Biography

RWP was born in Manchester, in the north of England, in the late 1950s, so he is very old. He really liked the north of England, which by 1965 was hip and had three TV channels, and where he went to a coed school. His parents, for reasons best known to themselves, then yanked him away, to Belfast and then Dublin, which had one TV channel that started up at 6 pm with the Angelus (Catholic call to prayer). He also had to go to an all boys school, where he realized he really missed girls. This probably let him focus on schoolwork, though, and at age 19, after he had finished college, he set off for America, where he still resides. He has a bachelors degree in biochemistry and a Ph.D. from Harvard in biophysics, and has lived also in Mainz, Germany, Setauket NY, and Richland WA. He currently divides his time between Nebraska, Rosslyn VA, and Florida.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Victimology and its enemies.

Esther Cepeda wrote a rather remarkable column attacking a fellow editorial writer, Kevin Williamson. Cepeda is a "Latina opinion journalist" for the WaPo. Williamson, if you're unfamiliar with him, is a simply terrific writer, far better than Cepeda (or pretty much anyone else). But what's interesting is how this exchange illustrates the diametrically opposite world views of the left and the right.

Cepeda takes exception to Williamson's characterization of poor whites:

[B]asically, all this kerfuffle about working-class whites being angry enough to buy into Trump's rhetoric because globalization has destroyed decent-paying factory jobs is beside the point. Williamson thinks these losers should just get off their butts and go elsewhere to find jobs since wanting work in their own communities "is the indulgence of absurd sentimentality." Moreover, neither globalization nor immigration is to blame for ruining the quality-of-life and life expectancies of poor white people -- "nobody did this to them. They failed themselves," writes Williamson, noting that this conclusion comes "if you spend time in hardscrabble, white upstate New York, or eastern Kentucky, or my own native West Texas, and you take an honest look at the welfare dependency, the drug and alcohol addiction, the family anarchy -- which is to say, the whelping of human children with all the respect and wisdom of a stray dog." ... Williamson continues: "The truth about these dysfunctional, downscale communities is that they deserve to die. Economically, they are negative assets. Morally, they are indefensible. ... The white American underclass is in thrall to a vicious, selfish culture whose main products are misery and used heroin needles. Donald Trump's speeches make them feel good. So does OxyContin. What they need isn't analgesics, literal or political. They need real opportunity, which means that they need real change, which means that they need U-Haul."
Cepeda instantly casts this into the mold of victimization.

If Williamson's high-profile treatment of poor whites as drug-addicted mongrels whose communities deserve to die isn't a rallying cry for reaching across ethnic and racial boundaries to coalesce politically around the issues of elitism, poverty and lack of opportunity, I don't know what is.

Well, no it isn't. "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars / But in ourselves, that we are underlings." It's tough to be born poor; that doesn't make it a good idea to procreate children out of wedlock, spend your day fishing, and acquire a meth or oxycodone habit. Williamson is granting poor whites what Cepeda would deny them: agency. They can defer making babies until they can afford them; they can decline to make themselves addicts; most importantly, if where they live has no opportunities, they can move somewhere else that does. That some of them do not do these things is a choice on their part. And they're dying young, as a result.

Interestingly, a very similar observation about white men in economically depressed areas was made by Hanna Rosin, a feminist writer for the New Republic, in 'The End of Men'. (Ignore the clickbait title; it's a good book.) She pointed out that men in towns from which industry has moved out are basically useless. They can make babies, but they can't support them. Women in these places have been able to find a niche in the service economy -- sometimes two niches; they often work two jobs. But even thought women are the entire support of the household, the men refuse to do what stay-at-home wives previously did; do the chores. This comparative inflexibility, argues Rosin, is the principal problem these men have. They are frozen in place, pledged to a lifestyle that disappeared 50 years ago. Williamson would probably add that they could also move out of town to find a job.

So now Cepeda wants to add a new group to the class of people whose life sucks and it's somebody else's fault. And Williamson refuses, holding middle aged white men (like him, and me) to normal standards of personal responsibility.

The real question is; what percentage of the population can be classified as 'victims' before society falls apart?