Feb. 3rd, 2016

sparr: (cellular automata)
I'm trying to wrap my head around the social justice definition of "racism" (and other -isms) and have failed to successfully research the topic, or to glean effective insight from others' comments on my previous discussions. Here is my latest attempt to rephrase my confusion.

On average, around the world, Japanese people are discriminated against by Caucasian people. Attempts to eliminate oppression and discrimination are rightfully aimed at this situation.

However, in Japan, a small subset of the world, the situation is reversed. Japanese people hold most/all of the power in a given situation, and Caucasian people are discriminated against.

I can accept the idea that a single black person without power/authority who discriminates against white people in America is not racism.

I cannot accept the idea that a hundred million Japanese people WITH power/authority who discriminate against white people in Japan is not racism.

If you disagree with me about the situation in Japan being racism, then we are simply speaking a different language, and your definition of racism isn't useful to me in any practical capacity. I am unable to make effective decisions for addressing the situation based on that definition.

If, however, you agree with me about Japan, (and about the other case, where agreement is more likely) then I need your help to figure out where the lines between the two cases are. I need to be able to look at a situation that's in between those two and figure out whether it's racism or not. Help?
sparr: (cellular automata)
Trigger warning

"Your definition is useless to me". I find myself saying this a lot. People interpret it as an insult or a dismissal. It is probably both, but that doesn’t stop it from also being a practical message that is important to convey.

When you and I are disagreeing over the meaning of a word or the value of a word having meaning at all, part of my position is usually based on my practical need for a word to mean something useful. By useful, I mean that I can put that meaning to some use, potentially including uses that we both agree are desirable.

Whether we are talking about a verb or a noun or an adjective, the purpose of any word is to differentiate between things that match that word and things that don’t match that word. “Rain” means liquid water naturally falling from the sky, and situations that aren’t liquid water naturally falling from the sky aren’t “rain”. “Jump” means propelling yourself into the air, and actions that don’t propel yourself into the air aren’t “jumping”. When I say it is or isn’t raining, or that I did or did not jump, those definitions help you understand the state of reality that I am describing. If you want or need information about whether liquid water is naturally falling from the sky then our shared definition of “rain” allows me to convey that information to you using that word.

The first category of useless definitions are definitions based on things that haven’t happened yet or can’t be known yet. If I were to say that “rain” only includes falling water that reaches the ground, and then we went to the top of a tall building and observed water falling from the sky, we would be unable to classify it as “rain” or “not rain” because we don’t know yet whether it will reach the ground or evaporate/freeze before it gets there. That definition of “rain” would be useless to us. Doubly so, as not only could we not accurately describe our observation, but someone else using a more common definition might tell us that it’s rain and we make a mistaken conclusion about the water reaching the ground below us. This category includes definitions of the word “consent” or “rape” that are subjective or non-deterministic. If your definition of those words leads to “you can’t know whether that sexual act you’re engaging in right now is consensual or rape” being a valid statement, then your definition is useless to me. And, again, I mean that in the most literal sense. There is no use to which I can put that definition, even in pursuit of our [presumably] shared goal of avoiding rape. Your definition actually reduces my ability to communicate by eliminating or making ambiguous part of my vocabulary.

The second category of useless definitions include words that mean exactly and only what the speaker wants them to mean. This category frequently includes words like “art” or “artist”, “pornography”, “right” or “wrong” or “good” or “bad”, and “enterprise”. More controversially, and the inspiration for this paragraph, it includes trans-inclusive definitions of “man” and “woman”. While I am supportive of these definitions, that does not stop me from categorizing them as useless. As these definitions are adopted, the information content of the words drops towards zero. When you tell me “Pat is a man”, do you intend to convey any information via this statement? If so, you must be using some definition of “man” other than the circular one of “anyone who identifies as a man”. If not, why say it at all?

I am not immediately seeking comment here, although it is welcome. The primary purpose of this note is for me to link to when this concept comes up in future discussions.

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