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This diary was provoked by yet another stumbling attempt to re-invent the wheel by yet another person who feels perfectly entitled to start a conversation on race without doing any homework.  

This is an expansion on a comment I made in a diary that's not worth naming.  For the record, I'm not interested in debating what "racism" or "sexism" is or isn't in the comments -- that's not the topic of the diary.  The topic of the diary is expertise: it exists in the fields of race and gender studies & activism just like it exists in the fields of physics, sociology, politics, philosophy, biology and anthropology.  The people who study this stuff and who spend their careers in the field and in research are actually doing something. So are the activists who are out there, day after day, dealing with racism and sexism in our communities. Their long experience makes them experts. They're  more prepared and more thoughtful about answering race and gender related questions than people who have spent their careers doing something else. If you're a progressive and you don't get that, you're not nearly as much of a progressive as you think.

I'm not a physicist but.... I'm going to venture out here and explain the theory of relativity without reading any books about it or referring to the work of a single physicist. By the way, I suck at math.

You wouldn't get much respect for that, and you wouldn't expect it, would you?

It's a mark of pervasive, systemic racism that, time and again, folks want to ignore the fact that there actually is expertise on the topic of race, racism, racial prejudice and discrimination. It's a mark of pervasive racism that folks believe that the race scholar equivalent of the physicist has the time and energy to enter the diaries of people who don't bother to get the equivalent of an 8th grade education on race before they start batting around definitions.  (Same goes for pervasive sexism, but for brevity I'm going to stick to the example of race thoughout the diary.) Then again, maybe it's just that the opinion of the experts isn't congenial to the beliefs of the proudly ignorant.

Would you get pissed off at the biologist who took issue at the misuse of the term Darwinism in the social sphere? Or who argued that "Social Darwinism" isn't really "Darwinism" at all?  Again, I don't think so.  A little courtesy across disciplines, please.

Stop pretending that it's utterly outrageous that "racism" (a term invented by social scientists, by the way) has a technical meaning that specialists attempt to prevent from becoming degraded by its consistent misuse by those who don't like to admit the reality of the concepts that the term "racism" was invented to describe.

When the U.S. falls far behind in science education, and people lose sight of the meaning of the word "evolution," my guess is that most of you think that the best thing to do about it is improve American education, not change the definition of "evolution" so that it stops describing what it was invented to describe.  And yet, many of the same people who believe it's a tragedy that the average American is so ignorant about science are totally cool with the fact that Americans are dangerously and aggressively ignorant about race.  Understanding complex topics ("evolution," "racism") requires education.  We're progressives; we're supposed to love education.

Race is a hard topic.  Chances are that you aren't going to be able to contribute much to a discussion that's been ongoing since the 1930s unless you already know where in that discussion your opinions and beliefs are situated. When you barge in with naive opinions (which, of course you are entitled to have) as if they are equivalent to educated opinions (which, of course, they are not), then you're situating yourself in a position that's not very pretty. That is entitlement.  That is racism. If you don't want to be called a racist or a sexist, don't act like one.

When you're ready to come to a discussion actually prepared for it with more than something beyond, "I think.... " you might find that other people who know a lot more than you do will be willing to actually engage with you to continue your education. You might even find that we're willing to listen respectfully to your dissenting opinions, once you've done the research to show that your dissent is based on evidence and argument.

Until then, pardon me for assuming that deliberate public profession of ignorance on a hot-button topic is a trollish ploy meant to distract the energies of antiracists and feminists rather than to further knowledge on the topic.

Note: To reduce trolling in the comments, I would ask my fellow antiracists to stick to the topic of the diary (expertise) as well. Attempts to change the subject are, in my opinion, best met with: "You're changing the subject. What the diarist is saying is..."

UPDATE:  Thanks to everyone who commented.  I'm signing off for the night and then will be out of town for a week, so please don't think I'm ignoring further questions/comments.  I'm just not here to answer them.  See you all on the next go-round...

Originally posted to Hepshiba's Pad on Thu Dec 15, 2011 at 02:24 AM PST.

