Quick Roundup 253

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

The Pocket Office

If you have to flit about from one computer to another, you might consider the following clever idea:

For people on the go, who may find themselves [u]sing a variety of different computers, a thumb drive offers more than just portable storage. With very little work and no money aside from the original expense of the drive itself, you can easily turn a thumb drive into your primary workspace -- complete with the software and settings, reference material, and documents you uses the most. [bold added]
This happens to be very close to the way I work already, minus having the software itself on the pen drive. Of course, the software described is for Windows and I work mostly on Linux -- but those machines already have what I need. Slick!

"Passing" as "Hero" -- or "Cad"

Via Arts and Letters Daily is an interesting book review that touches on a difficult personal decision that many people of minimal African ancestry have had to make in America thanks to Jim Crow, which is now dead, and widespread white racism, which is dying -- whether to "pass" as white.

Reviewer Jonathan Yardley, discusses the late Anatole Broyard's decision to pass as white so he could pursue a writing career.
[I]t's not really surprising that Anatole Broyard chose to live as he did. He didn't look in the least bit "black," and he wanted to enter the world of literature, which in the 1940s and '50s in this country was patently "white." He placed personal ambition ahead of racial identity or racial solidarity or whatever one cares to call it, and his daughter makes a pretty solid argument for him: "My father truly believed that there wasn't any essential difference between blacks and whites and that the only person responsible for who he was supposed to be was himself." To be sure, a black friend had a point when he "sniped that my dad was black when he entered the subway in Brooklyn and white when he got out at West Fourth Street in Manhattan," but that's the choice he made, and he managed to live with it.

His daughter asks: "Was my father's choice rooted in self-preservation or in self-hatred? Did it strike a blow for individualism or for discrimination? Was he a hero or a cad?" Those are good questions, and as Bliss Broyard well understands, they can never be definitively answered, though my own hunch is that "All of the above" gets somewhere close to the truth. [bold added]
The phenomenon of passing is not just a historical oddity. It strikes close to the heart of the meaning of the civil rights struggle and where it ultimately went wrong.

The American dream is for all individuals to live freely, their rights protected by law. But for a long time, blacks, identified mainly by appearance as a group, were forced to live otherwise. The battle for equal protection of their rights became, in large part because of that circumstance, an experience strongly shared with others in their group.

Along with a cultural identity apart from most of America, some notion of "racial solidarity" can be legitimate (and benign, if not beneficial) on some levels. Unfortunately, because Americans generally, including blacks, have never fully grasped the egoistic basis of individualism or individual rights, the idea of racial solidarity has always been confounded with collectivism.

And so a decision such as Broyard's, probably difficult to begin with, becomes tinged with unearned guilt. Any great cause, such as racial equality under the law, will pose some danger and make great demands of its advocates, but it is up to an individual to decide whether these demands are bearable as part of a difficult circumstance of life -- or self-sacrificial -- on balance. It is up to each individual to decide how he will confront such difficulties. There is a difference in fighting for a cause to live and living (merely) to fight for a cause.

(Having said that, I should note that in a case such as Broyard's one need not even live as a black man to advocate for the protection of individual rights. However, it can be perfectly moral not to do so if this is not why one wants to write. One's support for a just cause can take many forms.)

It is an obscenity made possible only by altruism that a man can be faulted for choosing to live his own life rather than to sacrifice oneself, needlessly in his own judgement, for a cause. I don't know the details of Broyard's decision, but I would think long and hard before calling him a "cad" because he chose to pass.

Has he seen these chicks?

Heh. John Kass closes a column about "freegans" with this:
"Freegans? It's all about getting dates," said my trusty assistant, the Polish Spartacus, 25, dismissing the Freegan movement with a derisive sneer.

That's a horrible thing to say about the gentle Freegans.

"Yeah, when you old guys were young, you protested and marched and got involved so you could get dates," he said. "This is the same thing."

I never protested in my life. But I did have a Leonard Cohen album, just in case I felt compelled to advertise my sensitive side to young women from the University of Wisconsin.

