Conservative Brotherhood Controversy

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The Conservative Brotherhood recently accepted some new members, and apparently this has drawn some attention to them. Wizbang highlights the group (mistakenly calling it a blog), and a commenter decided to make the impossible to defend claim that it's immoral to form such a group. I first thought that he was claiming it was racist to make these distinctions, but he doesn't go quite that far. It's a dangerous enough attitude anyway. Chapomatic expresses a pretty similar worry, but he's not as firm about it and considers it a more minor issue among people he greatly respects. You can see other responses to this at Conservative Brotherhood members Baldilocks, Cobb, Michael King, Sam, Ambra Nykola, and Booker Rising. I've left comments on a few of the sites so far, but I'd like to organize all of what I've been thinking and writing together in one post.

The primary issue that keeps coming up is colorblindness. I've addressed this issue before. There's a kind of colorblindness that's good. When you get to know someone, you see them in terms of being a person and not in terms of being a person defined by color. At the same time, there's something very insulting when a white person says to a black person, "Well I don't really think of you as black." It's as if you're saying "You don't fit my picture of what black people are supposed to be like." This kind of colorblindness is just plain racist, albeit a kind of residual and unintentional racism that you might not blame someone for.

I think something similar goes on when we, for politically correct reasons, insist that we should be colorblind in the public sphere. There's some sense in which this is true. We shouldn't allow anyone's negative judgments of people because of their race to affect how we treat people (and believe me, you have them even if you won't admit it; I believe everyone does to some extent). What this amounts to is not recognizing illegitimate racial judgments and instead judging people according to morally appropriate criteria. This is what Martin Luther King meant when he said we should judge people by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin.

But this doesn't mean we should pretend there aren't racial issues, as true colorblindness requires, as the kind of colorblindness that condemns the Conservative Brotherhood requires. Consider again cases that don't involve race to see how silly this sort of thing is. Here's a quote from my earelier post (linked to above):

Compare these examples with things we no longer consider bad in any sense, and you can see how some illegitimate notion of badness or inappropriate association with such people is involved. I just can't imagine someone saying "I don't really think of you as left-handed." Could you picture someone saying "I don't really think of you as a soccer player" without it just being an admission of ignorance rather than a compliment? So why is "I don't really think of you as black" supposed to be a good thing?

You can say the same about the claim that it's intrinsically bad to form a group for any purpose whatsoever that has a racial classification as one of its defining elements. Baldilocks traces out what this would look like for other groups. Consider groups like the Blogdom of God (theistic bloggers), the League of Reformed Bloggers (blogs associated with a particular theological perspective), the Bear Flag League (California bloggers), GOP Bloggers, Blogs for Terri (Schiavo), Pro-Life Blogs, MilBloggers (blogs associated with the armed forces), etc. You're not cutting yourself off from others by being in those alliances. Then why are you cutting yourself off as a separatist if you join a group of black conservative bloggers? There's an inconsistency that I can't explain unless you turn to her psychological account that I hope isn't true. She suggests that the idea might just be that a bunch of black people all in one place is scary. I really do hope that isn't what's driving this, but I have to admit that no reasonable explanation for opposing this kind of group and no others has suggested itself to me.

One reason we can pretty much know that this isn't some kind of separatist notion of gathering together to the exclusion of all others is just from observing an empirical fact. Most of the members of the Conservative Brotherhood have mostly white readers, and many of them belong to some of the blog alliances I've already mentioned that have nothing to do with race. Most of the links from CB blogs go to blogs by white people. I'm sure at least most of them spend lots of time reading and commenting on blogs by white people. This is not isolation. It's not exclusion. It's not separatism. It's a formation of an alliance from a shared background for a very particular purpose. That purpose requires that the people allying in this case be black.

The point of the CB is so more black people will be exposed to their ideas, because those are the people whom these ideas will most directly affect and the ones most commonly ignoring the CB members as Uncle Toms who are in Whitey's pocket. The gathering here is for moral support in the same way Christians gather in congregations for fellowship and feeding into each other, for accountability and teaching by those who think alike and then going off to live lives of friendship and service to anyone, especially nonbelievers. Well, here we have much of the same thing, learning through idea exchange and encouragement in an uphill battle. Then there's a going forth into the world for most of daily life, for most of blogging life. They are part of America as Americans and not simply as black conservatives. The gathering is not exclusionary. It's a matter of connecting with those who have similar views from the same background, a group who tends to be ostracized and marginalized merely for being both black and conservative.