Also republished by Barriers and Bridges, History for Kossacks, Invisible People, Black Kos community, White Privilege Working Group, and Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Well... (15+ / 0-)

    even "the experts" can be wrong and/or not take all significant data into a POV on damn near any subject.

    I can give you an example:

    There was a thread somewhere in the blogosphere awhile back that discussed the ages-old phenomenon of black people (usually but not always kids) that were accused and teased and taunted for "acting white."

    The "expert" attempted to and cited several studies that seemingly proved that either that wasn't the case or that it didn't happen on a mass scale and that the effects of such taunting were negligible.

    Now this teasing and taunted affected much of my childhood and drifted into my adulthood.

    And it did for a lot of black people.

    So suddenly here comes this person with all of this supposedly "objective data" that attempt to discount and/or pathologize me and my experience (which are ancedotal, but far from unheard of) out of existence.

    In other words, simply because a person says that they're an "expert" or "objective" doesn't necessarily mean much to me.

    For example, those atheists/agnostics that feel that "reason" and "science" are better able to determine...what a civic sense of "morality" should look like.

    I know from my history that racism had a very strong pseudo-scientific component. And it still does. Simply because someone says that they're governed by "reason" and not by religion doesn't inspire me with trust that they're right, because I've known science to do so much that is wrong., I'll tip and rec this because it's an important discussion to have...I mean, one shouldn't be ignorant...but I don't necessarily buy your entire point on research and argument either.

    •  Poorly stated and pre coffee (12+ / 0-)

      can say this much easier.

      Expertise counts, yes, but can also utilized in a very privileged manner.

      Especially on race issues.

      •  on certain topics, fraught with such baggage (16+ / 0-)

        as race relations, I much prefer to dialogue with someone who has at least taken the time to THINK about such things.

        otherwise the dialogue invariably goes to the same old defensive postures.

        This comment is dedicated to my mellow Adept2U and his Uncle Marcus

        by mallyroyal on Thu Dec 15, 2011 at 05:25:12 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  the key word there is dialogue, mallyroyal (9+ / 0-)

          and hepshiba will dialogue. I would implicitly trust her on that account.

          But there are (many) others with expertise that won't dialogue, that hold on to the "data" as if it were Linus's blanket, that cannot admit to contrary evidence that makes their data murkier at best and at worst suspect.

          So yes, expertise counts, it counts for a lot, but whether expertise "trumps" more subjective data depends on a lot of other things (style of delivery, etc.)

          •  I can roll with that. (6+ / 0-)

            This comment is dedicated to my mellow Adept2U and his Uncle Marcus

            by mallyroyal on Thu Dec 15, 2011 at 07:41:57 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

          •  Refusing to dialogue (9+ / 0-)

            is a mistake, and you're quite right that a lot of experts make that mistake.  But, I'd argue, it's not a mistake usually made  by progressive race & gender activists.  Mostly (ask any of us) you'll find us exhausting ourselves attempting to dialogue with a whole lot of people who actually want to waste our time, rather than engage in real exchange. I'm willing to wear myself to a nub in the pursuit of fruitful dialogue, but when it comes to folks who don't seem to think they should have to lift a finger to educate themselves, I'm not nearly so generous anymore.

            I've been chatting up biologists lately, and it's been quite interesting to see their reaction to having their authority (and the authority of science) questioned by yahoos who wouldn't know a molecule from a minaret.  They're miffed.  And why shouldn't they be?  I feel for them, but I also think they should feel for me, because I've been living in that universe a helluva lot longer than they have.  No matter how much of an expert I become on aspects of race and gender, a whole lot of people are still going to maintain that I don't know anything of value because, by definition, knowledge about race & gender isn't of value.

            "If you fake the funk, your nose will grow." -- Bootsy Collins

            by hepshiba on Thu Dec 15, 2011 at 07:51:40 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  Agree esp. with this part (4+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              hepshiba, gerard w, kyril, Oh Mary Oh

              knowledge about race & gender isn't of value.

