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I find truth and some confusion in both sides of this exchange.

1. I do think that a lot of what is ascribed to "racism" today, but certainly not all, is better described as either familiarity bias, or as in-group bias, so it's valuable to make that distinction if one wishes to understand rather than just to "reinforce the narrative" (which I consider the Prime Directive of neo-progressivism).

2. The distinctions held to be salient in defining an in-group vs out-group vary between cultures as well as between eras. The proclivity may be innate, but the specifics of what factors determine the group boundaries evolve.

3. Skin color and various other visible features have likely been used countless times in determining "who is like us who is not" (by different sides), over the course of history and pre-history. This should not be any surprise - ANY highly visible signal is likely to be adopted at one time or another, even ones that are cultural and not innate. There is evidence, for example, that it factored into Roman attitudes.

4. The modern conception of 4 (or 5) vaguely continental "races", and the creation of a hierarchy, was indeed one of those examples; and it was used to rationalize heirarchical societal arrangements. This was not the invention of a new fundamental concept, just one of many in-group/out-group distinctions being weaponized by an ideology. Put another way, it was an invented instantiation of a much broader, universal proclivity.

As another example, as far as I know, all cultures have incest taboos. However, which relationships are taboo varies by cultures, and a powerful group within a culture could change the accepted understanding of which cases are considered taboo. That's not inventing a new dynamic, it's harnessing an existing dynamic with edited trigger criteria.

5. So yes, I'm suggesting that the invention of race was intended to be a new instance of long standing in-group/out-group dynamics. Without in/out bias, that racialized division would not have worked (some other species?) Other cultures might use religion or hair styles. One of the "moral foundations" handy for instantiating this bias is "disgust", as your correspondent suggests.

6. It's unlikely that humans will ever fully eliminate in-group bias; it had enough evolutionary payoff to likely be genetically encoded. But human culture can influence when it comes into play - both how often and on what basis it occurs. What are the limits of our ability to do that? I'm not sure yet.

7. One of the historic trends, with advances and backtracking, has been towards ideologies stressing a larger "us". That is, increasing our affective domains to include more people who were formerly conceived of as "unlike us". We likely started with bands of 50-100 people, expanding to larger tribes, city-states, fiefdoms, ethnic groups, nations and empires, multi-national ensembles, and by the 20th century beginning to move towards planetary identification including our whole species. This shift in the us/them boundary accounts for many of the ways in which we have had some success in reducing the in-group preference bias - perceiving a larger "us" with whom we can have relatively more empathy and less prejudice.

8. The neo-progressive fixation on identity politics and culture is corroding the 'bigger us' perspective, instead substituting tribes and tribal conflict as the core vehicle by which to achieve a better society. Identity politics divides us into warring tribes motivated largely by trying to optimise the outcomes for the tribes on our side, in a moral struggle for power, within the framing of a conceptual zero-sum game. In this tribalized struggle, the strategy of the "oppressed" tribes is to paralyze "oppressor" tribes from perceiving their self interest through guilt, so that the unrestrained self interest of "our side" can prevail, whether they have the numbers or power to do so if the gloves really all came off. That is, "we don't have any empathy for you oppressors or respect for any of your legitimate needs - but it's obligatory that you defer to our perspective and act caringly towards us (on our terms)".

I do not see that strategy ending well. The paralysis is only partial (concerntraed among neo-progressives, with lesser amounts among liberals and still less among concervatives), and even there the paralysis can be shaken if things get bad enough.

To some limited degree that's happening now, as people in the most liberal regions of Virginia get upset when neo-progressives start coming for their kids. It's on thing to confess your white privilege on Medium or in the workplace, and another to see your kids self-image and worldview being sabotaged.

I much prefer to return to expanding the "us" and emphasizing the common values and humanity which incentivize us to seek compromise and connection over warfare. Of course there are problems which need to be given more emphasis, and there will still be conflicts of ideas and perceived self interest, but if the core ideology is about the bigger us, then we don't need to hate each other as much.

Today, the largest tribal animosity is between conservatives and liberals, each of whom routinely demonizes the other, and turns "I disagree" into "I despise". The portion of the population who would be upset if their kid married somebody of the other party now exceeds the number who would be upset about race.

