa himself has said, he considers “I’m right, you’re wrong” to be a reasonable response. It’s not, and if unsupported declarations of correctness are the only thing he has to offer to political discussions then he should probably cut us some slack by keeping it to himself. Because seriously, people are just worn out with this crap.

  • Donalbain
  • Anonymous

     Your point is made. It’s still not a word that a non-Romani person should use about a Romani person.

  • Donalbain

    Yes it is. My gypsy friends refer to themselves as Gypsies. They expect me to refer to them as Gypsies. I will continue to refer to them as Gypsies.

  • Anonymous

    You do realize you’re saying the equivalent of ‘I, a white person, have black friends who don’t object to my calling them the N word, and therefore the N word is not a slur’, don’t you?

  • Lori

    “They expect me to call them X” is not (necessarily) the same thing as “they don’t object to me calling them X”.

    I suppose expect in this context could mean “they know that I don’t know any better and just can’t be arsed to get worked up about it”, but it could also mean “this is what they’ve told me they wish to be called”. If it’s the latter then refusing to use the requested term would be just another version of a white person telling them what they should be called. 

  • Rob Brown

    In that case, Donalbain, I’d suggest referring to the ones who want to
    be called “gypsies” as “gypsies”, but not calling any other Romani
    person you meet the same thing unless they tell you it’s okay.

    I actually had no idea it was a slur myself, but I’ll avoid using it just to be on the safe side from now on.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    I’m a queer man who doesn’t object to being called “queer.” I acknowledge that there exist people who object to being called “queer”. 

    I endorse not calling those people “queer,” and I endorse calling me “queer.” That said, there are contexts where, if you called me “queer,” I would be hurt. (There are also contexts where, if you refused to call me “queer,” I would be hurt.)

    So, is “queer” a slur? Well, I would say that sometimes it is, and sometimes it isn’t. It depends on the people it’s being said to, and the people it’s being said by, and the context it’s being said in.

    This should not be surprising. Most words are like that. Meaning frequently depends on context.

    It’s useful to have rules about when to use certain words, because following those rules is an easy way to signal the fact that I don’t intend to be hurtful. If someone refuses to call me “queer” because they believe “queer” is a slur, for example, I’m less likely to be hurt by that than if they refuse it for various other reasons.

    But the purpose of the rules is to minimize the pain we cause one another. It would be a pity if we lost sight of “don’t treat people in hurtful ways” because we got too caught up in trying to make and follow rules about when to use certain words.

  • Anonymous

    Point taken. But Donalbain’s Romani friends would be literally the only Romani people I’ve ever heard of who DON’T object to the term, so it’s ringing very much to me like “I can’t be racist! I have black Romani friends!”

  • Donalbain

    You do realize you’re saying the equivalent of ‘I, a white person, have
    black friends who don’t object to my calling them the N word, and
    therefore the N word is not a slur’, don’t you?

    No it isnt. It isnt even close to that. I have never met a single Romani Gypsy who ever objected to being called a Romani Gypsy. Indeed, their main complaint has been when people who are not Romani Gypsies are called Gypsies. See, for example My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding, which was mainly about Irish Travellers.

  • Anonymous

    Thing is, ‘queer’ is still a slur. It’s just that it’s been almost-entirely-successfully reclaimed. I know of no indication, bar Donalbain’s friends and that blog Donalbain linked, that the G word is a slur that Romanis are trying to reclaim.

  • Donalbain
  • Anonymous

    http://romany-women.livejournal.com/38031.html

    Rereading the comments, I retract my earlier remark about never having encountered a Romani with no objection to being called a gypsy. I’d remembered the post content but not that of the comments.

  • Anonymous

    That’s a good answer, and one that I wish Lori gave, but she’s too busy assuming that I’m advancing an ideology and putting words into my mouth to give me a proper answer.

    You’re completely right that ‘the will of the people’ (or the will of anyone) isn’t necessarily a straightforward or clear thing.  Rather than ‘missing’ it, I chose to ignore it for simplicity’s sake — if you haven’t noticed already, my comments often already are full of caveats and footnotes,  and tend to the long side, and to put down absolutely every issue that occurs to me when writing them would take far too long and no-one would read them.

    But sometimes it is fairly clear what the will is.  If you don’t eat the chocolates and share then with your guests instead, then you’ve willed hospitality and (so long as you didn’t go and eat fried chicken instead) health over enjoying all the truffles.  Enjoying all the truffles now or later is then merely a want — not your will.  The problem about what your will really is comes when you say “I shouldn’t” but eat them anyway, and then loudly proclaim to whomever will listen what a naughty hapax you’ve been, and how you really care about your weight, especially if this happens rather a lot.  Is it your will to maintain your health, which is subverted all the time by urges which you aren’t successful in controlling? Or do you have no real will to maintain your health, but want to retain the illusion (perhaps even to yourself) that you do? I’ve put this a wee bit flippantly, but it’s a serious issue.

    The issues with democracy are even more murky.  I think there is a strong sense of ‘will of the people’ that modern societies scarcely ever approach, but I wasn’t meaning anything particularly mysterious by it just now: just the majority vote, or the actions taken by rulers voted in by the majority where the majority support those decisions.

    You’re appealing to rules and institutions that the local people are already signed up to — a more general case of the specific case of the Fourteenth Amendment that Tonio mentioned.  I think that’s a promising avenue. 