              I guess that knowledge of that sort isn't of value if you already think of yourself as being the center of the universe and orient forms of knowledge and expertise in that way.

              •  That could be read two ways (0+ / 0-)

                I find this comment interesting, because to a certain degree privileging the technical sociological definition over lay understandings does actually suggest that lay "knowledge of race and gender" isn't of value.  one might even note that this may seem acceptable if one sees oneself as the center of the universe and orients forms of knowledge and expertise that way.

                Tricky business, this.

                •  Not so tricky if you're actually willing (2+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  AdamSelene, maf1029

                  to make a straightforward claim instead of piling innuendo on top of supposition.  What is it you're saying exactly?

                  "If you fake the funk, your nose will grow." -- Bootsy Collins

                  by hepshiba on Thu Dec 15, 2011 at 10:50:46 AM PST

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  More or less the same thing I said above (3+ / 0-)

                    That I find the notion of appealing to a particular sociological definition to the exclusion of the much wider usages (for example, in law and other fields) is itself a privileging as well, albeit of an intellectual basis, rather than a racial or ethnic one.

                    Technical definitions have theri important roles and are very useful, but I am not sure that they should operate to exclude other understandings.  I find the frame you employ to be exclusionary.  If I read it correctly, this sounds like saying that only sociologists are authorized to discuss race.  Does that not seem problematic to you?

            •  Any pointers for educational reading? (3+ / 0-)

              For instance, is there an authoritative definition of racism?  Or where do you think it best to start reading-wise?

              Wikipedia has two references for the sociological definition,
              - Wellman, David T. (1993). Portraits of White Racism
              - Cazenave, Noël A.; Darlene Alvarez (1999). "Defending the White Race:White Male Faculty Opposition to a White Racism Course" Race and Society 2. pp. 25–50.

              Any other recommendations?

              Plutarch 120 A.D. - An imbalance between rich and poor is the oldest and most fatal ailment of all republics.

              by BlatantBigot on Thu Dec 15, 2011 at 08:54:30 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

            •  I would posit (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Pozzo, bluebird of happiness

              that biology and sociology & anthropology have some markedly different characteristics.  

              Biology generally deals with phenomena outside people's general experience.  On the other hand the subject matter of the study of society is something that does lie within people's experience.  Therefore, there is a qualitatively different kind of lay expertise that comes to bear.

              Also, I would be cautious about trying to foist technical definitions on societies which have developed their own independent meanings of terms.  There are numerous examples where words and concepts have quite distinct meanings in a technical setting and in the lay setting.  take the word "theory" which has both aspects.  It is important not to conflact the two and to also acknowledge that both extist.  In particular, I think the effort to make any technical sociological definition trump the more widely understood lay concepts to the point of denying their existence risks a widespread silencing of voices.

              I think the idea of a "authoritative definition" of racism itself (especially when I would guess the technical field itslef debates teh meaning of this term most heatedly.  Maybe it is settled, but I am guessing it is quite contested.) may be problematic.

              •  "Foist" is a pretty charged word (0+ / 0-)

                especially when you're talking about a term that originated in the social sciences less than a century ago.  We social scientists are hardly pulling the wool over anyone's eyes when we suggest the technical definition is useful.

                "Lay expertise?" What's that?  I mean, if you want me to honor it, you really have to explain what the hell you're talking about.  Because if you mean the lived experience of people who aren't academic experts (activists for example) I already included that perspective in "expertise."  

                Nobody claimed an "authoritative" definition for racism -- of course it's contested.  But the contest over what it means among people who actually know what it means (i.e., have done the homework on the arguments over what it means) is qualitatively different from the contest between the people who know what it means, and the people who want it to mean something else.

                I'm pretty sure that somewhere in what you write you really have a point to make, but I'll be damned if I can see it. What's this about a "widespread silencing of voices"?

