Silver Rights

News, thoughts and comments on civil rights and related issues.

Friday, December 31, 2004  

Blogospherics: 'Race realist' lambasts Sontag

Science fiction writer Jerry Pournelle is very upset about the attention the brilliant writer Susan Sontag is getting in death, as she did in life. I became aware of Pournelle's tantrums after reading a brief entry celebrating the demise of Sontag at John Dunshee's weblog, Just Some Poor Schmuck. Pournelle has been actively involved in a group of 'race realists ('scientific' racists) for some time, and, is often referred to fondly by its leader. He has attacked her for lack of what they would call race loyalty. The entries are interesting for examining the irrational way people who hold such views think.

Sontag was ambivalent about the West and 'progress.' She believed the harm down by European 'settlers' might outweigh any benefits conferred. In a mid-60s essay called "What’s Happening in America," she said, in part:

The truth is that Mozart, Pascal, Boolean algebra, Shakespeare, parliamentary government, baroque churches, Newton, the emancipation of women, Kant, Marx, Balanchine ballets, et al., don’t redeem what this particular civilization has wrought upon the world. The white race is the cancer of human history; it is the white race and it alone -- its ideologies and inventions -- which eradicates autonomous civilizations wherever it spreads, which has upset the ecological balance of the planet, which now threatens the very existence of life itself.

Those thoughts enrage Pournelle, a mediocre thinker and writer, at best. He titled one entry "Susan Sontag: Good Riddance."

So: apparently the world would be better off without Pascal and Pasteur, and with Tamurlane and Babur still in power; with the Shogunate still firmly in place; and without the technology which now threatens the very existence of life itself.

Notice the built-in assumption that only white Westerners are capable of producing or implementing technology. He seems utterly oblivious to the destructive impact of Western leaders on both their own societies and the others.

More, when there should be less.

It is only through religious eyes that one may make any pretence that "all men are created equal" and see inequalities before the law as a defect of civilization.

Really? I do not believe that being religious is a prerequisite for believing that human beings are all equally human. What is a prerequisite is a willingness to see oneself or whatever groups one belongs to as not necessarily any better than others. 'Race realists' are unable to do that because of a deep-seated need to place themselves above much of humanity -- without offering any proof of their alleged superiority.

Pournelle blunders on.

Fortunately, most of those who pretend to be impressed with such nonsense do not actually take it seriously. Only the very wealthy intellectual classes can lead lives so sheltered from reality as to make themselves pretend that any of that paragraph makes sense: and of course they continue to act as intellectuals and enjoy the products of this poisonous civilization, sprinkled perhaps with a bit of multicultural seasoning.

The 'reality' he refers to is course, a belief that he and other white men are superior to the rest of humanity. According to 'race realists' , our day to day lives are supposed to convince us of that. If our experiences don't, we must be wealthy folks who out of touch with the real world.

Here is another passage in Sontag's essay.

I do not think white America is committed to granting equality to the American Negro. . .this is a passionately racist country; it will continue to be so in the foreseeable future.

It is that passion that has possessed Pournelle. Much of weblog is devoted to bitter remarks about the increasing diversity of the American population, particularly the Mexican and Mexican-American presence in California. Perhaps such carping can be attributed to the man's age, but, being familiar with the group he is associated with, I believe his problem is deeper than that. The reality he is in flight from must appear to be a hellish one for a man who considers the pseudo-science of The Bell Curve his Bible. The racist drivel of Pournelle and his fellow travelers largely gets the dismissal it deserves. The insights of Sontag and other leading intellectuals doesn't get as much attention as they merit. But, for someone like Pournelle, the realization that her works matter much more than his ever will is a bitter draught indeed. Pournelle says he may include Sontag in a book he is writing. Doubtlessly, the portrayal will be an unflattering one.