The escalating reliance upon an us/them tribal division in race relations has to be seen in the larger context of this escalating polarization - it helps fuel the latter, but the latter also reframes the racial divide in ways that make any compromise or win/win steps (much less outcomes) less feasible. Too many people on both sides feel that you can't compromise with the devil and the other half the country is demonic.

From this perspective, I find partial agreement with each of you - and I think part of it may be more like each seeing one facet of the whole - and unfortunately feeling somewhat as if you have to discount the facet that the other is seeing.

Still, I feel there is some mutual respect in your exchange, and it's refreshing to see people actually seeking a nuanced truth - in this case through bouncing arguments off another mind, trying to make your best case (rather than play framing and definition gains in seeking the moral high ground from which to discredit your opponent without engaging with their ideas). Shocking! Given human nature, neither is likely to concede this issue, but either or both of you may nevertheless be influenced by the ideas of the other, in ways that could manifest in a completely different discussion a year from now. As a bystander, I learn from each of your perspectives. And I've offered my own reflections to the mix, along with other readers. Thank you.

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Yeah, I think I broadly agree with all of this, and I'm certainly not suggesting that we'll ever get rid of in-group bias. Whatever means we use to define those in-groups. What I was trying to point out to Will, and you seem to agree, is that there's a difference between bias and bigotry.

Racism is not simply "I feel a certain degree of solidarity with this person because they share certain traits with me." It's "I believe this person to be inferior to me or to possess undesirable characteristics because they possess certain traits that are different to mine.

I don't think it's possible to overstate the difference between these two positions.

So the mistake I think Will was making is conflating bias and bigotry, and suggesting that bigotry is also an innate characteristic in humans. I firmly believe that this is untrue, as highlighted by the many instances where we've outgrown certain bigotries.

Bigotry is a learned behaviour. And certain version of it are baked into various cultures. As cultures change, so do the attitudes. And to suggest that this is hopeless is simply to give oneself an excuse to do nothing. If he really believed it was impossible to change attitudes, why would he have found my article arguing against anti-white bigotry worthwhile?

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Feb 7, 2022Liked by Steve QJ

Very comprehensive. I liked 'turns "I disagree" into "I despise".'

Also, I truly dislike the broad-brushing of all republicans as racists (or deplorables - what a horrible word). I don't think all of the dems are angels or that all of the republicans are devils even though I lean strongly liberal on most issues. I prefer to think of my fellow Americans as just that - Americans. They are human beings that deserve consideration and evalutation prior to me judging them. Labels tell me nothing.

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"Also, I truly dislike the broad-brushing of all republicans as racists (or deplorables - what a horrible word). I don't think all of the dems are angels or that all of the republicans are devils even though I lean strongly liberal on most issues"

I could have written this word-for-word about myself. I couldn't agree more. And it's funny how, in this climate, when you push back against people who assume that everybody to their political right is a racist monster, you are often immediately branded one yourself. I saw Steven Pinker described as right wing the other day for God's sake!😅

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Yes. They are even attacking old-school, hard-core liberals like Stephen Pinker (I bought his book "Enlightenment Now" just to support hime but it was also a good read and an important reminder that we are NOT in the dark ages just yet) and even other progressives. I'm sure you've read about the Maud Maron story. Well, not only is she suing the NYC Legal Aid Society https://www.fairforall.org/profiles-in-courage/maron-v-the-legal-aid-society/, she's running for Congress. I love this woman! She just will not sit down and shut up like they hope. She is the kind of American who keeps our country vital and moving forward. There is a spine in us somewhere. We just have to find it.

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Year ago, I asked a man why he was so opposed to school integration. He said if you let the children be together when they are young, they'll think they are the same and like each other. He was an honest racist. They must be "taught" because racism isn't the default state of small children. He knew that quite well.

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That's why rock 'n' roll was such a threat when it first came out via black R&B. White kids starting hanging out where the good music was being played which was in the black clubs. Next thing you know, they're talking together, partying together, dancing together - and you know what THAT leads to.......

That's right, more enlightened racial attitudes, and NO parent could tolerate THAT back in the Fifties!!!