                "If you fake the funk, your nose will grow." -- Bootsy Collins

                by hepshiba on Thu Dec 15, 2011 at 11:04:58 AM PST

                [ Parent ]

                •  I missed your point (3+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  bluebird of happiness, kyril, Pozzo

                  My point was this:

                  Because if you mean the lived experience of people who aren't academic experts (activists for example) I already included that perspective in "expertise."  

                  In fact, that's exactly what I mean, the denial of the relevance of people's lived experience.  I had read your diary as a statement that only trained sociolgists were qualified to have views.

                  As a side note, I would point out too that racism as a technical concept has expanded into much wider areas, especially law.  

                •  I should elaborate (1+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:

                  A lot of my conceptual understanding of social power relations comes from a literary criticism standpoint, which frequently examines cultural artifacts for the cultural meanings they imply and employ.

                  As you are well aware, both sociology and anthropology have a history of reflecting socio-political power dynamics as much as scientifically grounded methods (which itself is a cultural artifact).  Particularly since the study of humans is something the researchers are invariably themselve emmeshed in, I find that any study of culture must also be examined to see what implicit power relations or concepts underlie the theories and statements used.  

                  For example, you will recall the whole Charles Murray IQ controversy some years ago.  ON the face, there was a technical interpretation of data.  Of course, there everyone instantly recognized the social context and assumed power relations that that work reflected.  

                  Thus, I would suggest that for complex social phenomena such as race, there are many different approaches which can shed light.  

      •  No argument (6+ / 0-)

        that claims of expertise can be abused.  We see the fake experts on the right do this all the time, with their trumped up "Institutes" and faux-academic publishing houses.  And, yeah, any claim to expertise can be abused.  None of that undermines claims that actual expertise exists -- as in: some people have spent a shitload more time than other people studying the subject and, therefore, might be expected to speak on a more complex and nuanced and interesting level than most of the people who haven't spent that time thinking about the subject.

        I just can't get it out of my head that all my years of studying and working as an activist actually matters in terms of my ability to grasp what's going on -- and that other folks who have been out there both walking the walk and talking the talk for decades might also be considered worth seriously listening to... even if we don't agree.  In most fields I wouldn't have to make a pitch for this, but where I was trained -- African American Studies & Women's Studies -- we can't take that argument for granted.

        I'm not talking "authority" here, as in: I can make you do what I want you to do.  I'm talking expertise, as in [directed to random "Here's my opinion..." person]:  Here's the argument you're making, and it has this lineage and is associated with these concepts and, given your stated political views, this might actually *not be the argument you want to make.

        "If you fake the funk, your nose will grow." -- Bootsy Collins

        by hepshiba on Thu Dec 15, 2011 at 07:41:28 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  I'd be a little careful about blanket statements (4+ / 0-)

        Sure, people who research a subject almost certainly have a lot more data and veritas when discussing that subject, but that doesn't mean those who aren't researchers don't and can't have valid opinions.

        I've had a conversation with a black friend of mine where he categorically stated that I could never understand anything about the "black experience" or racism because I'm not black.  Apparently reading extensively about it and experiencing homophobia isn't enough for me to be allowed to have any opinions whatsoever on racism.

        I guess my point is, feel free to disagree with people but to try to shut them down just because you don't think they are allowed to have their own opinion on a subject is wrong.

        New favorite put-down: S/he's as dumb as a flock of Sarah Palins

        by sleipner on Thu Dec 15, 2011 at 09:59:22 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Oh, you can have your opinions (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          kyril, hmi

          but there are similarities and differences between the "black experience" (whatever that is) and the "gay experience" (whatever that is).

          Now me...I've read extensively on the subject of racism, I've experienced homophobia and...oh, waitaminute, I'm black too, last time I checked.

          But I would never shut you down if you wanted to discuss race. But I do have an extra layer of expertise called "life experience" that you know nothing about, in that regard.

          Many different combinations and permutations there, my friend...

        •  I do feel completely free to disagree (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Chitown Kev, a gilas girl, kyril

          with people, thank you very much.