Reasonably related

• What do I think of what Sontag said about the impact of Europe on the rest of the world? I don't disagree with the views she expressed, though I'm reluctant to attribute the wrongs perpetrated to the people doing them being white. Their appearance would be irrelevant but for the significance a world history of racism, created by them, has given it. It has become difficult to separate the abuses of Western culture from 'whiteness' mainly because race is so often used to try to justify them.

Blogger Richard Harter has posted a concise review of Pournelle's best known book, Lucifer's Hammer, written with Larry Niven. It considers the aspect readers and reviewers have found troubling.

The thing that I find offensive is the demonization and apothesization. Astronauts like gods -- give me a break. Does it not occur to you that Pournelle (of the two, Jerry is the hard core bigot -- Larry is soft core) has gathered all of his favorite targets in to one group and demonized them. Does it never occur to you that that troop of renegade black cannibal soldiers is grossly improbable, to say nothing of being gross? Do you really miss the rampant racism of the book? Does it not occur to you that the "Angels" are political caricature and demonization?

Let me summarize this book for you: Catastrophe happens. The good guys [our heroes, complex and human, heir to loneliness of leadership] go off in the mountains to found a new kingdom. The bad guys [liberals, environmentalists, blacks, religious fanatics, cheap politicians] form a cannibal crusade to destroy every thing worthwhile. Astronauts return from space like shining gods. The cannibal horde tries to destroy the good guys. They also try to destroy the magic talisman of technophilic goodness, the Atomic Power Station. In the end the horde is defeated by the devices of the techie genius nerd.

Read the rest.

• If you haven't read Lucifer's Hammer, you may want to. It is an interesting example of how support for white supremacy is disseminated in popular culture.

• Read a balanced appraisal of Sontag, one of the leading intellectuals of our time, here.

posted by J. | 8:00 AM

Wednesday, December 29, 2004  

News: Puerto Rico election reveals chasm

A divisive election that dragged on for months is over. Puerto Rico has a governor. The close contest was about more than candidates, however. Its focus was what role the country should have in relationship to the United States.

The Miami Herald reports.

Puerto Rico's new governor will have his reputation as a consensus-builder put to the test when he takes office next month after a close election that triggered a two-month-long ballot recount and involved three courts.

Aníbal Acevedo Vilá, whose win is expected to be certified today, will be sworn in Jan. 2. The 42-year-old faces a legislature ruled by the opposition, the pro-statehood New Progressive Party. A member of that party also will hold the critical post of Puerto Rico's representative in Washington.

The unprecedented split in the highest political posts is almost certain to sharpen the perennial debate over the island's status, in which Acevedo's Popular Democratic Party favors continuing the current status as a U.S. Commonwealth while the New Progressives favor full U.S. statehood.

The 4,000 margin vote margin between Acevedo and former Gov. Pedro Rosselló suggests an almost equal support for continuing Puerto Rico's status as a commonwealth and seeking statehood. Eighty percent of those eligible voted, resulting in in 2.4 million ballots cast. A third and most controversial preference -- independence from the U.S. -- is held by a minority of the population.

An equally interesting question is whether most Americans would welcome Puerto Rico as the fifty-first state. The recent American election and other indicia of a conservative trend make me wonder. Many of the conservatives who supported George W. Bush also believe English should be the official language of the country, oppose immigration and are hostile to bilingual education. Muslim Americans have become increasingly unpopular since the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Though most Puerto Ricans are Christians, they are also multiracial and Spanish speaking, grounds enough for many Americans to see them as the Other.

Puerto Rico's status as a commonwealth is troubling to anyone who cares about democracy.

As members of a U.S. commonwealth, Puerto Ricans have U.S. citizenship but pay no federal taxes. They can be drafted into the military but cannot vote in federal elections.

Puerto Ricans are subject to many American laws without having any real voice in governance. Their representative in Washington is advisory only. However, it seems doubtful that the island will be welcomed as a state in the foreseeable future.

Reasonably related

The Democrat appears to have won that other closely fought race -- for the governorship of Washington.

posted by J. | 9:00 PM