"Same thing. It's about finding a date. That's why those guys are diving into Dumpsters," Spartacus said. "For the Freegan dates."
Has this man actually seen any of these "prospects"? (Scroll down.)

In any event, I'd say that his theory gives "scraping the bottom" a whole new meaning!

-- CAV


: (1) Corrected time stamp. (2) Oneminor edit.


Jim May said...

Hi Gus,

Would you mind elaborating what you mean in the following passage?

Along with a cultural identity apart from most of America, some notion of "racial solidarity" can be legitimate (and benign, if not beneficial) on some levels. Unfortunately, because Americans generally, including blacks, have never fully grasped the egoistic basis of individualism or individual rights, the idea of racial solidarity has always been confounded with collectivism.

I don't get that. In what context could could "racial solidarity" be anything other than collectivism, outside of the fight against racism?

To me, race is the same sort of superficial difference between men as is height or eye color. The context where such things matter is quite narrow (e.g. size affects one's suitability for playing professional sports; eye color affects one's sensitivity to light, s such a person should take extra precautions on a trip to sunlit snowy areas) and I don't see how the term "solidarity" might apply to those.

About the closest benign form of "solidarity" I can think of is sports/competition, where people show support for "their" team (whether they play on them or not).

This might pertain to the fact that I always hear the term "solidarity" used in an "us vs. them" collectivist context.

Now here's a different angle: are you getting at "the brotherhood of values" here?

I understand that as the basic motivation for the formation of communities in an otherwise individualistic society; people are brought together by common values and interests.

For example, it makes sense to me that there be such a thing as the "gay community" for the simple reason that being gay requires finding others of the same persuasion to be fulfilled. There are also the literal "communities" of those who happen to live together, from the neighborhood to the town/city to a nation, and who would then have common concerns (such as national defense).

At the much less serious end would be such things as "the numismatic community" for coin collectors and "the RC community" for radio control enthusiasts.

All of these are examples of how community has value in a free society. However, they are unlike the kinds of "communities" the Left likes to shove in our faces, "communities" specifically defined *not* by the values and choices of the individual involved, but instead by some accidental attribute beyond their control, such as race. That is collectivism proper.

That's the difference between blacks united to fight racism -- what unites them in that case is a chosen value, that of individual freedom and dignity -- and blacks who self-segregate, associating only with blacks, defining their individual identity by race because -- well, they *happen* to be black.

Broyard's choice was morally proper, simply because "causes" are not automatically morally antecedent to one's values. If anything, he still did advance the *right* cause nonetheless, because he acted as if race didn't matter to him -- and that is the goal of genuine anti-racists everywhere: to reduce race to a detail, like eye color.

Gus Van Horn said...

I'm in a slight hurry, but I'll see what I can come up with....

Properly, one's race would not matter, except, as you say, in the context of the struggle for equality. I agree with that. As to how a "racial" identity can be benign or beneficial, ...

Confounded with race -- and I should have been more clear about this -- is the issue of the cultural background of blacks in the Americas, where slavery existed. There are good and bad aspects of the various black cultures that evolved here (as with any other culture), but the fact is that these cultures evolved while effected to a degree by slavery and racial discrimination.

So on top of various customs, black culture has as part of its background the struggle for freedom.

So, on one level, just like there is Italian or Jewish culture, which one can enjoy whether born into or not, there is black culture. On another, blacks have as part of their ongoing history a struggle for freedom.

A huge part of black culture is that blacks were taken here forcibly and so ended up without the usual ethnic or religious cultural identity. In effect, their race became what would be ethnicity for others. And one source of comfort for persecuted ethnic groups throughout history has been their shared culture. This is approximately what I mean by the beneficial aspect of "racial (i.e., cultural, here) solidarity".

Having said that, there are some disturbing trends of racism within black American culture today, so much so that for someone to speak of "racial solidarity" possibly being a good thing as I did, is to risk being misunderstood.