Jerkwater Tweet #006

Merrick Garland did well overcoming being the Elephant Man to rise to the position of Attorney General. But he should still be doing more…

Cultural Appropriation or Approbation (or “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Judge the Author by Their Cover”)? (Part 4 of 4)

Part IV: …Judge them by their content (of their characters)

For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that

I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to

win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though

not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law.

-The Apostle Paul (1 Corinthians 9:19-23)

People learn by saying wrong things— even offensive things—that can then be corrected!

-Garry Kasparov

I believe in the values of the Enlightenment and traditional education. Free Speech. Reasoned Debate Of Ideas. Scientific Method. The sorts of bedrock concepts where you capitalize all the words.

Yes, historically, that’s mostly a dead white man’s game. But isn’t the answer to that (and to the problem of not enough minority/marginalized authors) to bring diversity directly to those areas? Nothing about that needs to silence anyone’s voice—and certainly no such censoring should be based solely on the speaker’s skin color.

I also very much believe in and support social justice causes. I am against the way our country is careening into fascism. Things seem rather dire to me on that front. So, if I thought that seeking out, isolating, and punishing the creators of a certain class of art was an effective means of achieving social justice, I might even condone it (at least, in theory–and only as a short term, emergency tactic…a ban on nazi paraphernalia in the military and on police forces comes to mind)…

—that is, if it worked. But it doesn’t seem to. In fact, I believe our present situation has been largely fueled by this new, illiberal political correctness.

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Cultural Appropriation or Approbation (or “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Judge the Author by Their Cover”)? (Part 3 of 4)

Part III: …Don’t judge authors by their skin-color…

I’ve written elsewhere that I don’t believe art should really be fully separated from the artist. But, I don’t think that’s what I’m arguing for now. What I am saying is that we should not use a work of art as a trojan horse proxy for our pre-judgments about the authors (or the social group they’re associated with).

Like Shirley Jackson’s famous short story “The Lottery”, people use complaints of cultural appropriation, aided by social media, as a modern form of cultural stoning. Better to target and set upon a particular author or artist like the proverbial pitchfork-wielding mob than to put all of that energy into creating new institutions or movements that will actually affect the real structural change one claims to care about. Or, I don’t know, maybe go out and write and self-publish your own book?

My brush with this so far is only a few Twitter spats. I argued against some randos who had successfully gotten a white female’s book contract canceled by her publisher because they had read it and found out that her book had a main character of another race. I debated against their failed logic of trying to prevent someone from writing fiction solely because of the color of that author’s skin. (Sorry—I have to keep repeating it, just to try and get my head around the stupidity of it). The various Twitter trolls, in turn, said—just by me presenting an opposing view—that I was displaying my white privilege and even committing violence against them.

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Cultural Appropriation or Approbation (or “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Judge the Author by Their Cover”)? (Part 2 of 4)

PART II: …I only ask one thing—

Culture has various definitions. Most agree that “culture” are the customs, institutions, and products of a common society, regarded collectively. Or, to put it more simply: “Culture” is the shared outputs of a particular group. NOTE: ideologies, or shared ways of thinking, are also part of culture; but, ideas inherently belong to no one. This is why, for example, you can’t copyright an idea, only a representation (like a book or a picture) of an idea. So, we’ll stay with “outputs”.

Next, what is appropriation? This is a more problematic concept. If you put a criminal overlay on it, as the verb itself suggests, you probably mean something like the legal definition. Roughly, separating out some elements in a useful way, appropriation is: (1) Taking, (2) without their permission, (3) someone else’s property, (4) with the intent to convert it to your own use? Most deeper discussions will add a fifth, underlying element: (5) And done in a way to further oppress or harm the people of that culture. We’ll come back to that.

As I mentioned yesterday, I deliberately (#1) “Took Culture” when the magic system of my novel was to be the underpinning to all (including Native Peoples’) religions. Mea Culpa.

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Cultural Appropriation or Approbation (or “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Judge the Author by Their Cover”)?

Chief Illiniwek?

PART I: In an Uncivilized Debate about Cultural Appropriation…

I grew up about ten miles from the University of Illinois (U of I). The U of I began in 1867, roughly fifty years after the state was formed. The official mascot of the U of I was the “Fighting Illini”, a representation of the Illinois Confederation of indigenous Peoples (about a dozen tribes) known as the “Illiniwek”. The Illiniwek, who numbered over ten thousand in the 17th century, were more or less gone by the early 19th century. The few hundred who remained reportedly joined the Peoria Tribe.

However, “Chief Illiniwek” to me was the name of the school mascot. The U of I had been the “Fighting Illini” since 1926 and “Chief Illiniwek” was the guy who—as far back as anyone could remember, and with a very rousing marching band tune behind him—would dance an authentic, “ceremonial Indian” dance at halftime.

It turns out, the dance was actually invented by the first few students to perform as “The Chief”, back when the tradition started. I just recently discovered that they learned it, indirectly, in the Boy Scouts, from that organization’s handbook, in the section drafted by Ralph “Doc” Hubbard.

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