Razib Khan One-stop-shopping for all of my content

November 21, 2017

Against the rectification of names of the enemy

Filed under: Culture,Culture Wars,Semiotics — Razib Khan @ 2:32 am

Since the beginning of this weblog, a particular tick that is common to humans emerges over and over. A tick that is seductive, inevitable, and which I periodically react negatively to (and surely do engage in). That tick is the one where peculiar or exotic terms, or common terms in specific senses, are deployed to demarcate ingroup vs. outgroup.

This is clearly illustrated by example. Libertarians will often call non-libertarians statists. In some ways, this is a defensible term descriptively. But statists never call themselves statists, and often are confused what that even means. Really the term “statist” is just a way you can tell other libertarians that this person is not of the tribe. It’s not about communicating with the statist in question. It’s about labeling them…a witch!

Another example is ally. This is a banal and general word, but on the cultural Left it’s become transformed into a very specific thing. If you are a white male, you are by constitution an oppressor with privilege, so you must by necessity aim toward being an ally. Ally here means those with privilege joining the struggle against oppression and the liberation of marginalized people.

Almost all of the above terms are pretty standard English words, but bundled together into that paragraph you know the perspective and Weltanschauung it’s expressing.

In the United States those who oppose the right to an abortion because they think the fetus is a person define themselves as pro-life.  Those who support the right to an abortion define themselves as pro-choice. Pro-choice people sometimes call pro-life people anti-choice, while pro-life people call pro-choice people pro-abortion. The terms themselves are not important as descriptions. Rather, they’re about tribal mobilization.

On occasion, I’ve seen the term TERF, for trans-exclusionary feminist. The people who are called TERFs never call themselves TERFs. Often people who are denounced as TERFs don’t see to be TERFs at all.

When someone brings up the term “civic nationalism,” I’m usually pretty sure that that person is probably a white nationalist, because that’s a term that they seem to use a lot (to describe non-racial nationalists). People who are civic nationalists don’t describe themselves as such in normal conversations.

Because my views are generally more conservative than liberal people on the Right often believe that I am aware of all the tribal divisions and lexical nuances deployed by conservatives today. Or, more honestly people who spend a lot of time reading and discussing politics online with the tribe. I have finite time, I don’t really really track of all the new fashionable terms. Political philosophy and history interest me, but the contemporary ephemera, not so much. One of the most irritating aspects of “Neoreaction” was that they had all those terms which made no sense to outsiders without a glossary.

This sort of behavior makes sense ingroup. But when you start spouting off in public forums with new-fangled vocabulary accessible to the initiates you exclude them. Which is fine, but you also make it clear you just want to hear yourself talk.

Though sometimes scientists are guilty of this sort thing, by and large the utilization of words in a peculiar context has a precise meaning which is clear and distinct. For example, the term heritable. Transformed into heritability, it is the proportion of variance in the phenotype explained by variance in the genotype. Now could say “the proportion of variance in the phenotype explained by variance in the genotype” every time, but it’s usually easier just to say “heritability.”

I’ve made it pretty clear I take a dim view of the prospects for this liberal democracy of ours over the next generation or so. A day shall come when you stand with the Frost Giants or you stand with the Aesir. There’s really no avoiding a choice. I would recommend on that day pick you pick the strongest side, not who you think is the right side. Power is truth, truth is not power.

But this day is not that day. Until then there is still time to listen and cultivate one’s mind. Let’s dispense with bleeding private language into public. It’s just unseemly.

December 21, 2011

Have the “culture wars” gotten worse?

Filed under: Culture Wars,Politics — Razib Khan @ 11:52 pm

The assertion in the title seems almost trivial in an impressionistic sense. There really wasn’t a strong distinction on cultural issues between Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter in 1976. By the 1980s there definitely was a gap between George H. W. Bush and Michael Dukakis. And that chasm got wider as the years went on. I thought of this when reading this entry in Wikipedia on Jonathan Krohn, a teenager who wrote a book titled Define Conservatism. The entry in Wikipedia states:

The book outlines four fundamental principles of conservative thought: support for the United States Constitution, opposition to abortion, less government, and more personal responsibility. Krohn went on to apply the principles to current events and define whether specifically cited actions violated those principles…The book was dedicated to Ronald Reagan, William F. Buckley, Jr. and Barry Goldwater, whom Krohn describes as his political heroes, along with South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint.

What raised my eyebrows here is that Barry Goldwater did not oppose abortion rights. In fact, his wife, daughter and granddaughter have been involved in Planned Parenthood. If opposition to abortion is a key definition for what conservatism is, the reality is that conservatism didn’t exist before the 1970s, when that issue became polarized along ideological lines.

But that’s impression. What do the data say? For that, I looked at the General Social Survey.


I divided the data set into liberal, moderate, and conservative. And, I tracked all the years from 1970s down to the present. The graph below shows the trend for abortion.

While conservatives have become moderately more opposed to abortion rights, liberals have become much more supportive. I assume this is what you’d expect if one operated under a model of greater polarization. So I wanted to see if this held for other “culture wars” policy controversies. So I looked at the variable which tracked opposition to the banning of school prayer.

Here you see a different trend. All the groups have been moving in the same direction, toward greater support of the Supreme Court decision banning school sponsored prayer, though the initial divisions remain.

Finally, let’s look at the proportion of the population which agrees with the proposition that “homosexual sex is not wrong at all.”

Now you see that the gap is widening, but the chasm is due to the different rates of change of the opinions. All groups have exhibited increases in terms of assenting to the position that homosexual sex is not wrong, but conservatives much more slowly than liberals.

From these data all I can say is that we should be very careful about broad generalizations about the trends in the American “culture wars.

Note: You can see the original data here.

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