          And I don't see any problem with critiquing diaries & discussions I think are poorly conceived.  If you want to call that "not allowing people to have their own opinion on a subject," you can, of course, do so.  But it's not an accurate claim.  People can have all the opinions they want.  I just don't have to respect all those opinions equally.

          As for your conversation with your friend, I wasn't there.  But if you interpret what he said as poorly as you interpreted what I said, then I think the problem may lie in the way you're listening.  I've never actually run across a black person who has ever told me that -- despite my background and experience -- I can't understand "anything about the 'black experience' or racism because I'm not black."  I have, however, been witness to several conversations where black folks have shut white people down when the white people kept insisting that things were one way for black folks, and the black folks were pretty sure that things actually worked another way. And I watched those white people get all worked up and personally wounded by being told that they clearly didn't -- and possibly couldn't, but definitely wouldn't -- understand.  So I think you might reconsider how the conversation went, from beginning to end, and see if your friend was really saying what you think he was saying.

          "If you fake the funk, your nose will grow." -- Bootsy Collins

          by hepshiba on Thu Dec 15, 2011 at 11:34:25 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

        •  Actually (0+ / 0-)

          In the diary in question it was the diarist who promoted the idea that "racism" is selectively applied by academics to just instances where the antagonists are white, something I find laughable given the range of academic discourse on the subject, and something I took exception to in the diary.

          IOW, s/he got the ball rolling.

          What about my Daughter's future?

          by koNko on Sat Dec 17, 2011 at 05:01:05 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  Well said (7+ / 0-)

    but I think I might understand the diary better if I could see the diary/comments this is in reaction to.

    Although I also understand your not wanting to carry over an argument from another thread and end up in the same discussion, probably with the same people.

  •  There's a key difference between scientific (10+ / 0-)

    terms of art and the concepts that are operative in the humanities disciplines.  Scientific terms like "quark" are created in and used almost exclusively in scientific discourse, and accordingly the definition is controlled by the terms of that discourse.  Humanities terms like "racism" or "justice," on the other hand, pre-exist their use in the academy, and their definitions arise out of that popular use.  I guess a philosopher could go up to two people discussing justice and say "you're using the term all wrong!  I have a special claim to be able to control its use!" but we - and probably most philosophers - would look at her like she's slightly mad.  

    So while it's understandable that you want to retain the privilege of the academic community and control the terms from popular discourse from that particular hierarchy, it's theoretically problematic to say it can be done in any meaningful sense.

    •  There is precedence in the "hard" sciences (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      After all, evolution is just a theory, and though it is technically no less factual that the theory of gravity, it is little more than another hypothesis, or theory in lay-terms, to those who believe something else.

      For the sake of our world, however, it's worth arguing that the language and reasoning of experts should take precedence over the beliefs of those who have not properly studied or researched the subject.

      Having said that, it would behoove experts to improve their communication skills, or perhaps bring in communications experts who can help people distinguish a theory from a hypothesis, or, say, precedence from precedents.

      As soon as the propagandists began shouting that evolution, or global warming, were "just theories", scientists interested in preserving science's role in policy should have consulted with experts to develop a new collection of letters that communicated the inherent truth of proven, well-tested scientific theories.

      Run for office. It's fun!

      by Alfonso Nevarez on Thu Dec 15, 2011 at 06:55:18 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  I completely agree on the necessity (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Alfonso Nevarez

        of working with communications experts to combat right wing propaganda.  The left does a lousy job of this and we all suffer for it.  I'm willing to work with any progressive media person to try and get my ideas across more powerfully.

        "If you fake the funk, your nose will grow." -- Bootsy Collins

        by hepshiba on Thu Dec 15, 2011 at 08:00:10 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  "just a theory" (5+ / 0-)

        I think you may have provided a great example of  JWs point.  "Theory" in scientific terms represents a well-established, supported conceptual construct.  In lay parlance however, the term "theory" means essentially an unsupported hypothesis.  So the technical definition and the lay definition are nearly opposites.

        Now, does this mean that the lay meaning should give way and be removed because it conflicts with the technical definition given in the philosophy of science?  Should we make scientists the arbiters of meaning here?