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Excellent point. Music distributers created a divide; music (default white) and "race music." Partly they thought it to make more money, and partly for what you said.

I play a banjo. Not so good at it, but I like it. An instrument that came from Africa, with slaves or perhaps in their memories. Gourd banjos, three strings and a shirt drone string. The modern banjo is a refinement and a truly American instrument. I've done quite a bit of study on it and contrary to what many believe, is path to white people was more complex than minstrels.

White and black musicians have always listened to each other and music was shared and or exchanged. Hate and racism have a hard time surviving that. The old songs were a newspaper, stories were spread with them.

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True dat, hate and racism can't survive....what did you just suggest? CULTURAL APPROPRIATION!!! Good god man you've just destroyed the world. With a banjo.

Good job!

I destroyed it with belly dancing.

When I was in my early 20s my friends and I learned how to belly dance and I danced for entertainment later. The rest got married and had kids. Years later I connected with a few on Facebook and found my old roommate going on about how she sorta feels guilty now that she 'culturally appropriated' belly dancing back in the day. So I noted to her that us 'cultural appropriators' are actually the ones keeping it *alive*, because in the Middle East, it's a dying art....you know how much religious nutjobs hate women to be dancing 'n' stuff...it tempts men to not be the little pure-minded angels God made them to be ;) I noted that it had been banned in some places and attacked by fundamentalists (not always Muslim, Israeli has their female-haters in the Ultra-Orthodox) and that *we* Western women, living in our free worlds, were keeping it alive. It won't be the same as it was in the Middle East but...it never was the same as anything, because belly dancing grew and spread along with conquests, diasporas, refugees, intermarriage...and everyone learned from everyone else and different styles evolved, but they always fused with other styles and just became their own style.

Cultural 'appropriation' - it's a beautiful thing, really, whether it's banjos, zydeco, belly dancing or R&B. The world is what it is with cultural appropriation. Only in the last ten years was that seen as a *bad* thing.

(I will state there are a few times when I have sympathy for the 'cultural appropriation' argument - like when religions are appropriated and misused or abused - or when profits and the law are involved - like rich white boys taking over the newly-legalized weed business after so many black people were incarcerated for selling the same weed. But there my sympathy ends.)

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Sadly, for some there is still some divide with both the banjo and blues harmonica, my other love. This has strayed a bit from Steves Commentary story, so I don't want to say too much about it. Some of us are trying, some have a political chip. I don't want to go partisan, so I'll leave it at that except to say that is being stirred up for political purpose. A crying shame.

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Haha, I always feel a grudging admiration for people who are so forthright in their bigotry. Having the dishonesty and weasel words cleared away often makes it easier to get to the heart often issue. And to be fair, he's absolutely right. The only way to maintain bigotry is to keep people apart.

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Feb 7, 2022·edited Feb 7, 2022Liked by Steve QJ

“We are not chimps (at least most of us aren't).”

And all the monkeys aren’t in the zoo,

Every day you meet quite a few.

So you see, it’s all up to you:

You could be better than you are;

You could be swingin’ on a star.

—Bing Crosby, Swingin’ on a Star

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"It’s been said a thousand times before; the secret to good writing is ruthless editing."

Jack Kerouac would have disagreed with you ... he believed with absolute conviction that a writer betrays himself when he alters what he wrote originally.

I am obsessed with precision in communication, no surprise that I do more technical writing than any other nominal software developer you will ever meet. Little things like using the same Big Word twice in one sentence drive me nuts.

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"Jack Kerouac would have disagreed with you ... he believed with absolute conviction that a writer betrays himself when he alters what he wrote originally."

Hmm, interesting! So he didn't advocate editing at all? I can barely imagine how a piece of writing couldn't be improved with a second pass. But maybe that's just a stylistic thing. Frankly, I'd love it if I could be completely satisfied first time😅

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Ok, sure, Will is right that in-group/out-group bias is pretty darn innate. What is *learned* is how to label people as members of the in-group or out-group. "Race" was invented as a way to say "Ok, Brits, French, Dutch, Swedes, etc... we can be an in-group together and enslave all of the residents of the continent of Africa because they're all a single, inferior out-group we'll call 'black.'" Conveniently, I have a three-year-old. He can see that different people have different skin colors, but he hasn't learned to label people by race yet (and hopefully I'm doing an okay job of teaching him that they're all his "in-group" because they're all human beings). Racism- bigotry and bias based on the social construct of race--has to be learned because race was made up. Humans learn, then go unlearn things all the time. Think of all the people who "learned" that the sun went around the Earth, then had to unlearn it.

