- Me: And so HISPANIC_NAME moved into the neighbourhood - hopefully they won't have a hard time..
- Them: Why would you think they might have a hard time?
- Me: Because that neighbourhood doesn't have much in the way of hispanics or other minorities, and I'm not sure if they'll be treated well..
- Them: Minorities? Wait, don't tell me you believe in race? (incredulous tone)
- Me: Well, it's not an entirely solid and fully defining concept, but there are divisions of race and culture - I mean, you could tell the difference between a Taiwanese and a Swiss person. The same factors that split the races also tied them more or less, and on different timescales, to cultures...
- Them: What do you mean by that? There arn't any races, there arn't any cultures (getting visibly angry). You can't group people like that.
- Me: Look, they don't describe everyone within them to a T, but these are meaningful ways to understand groups of people.. and individuals too.
- Them: Pre-judging people is prejudice, that's by definition
- Me: Maybe how the word is used in society - as a rallying call to fix social problems - needs some reinvestigation.. the fact remains that not only, as I've noted, can we tell the difference between a Taiwanese and a Swiss, but if you see someone from one of these ethnic groups, it's more likely than not that you'll be able to better guess their religion, some aspects of their upbringing, things like that
- Them: Look, if I told you that I was from Taiwan or Mongolia or Sweden, and you did one of these guesses, you might be wrong. You can't tell by how I look where I'm from, nor can you tell me about my ancestry. *I* know about my ancestry, not you. *I* know what ethnicity I define myself as, not you. I know my religion and all these other things.
- Me: All these things are based on statistics - they don't have to be right all the time to have meaning. If I can tell beforehand..
- Them: All you have to do is ask. There's no such things as these groups of people you keep talking about.
- Me: More often than not, if you look at the factors you see around you all the time in people you meet, you can tell a lot about their ethnicity. Skin tone, for example - it's rare that people of largely european descent have very dark skin - some groups do, but not many. Facial shape - you look at a Korean and you'll notice that their face is shaped differently than a Japanese person.
- Them: I can probably find you someone who comes from a Korean family who you'd have a tough time distinguishing from someone whose family is from Japan. These distinctions don't make sense, and it's racist bullshit like this - people like you who hold on to this crap that keep it going..
(and it continued...)
I've had a fair number of those conversations, many of them more frustrating than this because the people on the other side seemed to have only one desire in the conversation - to steer it in a direction so they could be offended, either themselves or on somebody else's behalf. At the time, I didn't consider myself liberal, and dismissed it as being what happens when people become *too* liberal (that dismissal was .. well, read on) - Later, when I philosophically moved into the liberal sphere, I wasn't able to keep doing that. Some of the other people I met who argued like this were truly diabolical in their ability to turn conversations around to criticise people for being racist - on some level I admired their ability to keep fending off dismissals of their tactics and press the attack, even though that was more cleverness with words and other fairly surface-level arguments than necessarily deep philosophical arguments. As I did a fair amount of informal (and a bit of formal) debating in those times, I sometimes would keep the discussion going, but ... in the end, one has to choose between speed and careful thought over matters - a good debator ideally is reasonably good at both, but if one's opponent is going fast enough, one has to either match their speed (and engage in some sophistry) or do one's best to slow them down and deconstruct their arguments (which they typically will then deride as wordplay).
I sometimes daydreamed of making an Eliza-esque program to rapidly generate that style of argument (or alternatively as a machine-agumentation project - suggest to a human operator what to argue).
On some level, I think those conversations really drilled home the importance of deconstruction as a tool for working out differences between people, especially as it fit into my metatheory of value.
One of my favourite bands, Firewater, is to release a new CD soon - the lead singer, Tod Ashley, just got back from a several-year trip across India, Pakistan, Israel, and several other places in the area recording with random musicians he met there. The mix of sounds is pretty unique - there's a clip of "This Is My Life" on their myspace page that has a nice partly-Bhangra sound to it.