The fact that one of the members is married to a white man, is watering down what's left of African ancestry in her genes through reproduction that has led to kids whose skin tone looks like that of some Italians, and has mostly white friends, at least of those in town, just shows how silly these claims are. What people usually accuse CB members of is ignoring black people, not of associating too much with black people (as if that could be bad).

Is it wrong to organize with those who are part of an oppressed group to seek better treatment? It's pretty clear that the group in question faces some level of persecution. They're called Uncle Toms and race traitors. They're assumed to be getting paid for holding their views. They're said to be holding such views only because they're rich and want to stay rich, when in reality many of them are dirt poor or at least have known what it's like to be dirt poor and hold the views they have because they want to help those who are struggling to advance beyond their situation.

So a group of these oppressed and persecuted people bands together to show that people who are black and conservative don't fit that false stereotype, to encourage each other in their struggles, to feed ideas off each other, and so on. As they do this, they haven't isolated each other. They've just taken note of each other and become allies, with a central location that links to all of them. Then someone comes along and calls them racist, and others say it's immoral and against conservative principles. Why? Because they care about race. If we say it's racist or immoral in some other way to care about race, then we're not going to care about race, and that's going to feed into all the problems that come when you ignore the real racial problems in this country. That's catering to institutional and residual racism. It's thus part of the complex social forces that perpetuate racial problems. It's thus racism.

There's a function to the group, and it fulfills it by including black conservatives in the list of members. It would defeat the purpose to include white people like me, even though I agree with them and write more about race than some of them do, just as it would defeat the purpose if they included black bloggers who basically tow the black party line on victimology and pay their dues to Al Sharpton while calling anyone a racist who says affirmative action has bad consequences. It�s just not exclusionary to be part of one group with a well-defined purpose that requires membership in a racial group. If it�s done for certain reasons, it might be, but their reasons do not involve exclusivity. The group�s purpose for existing is for there to be a website that links to blogs by people who are black but not liberal, something that runs contrary to many people�s expectations.

They're not a site about conservative viewpoints, just as they're not a site about race. It's a site by some black people who want to show that you can be a thinking black person and not be a standard black liberal. That's a good enough purpose to justify the existence of the group, and serving that purpose requires that the people whose blogs they highlight actually be black. It would be impossible for it to be otherwise. Just having me on their list would undermine the whole point, and the point is a good one worth making, so why should I be upset if they don't include me? If I want to form a group of people who have some rare conbination of features that I also have, I can do so. I don't have the rare combination of features this group wants to highlight as something they cherish about themselves, and those who are criticizing them for doing this seem to me to have no good reason to do so. Baldilocks says it well:

Do black Americans get to acknowledge that the culture in which they have often been nurtured and in which they may find themselves in at the moment might be different from that of their countrymen in some respects?

Or have we become so politically correct�even on the right side of the political spectrum�that it�s not said in polite company?

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13 Comments

Before the great navigations, being White or Black were not categories. In browsing ancient documents it is hard to find a description of one People in terms of White or Black. It was rare to find a people that defined themselves in such categories, or that defined others in this way. There are few exceptions to this, but even in such cases modern readers do not exactly know what the ancient writers.

When the first Portuguese navigators reached new Countries in Africa they depicted the kind of men who lived there, but initially did not talk about them as Black. They would provide many details about these newly met Africans, but did not mention colours. And did not doubt that Northern and Sub-Saharan Africans were humans.

Only after a process of colonial domination started, being Black or White became categories and the humanity of Africans was doubted by Europeans.

Right. Most people trace the origins of contemporary racial concepts to Kant or thereabouts. Of course, you can acknowledge that and still go in any of quite a few different directions with the question of how we should handle racial categorizations now that we have that and now that people form social practices on their basis. A lot of it depends on how social practices lead to genuine categories, i.e. do boundaries, political parties, etc. exist as real social entities because we treat them as existing.

My own view is that race is not a natural kind but is a socially produced category, but that's consistent with saying it's a real category and that it's based on features that are genuinely biological, just not ones that would form a natural kind because they wouldn't form a kind at all apart from historical and social facts that are highly contingent. There are numerous other views that you could take, depending on how you answer a few different key metaphysical questions.

This is the subject of my current work and will probably end up being my dissertation if it works out. You can see the beginning of my work on it here.

I would not say Kant. Kant is a man of the XVIIIth Century.