        •  First you have to prove (0+ / 0-)

          that you aren't playing the arbiter of meaning here, since you're laying down definitions with no back-up whatsoever.

          By the way, there are plenty of theories in science that are far from well-established, and a lot of theories seem well-supported but turn out, in fact, to be wrong.  

          Anyway, as I've mentioned before, the difference between "racism" and other less recent terms in common parlance is that racism was invented by social scientists less than 100 years ago to describe a very specific phenomenon.  "Theory" is a much older word, dating back at least to the late 1500s. From its beginning (Greek root -- theoria, "to contemplate, look on, speculate") it wasn't a technical term, and didn't start to be used as one, in the sciences (such sciences as there were in the mid-1600s) until later. "Theory" as a term was applied in various contexts and had various meanings and the technical scientific definition to which you refer was a product of the modern era. So, no, the lay meaning of theory should not "give way" to the scientific definition.  But neither should the scientific definition be so obscure. At least when I was in public school (admittedly 35 years ago) it was made very clear to us in the 7th grade that there was a difference between an hypothesis (untested explanation) and a theory (not disproven after testing).  Again, I'd make the case that even basically educated Americans should be clear that theory can be used both in a scientific manner and a lay fashion.

          It's possible you can somehow catch me out on this, but you maybe overestimating your capacities.

          "If you fake the funk, your nose will grow." -- Bootsy Collins

          by hepshiba on Thu Dec 15, 2011 at 11:50:27 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  speaking as a scientist myself (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            GRLionsFan, denise b
            By the way, there are plenty of theories in science that are far from well-established, and a lot of theories seem well-supported but turn out, in fact, to be wrong.  

            I am going to suggest that you employing the lay concept of "theory" here.  Constructs do not become theories until they are generally well supported.

            And I will point out that I haven't made any statemetn that anyone's definitions or experience or invalid, so I don't see how that could be interpreted as being an arbiter.

            My only point (which actually I think you elaborate rather more nicely than I do) is that some terms (such as "theory") do have parallel technical and wider definitions.  I think both should be given their due.  Just because sociologists (or nazis, depending on who you credit) invented the term should not deny the reality that in wider society there is an entirely separate frame of meaning and reference that can be the basis of discussion.

            Perhaps we might preface our discussions by making clear which definitions we are useing at the outset.  If you want to use the technical definitions for a technical discussion, then say that in your discussion.  If you are using definitions as they are commonly understood in the wider society, then state that.  I am not sure why thhe latter should be made to disappear.  

            I do sense that I've misunderstood your main point or at least some nuances of it, so forgive me

        •  We must have different interpretations of jw's (0+ / 0-)

          comment. I read an implication that science (which I assume s/he means physical sciences) has rigid terms that aren't open to interpretation the way humanities (by which I assume s/he means social sciences) does. jw used the words 'quark', 'racism', and 'justice' as examples. My point is that it was extremely easy to find a counter-example, in this case 'theory.'

          It seems as though you read the following paragraph

          After all, evolution is just a theory, and though it is technically no less factual that the theory of gravity, it is little more than another hypothesis, or theory in lay-terms, to those who believe something else.

          and concluded that I didn't know what the scientific definition of theory was. My bad for not communicating effectively. What I was trying to do here was point out that the word 'theory' - which is a term used in physical as well as social sciences - was just as susceptible to misinterpretation based on a lay definition as the word 'racism', and that the decision to treat the scientific definition of the former sacredly and the latter dismissively was a failure in scientific communication.  

          Run for office. It's fun!

          by Alfonso Nevarez on Thu Dec 15, 2011 at 01:33:08 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

        •  Exactly this. Specialists use terms differently. (0+ / 0-)

          Theory means, to many laypeople, conspiracies about 9/11 being an inside job, reasons the pizza is late, or whatever.  Really, it's hypothesis, but they use theory to mean it.  In a scientific context (and actually in the humanities too) "theory" requires far more evidence.