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Well, humans spent a few hundred thousand years in small tribes where an outsider was a potentially fatal threat. Plenty of time for the behavior to become part of our genetics.

But we are not enthralled to our behavior genetics.

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Exactly. There is a difference between in-group bias and bigotry. That's the point I was trying to drive home in this conversation. A bias towards "your tribe" (by whatever measure that's defined) does not automatically equal hatred for another.

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This stuff is fascinating to me. I've seen Chinese from completely different parts of the world meet each other, usually in the company of non-Chinese; there comes a moment when they speak directly to each other, usually in Mandarin, and go through the quick protocols that amount to "how do I address you," age, status, etc.

Their faces completely change at this moment. Like putting on a mask.

I come from two families with roots deep in New York Jewish culture. I was raised Episcopalian (it didn't take) and only met a few of my, by then, elderly relatives. My grandmothers were not observant. Yet get me around northeastern Jews and the sense of "belonging" is intense. Yet I have never been in a synagogue and I only understand Yiddish because I speak German.

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Feb 8, 2022·edited Feb 8, 2022Author

"Will is right that in-group/out-group bias is pretty darn innate"

Yeah, exactly. I agreed with Will about this. The point I was trying to drive home with him is that there's a difference between in-group bias and bigotry. As I said to somebody else here, there's a difference between feeling a certain degree of solidarity with somebody because they share certain traits with you, and believing somebody to be inferior or to possess undesirable characteristics because they possess certain traits that are different to yours.

The former is, let's say, as close to innate as makes no difference. But the latter is learned. Which is why the traits we've used to characterise the "undesirables" throughout history have changed in all kinds of ways. And now, many of them would seem absolutely ridiculous to us. My favourite example of this is phrenology.

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Actually, if you had read the article Steve linked to: https://www.theguardian.com/news/2021/apr/20/the-invention-of-whiteness-long-history-dangerous-idea, you would have discovered that skin color was not the main differentiator. It was religion.

“If you asked [an Englishman] to situate himself within the rapidly expanding borders of the known world, he would probably identify himself, first and most naturally, as an Englishman. If that category proved too narrow – if, say, he needed to describe what it was he had in common with the French and the Dutch that he did not share with Ottomans or Africans – he would almost certainly call himself a Christian instead.

That religious identity was crucial for the development of the English slave trade – and eventually for the development of racial whiteness. In the early 17th century, plantation owners in the West Indies and in the American colonies largely depended on the labour of European indentured servants. These servants were considered chattel and were often treated brutally – the conditions on Barbados, England’s wealthiest colony, were notorious – but they were fortunate in at least one respect: because they were Christian, by law they could not be held in lifetime captivity unless they were criminals or prisoners of war.

Africans enjoyed no such privilege. They were understood to be infidels, and thus the “perpetual enemies” of Christian nations, which made it legal to hold them as slaves. By 1640 or so, the rough treatment of indentured servants had started to diminish the supply of Europeans willing to work on the sugar and tobacco plantations, and so the colonists looked increasingly to slavery, and the Atlantic-sized loophole that enabled it, to keep their fantastically profitable operations supplied with labour.“

Skin color may have played a part, but it wasn't the main belief that drove the switch from white indentured to black enslaved labor. Whether one was a Christian was the key in-group belief that bound "whites" together. Skin color privilege was afterward politicized and codified into law by granting privileges to whites that elevated them above blacks, etc. And that's when the "I'm better than you because I'm white” overt racism began.

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Steve - there is something going on here that begs a closer look. White-Christian culture is undeniably and uniquely barbaric e.g. the inquisition, colonialism, slavery, racism, executions, assassinations, genocide, torture, nuclear bombs, concentration camps, drone warfare, mass-incarceration and violent and aggressive policing at home and abroad.