The labels Black and White became categories to distinguish People in a systematic way by the XVIth Century. The famous debate between Las Casas and Sepulveda, the controversy of Valladolid, has taken place at that time.

Right, but most scholars of the history of racial concepts distinguish between the use of the terms 'black' and 'white' and the kinds of racial concepts we now have. Kant and the people surrounding him wee responsible for that further development. See this for more details on the standard approach to this nowadays.

I read Kant, I have a collection of books by him, including my favourite Critique of Pure Reason.

I cannot agree that there is a modern version of racism that is in essence different from the days when portions of human population were declared not to have spirit and thus out of humanity. The terminology has changed, but it is the same. The difference in the academic work is formal: before racists tried to justify their beliefs mostly on religious grounds. Later on, as Science slowly becomes the new Religion, the justification relies on what they claimed to be scientific facts.

Anyway, one cannot put the blame on Kant. Kant was not so influential, although his work is the most important for the Philosophy of Science. His influence is academic at most. Objective factors constrain social reality. It is not possible to change the views of an entire society solely upon the force of ideas. Decisions and official statments made by Institutions with real power, such as the RCC, have real impact.

Kant was one of the most influential philosophers ever. Generally speaking, the work of the most influential philosophers will catch on in within a few generations. That's happened with all the major trends.

The kind of concept race that Kant particularly had a hand in developing is the scientifically grounded biological notion, which by the early 20th century involved measuring skulls and so on to establish racial differences related to intelligence.

How many persons have read Kant and understood him?
How many were the rationalist Scientists of the XIXth and XXth Centuries?

Kant is one of the greatest Philosophers, but he cannot be held responsible for ideas that are not originally his and already existed in both academic and non-academic circles. The idea of irreversibility, for instance, has already been part of rabbinistic tradition, which the Inquisition adopted to persecute even those who were converted to Christianism, but whose parents or ancestors were Jews.

If Kant was someone like Luther, who not only had an intellectual production, but also became an ecclesial or political leader of some social group, that would be a different story.

The thing is that in the new economic system slave labour had a crucial importance and slaves had to constitute a permanent class, without the possibility of social mobility. So it was necessary to make the condition of the individual slave something irreversible and transmissible to his issue. Before, slavery was something temporary (the master would set a slave free after seven years of service) and agriculture did not rely on slave labour.

Thus, no matter how important or genial Kant or any other Philosopher was. In the case you mention, Kant was just expressing the current views of the society of that time. Views that were the result of concrete and objective social and economic factors. Views that were not even originated in the lands that nowadays make up Germany. They have been imported from Portugal and Spain, the super-powers of the Great Navigations period, and reflected what the economic projects the colonialist nations of Europe had.

You'd have to see how Bernasconi traces it out in his more detailed work. He doesn't argue that Kant invented this out of nowhere. He put together a few ideas already out there that hadn't all been expressed by one person and then took it a little further than that package.

He also doesn't think it was Kant who popularized it, either. It was the people who read him who popularized it.

How do you popularise a thought that is already professed and put in practice by entire societies?

What Kant was doing was a move from the view that everyone accepted to something deeper. I'm not going to try to prove this to you. That's why I deferred to Bernasconi, because he's the one who convinced me. I can't do justice to his argument. You have to read it for yourself. He traces out the ideas that you're pointing out now as common in Kant's day and shows how Kant's reconception of race turned into a new conceptualization that eventually took on in a way beyond what was already there. I have no time at the moment, actually negative time at this point, to put into finding anything more than this brief sketch.

Since you don't seem to have read the brief piece I linked to by Bernasconi on Kant's contribution, here it is again. Virtually all philosophers who work in this area, as far as I can tell, think Bernasconi's work on this is generally correct. What he identifies in Kant as genuinely new is what he elsewhere argues was central to the development of the concept of race that began to be standard by the turn of the 20th century, and it's distinct from what was common in his own time.

I had already taken a look into the article you mention.
It is not a matter of convincement. It is perhaps the scope of the inquiry. If what is intended is to present the views on Race throughout the History of Philosophy (and Science) it is ok as an attempt. But if it is about History in general, it is not possible to cedit the ideas to a person who played no political role, especially when the ideas have been around in the society for more than one hundred years.

Even if Kant had no direct political influence, which may be so (I have no idea), he clearly had indirect political influence, because he influenced people who had direct political influence. Clearly people had been influenced by him in the political realm by the turn of the 20th century, which is when I was saying this concept of race was clearly entrenched in political thought.

Fascinating discussion here in the comments...

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