    You also seem to trying to make the case that these rules and institutions also reflect the will of the people ­— and I think that’s a fair assessment in many cases, and when the rules and institutions go against the decision of the moment, it’s somewhat analogous to you eating the chocolates even though you really want to stay healthy.   But it’s not necessarily always the case — the local government on behalf of the local people might decide that they don’t want anything to do with the wider rules and institutions.  Here you appeal to the ‘social contract’ — I suppose the analogy is with an individual who decides to break the law?

    There’s a lot more I could say, but I wanted to caution against assuming that the outcome of a democratic process must itself be democratic.  To take an extreme example, a democratically elected government could decide to invest all power in a supreme leader in perpetuity (I believe that this would even be ‘constitutional’ in the States, so long as it got ratified by the correct supermajorities everywhere it had to be) — essentially making a democractic decision to scrap the democracy. Something like this happened in Germany in 1933.

    The WTO &c. aren’t as bad as all that, though I would hesitate to say they’re democratic institutions.  Our democracies are far from perfect, and by the time any ‘will of the (global) people’ has ‘filtered up’ to the global bodies, it’s a bit like a multi-stage amplifier — undemocractic ‘noise’ overwhelms any democratic ‘signal’.  This must be so particularly in view of the fact that vast numbers of people around the world are so effectively disengaged from politics, whereas wealthy and powerful countries and organisations have disproportionate influence.

  • Anonymous

    Apparently ‘central bureaucracy’ and ‘will of the people’ certainly do imply things to you that they don’t to me, which has led you to imagine opinions and ideologies that I probably don’t have (hard to say, as you’re keeping me in the dark as to the exact nature of these opinions, ideologies, and implications I supposedly have, advance, and make)  and aren’t advancing even if I do, and to spend your time combating those figments of your imagination rather than answering my questions.   That’s a pity, because hapax seems to think you could even do a better job than she has, and I’d probably have learnt something.

    If I had known that these phrases would result in this shadow-boxing of yours, and known synonymous phrases that would result in something a bit more worthwhile, like actually answering my questions, I assure you I would have used the alternatives instead.

    But you’re not going to suggest alternatives, despite me having invited you to do so on a couple of occasions, because apparently that would be ‘really putting words into my mouth’, Yet you had no reluctance putting words into my mouth earlier, 
    such as ‘go rogue’ and ‘wonders of local government’!  

    You’re right, this hasn’t been a very productive conversation.

      

  • Anonymous

    One of the commenters on EllieMurasaki’s link is rightfully concerned that getting everyone to use ‘romany’ might just result in ‘romany’ becoming a slur…

    I remember seeing an article that mentioned a man with a leg that doesn’t function too well saying he actually preferred to be called an old-fashioned and now-deprecated term rather than ‘disabled’.  The term was either ‘lame’ or ‘crippled’, I forget which.  He liked it better because he thought that ‘disabled’ suggested he was incapable of anything, whereas the other term was more specific and suggested (he thought, anyway) he just couldn’t walk…

  • Anonymous

    including ‘splaining to minorities why they’re not actually oppressed when they think they are.

    I never said it.  I never implied it.  And I don’t believe it. 

    I never suggested to anyone that he or she is not actually oppressed.

    What is unlikely to work for you, is making condescending assertions of your views

    That’s the double standard.  It’s perfectly okay for others to make condescending assertions of their views — because most of the posters agree with them.  I don’t complain when others make condescending assertions.  But when someone makes sarcastic assertions that challenge their views, that’s when people complain.

  • Anonymous

    I disagree.  Discrimination is equally wrong in practice whether it’s done in support of systemic or historic bigotry or not.  But I don’t need to explain why or give reasons.  Each person can read my comparison and your response, and then decide for themselves.  If you’ve convinced them, good for you.

  • Anonymous

    If Verna Zee … interpreted Buck’s comments as ‘if you do not do this for me I will out you’, then whether Buck intended his comments to be heard as threatening IS NOT FUCKING RELEVANT, because HE MADE A HOSTILE REMARK.

    You are mistaken; when speaking of hostility, intent is everything.

    hostile

    1. Of, relating to, or characteristic of an enemy: hostile forces; hostile acts.2. Feeling or showing enmity or ill will; antagonistic: a hostile remark.3. Unfavorable to health or well-being; inhospitable or adverse
    Fuck you.

    Thanks, Ellie.  Happy New Year to you, too!

  • Anonymous

    I don’t think that oppressed minorities are just making it all up in their heads about their own oppression.

    I do think that someone who belong to or sympathizes with an oppressed minority can make a mistake and erroneous see a hostile intent when there is no actual intent.  One such example is the link I provided in my previous response to you.  Another example — a fictional one – is the conversation between Buck and Verna in which Verna inferred a hostile intent on the part of Buck when there was no such intent.

  • Tonio

    I stated that systemic discrimination is worse, not that it was more wrong. No one else here is asserting the latter. “Worse” in this context means that it’s a greater social injustice. Addressing discrimination is not about following rules or punishing people who violate them. It’s about achieving a more just society.

  • Anonymous

    I see your point.  I don’t necessarily agree that discrimination that aligns with systemic or historic injustice is a greater social injustice than other types of discrimination.  But I understand why many would believe differently.

  • Tonio

    “Aligns with”? Paul isn’t some restauranteur who’s refusing to serve specific ethnic groups. He has defended the system of injustice and would have stood in the way of the federal government doing anything about it. By doing so, he would have ultimately perpetuated the injustice. Treating this as simply a matter of individual prejudice is to miss the entire point.


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