Nonetheless, people like Will, are trying to justify, explain or excuse this barbaric behaviour by insisting violent aggression is an innate or universal human trait. Will supports his views by writing:

“Humans have in-group preference and out-group hostility.”

“Ask any three year old if they hate black people or Jews or foreigners”

I disagree with Will. If violent aggression was a universal human trait, we would all be psychopaths, sociopaths, serial killers, and serial rapists. The innate human response is to protect ourselves from these people – not become one. In fact, our brains automatically enable self-defense by releasing chemicals that prepare our bodies for fight, flight or freeze. That said, protecting ourselves from violent aggression, often requires violent behaviour – might this explain the tendency to conflate them?

Historically, peaceable and sociable people kept the human race thriving on this earth by passing these innate traits to their children. The reason is as simple as it is obvious. We, humans can live in isolation and quite happily too. But we cannot produce children without societies. And human societies cannot survive without their youngest, healthiest and strongest members.

When it comes to making babies, nature advantages the young and healthy. As we age our egg and sperm production weakens. Men’s “shooting” power weakens as they age, until it’s barely a dribbled droplet. It’s like nature maintains a sperm bank, in case of necessity, but ensures only the strongest and healthiest sperm can make it to an egg by reducing the shooting power. Growing a child is so physically taxing on a woman’s body, nature protects societal health by ending menstruation. In other words, women are too valuable to functional societies to risk their lives on child bearing any longer than necessary.

So too, soldiers cannot stop fighting and go the grocery store and make themselves three meals a day. Soldiers depend on peaceable and sociable people to feed, water, clothe and shelter them. Harder still, violence often triggers violent and aggressive gene expression, leaving soldiers struggling to adapt, when they return to peaceful, social life.

I suspect this is the reason, that the majority of people do not carry the gene that expresses itself in violent and aggressive behaviour. Moreover, this gene rarely expresses itself – at all. Since most people live in safe and secure societies, people live their entire lives never suspecting that they carry a genetic tendency for deviant behaviour. Even if someone with this gene encounters a hostile – or deviant environment – somewhere between conception and age 15, the same gene will express itself as prosocial behaviour or violent and aggressive behaviour. That is the reason that two siblings, with this genetic trait, raised in the same home, by the same people exhibit opposite behaviours – one is a peacemaker, the other is violent and aggressive.

Just as violence and aggression are deviant behaviours, so too are the environments they build. Unfortunately, white-Christian culture has a long history of constructing islands of hostile environments for its unwanted populations. Today, we call these islands ghettos, prisons, plantations and work, concentration, internment, and refugee camps. Sadly, guarding these islands of despair, further stimulates violent and aggressive gene expression in white-Christians. Today, for example, police officers and prison guards have the highest rate of domestic abuse of any job.

The same deviant conditions long observed in islands of poverty, are present in islands of wealth in equal measure, including, neglect and financial, physical, mental, sexual and/or emotional abuse of parents, family members, siblings and/or caregivers, and the constant insecurity of unrealistic and developmentally incorrect expectations that triggers disordered, or deviant personalities. That is the reason, we see generations of children from wealthy families who exhibit deviant behaviours common to personality disorders e.g. narcissism, conduct disorder and anti-social personality disorder (aka psychopaths).

Unfortunately, white-Christian culture appears to have cultivated deviant behaviour rather than weeding out it out of their societies.

People like Will, often claim white-Christians are the source of human progress. Wrong again. Violent and aggressive people are destroyers (not builders). Warriors did not invent gunpowder or discover nuclear fission. Soldiers did not discover electricity or invent computers. Fighters did not invent automobiles or libraries. Violent and aggressive people lack the qualities necessary to invent, create, study, teach or conduct research. In fact, the first thing they do when they meet peaceable and sociable people is kill their creatives and inventors and seize everything of value they can carry, then destroy everything they’ve built.

Human progress depends on peaceable and sociable traits that enable people to focus on specific tasks over long periods of time – often a lifetime. Equally important, human progress depends on nurturing environments, e.g., safe homes and communities where people maintain libraries, schools, labs, hospitals, etcetera.

Again, self-defense is a universal human trait. However, the level of violence required for self-defense is a measure of deviant’s, violent and aggressive behaviour – not those defending themselves against it

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