          Same with ideas of "racism" (the term "racialism" exists too, but it's rarely used outside academic analysis)--it becomes a catch-all in public discourse but it has a more carefully defined set of meanings to specialists.  It's maddening for people who are used to the sciences; I have one foot in each world so shifting from mathematical certainty to contextual analysis can be disorienting.  But still, among specialists in the humanities/social sciences/arts as in the hard sciences, words do mean things.  If we have a term that seems fluid, we spill an awful lot of ink in an effort to understand both why it's fluid and what that actually means in a real sense.

          The reason why the words move back and forth from a broader social context and a specialist one for us, creating this weird dualism, is because our specializations deal with subjective concepts of society and the human experience.  Most of the lexicon of high-energy particle physics doesn't apply similarly, although some of that's floated over into metaphorical use too.  But it doesn't mean the drift in popular use changes the scientific meaning, or give the looser popular employment the right to redefine the actual meaning of the term, right?  

          •  Language is fairly democratic (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Chitown Kev

            Words are only as powerful as their ability to communicate a message. We can insist on using a word with intention of communicating x, but if all most people hear is y then the word is relatively powerless, and in the case of 'theory' it's actually working to undermine the message we'd like to send.

            It may not seem fair, but when it comes to language definitions are subject to the tyranny of the majority.

            Run for office. It's fun!

            by Alfonso Nevarez on Fri Dec 16, 2011 at 05:36:48 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

      •  ahem... (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        denise b

        Evolution is not just a theory. Evolution, like gravity, is an observed fact. Unless fact means something different in common discourse, I don't think we could get a more definitive 'collection of letters.'

        Now, the Theory of Common Descent And Evolution By Natural Selection (and some other refinements) is 'just a theory.' Natural selection is, of course, also an observed fact, as are other key bits of the theory like mutation, gene flow, and genetic drift - but the theory that all terrestrial life evolved from a common ancestor and natural selection operating on largely-random mutations is the mechanism by which evolution mostly occurs is a theory that fits all the puzzle pieces together.

        And I don't think there's a better word for that, nor do I think any better word is going to convince people who choose to deny facts.

        "Let’s just move on, treat everybody with firmness, fairness, dignity, compassion and respect. Let’s be Marines." - Sgt. Maj Michael Barrett on DADT repeal

        by kyril on Thu Dec 15, 2011 at 01:51:48 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Missing the point (0+ / 0-)
          And I don't think there's a better word for that, nor do I think any better word is going to convince people who choose to deny facts.

          Republicans know that they can change the meaning of words or invent new terms to get people to support their false conclusions. They understand how people make decisions. The people who believe their bullshit aren't choosing to deny facts, they're selecting facts from the information smorgasboard. Republicans are willing to dress up their lies in fancy bows while we refuse, on principal, to modify our language to make the truth more accessible and presentable.

          You can have your technical moral high ground - I'm working to present the truth in a way that will make it easy for people to reject Republican lies. Replacing a collection of letters for ones that will do the job is a small sacrifice to make to achieve those ends IMO.

          Run for office. It's fun!

          by Alfonso Nevarez on Fri Dec 16, 2011 at 05:26:55 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

    •  Ah, but you're wrong (3+ / 0-)

      about the origin of the word racism.  It's an academic term, from jump.  Not "justice," of course, but I wasn't complaining about how that term was defined -- it's a straw woman.

      I'd argue that "racism" is as academic and as specific a term as "evolution," and that preserving the original social science concept it represents is not only sane, but necessary to progressive politics if we're not going to perpetuate racism.

      Is it the "privilege" of the academic community to defend the meaning of "evolution"?  Or is it really about preserving the concept of evolution from the wingnut Bible-thumpers and Social Darwinists who want to pervert it?

      "If you fake the funk, your nose will grow." -- Bootsy Collins

      by hepshiba on Thu Dec 15, 2011 at 07:58:13 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Except that we're talking about social science (0+ / 0-)

      not the humanities, so there's some hard data behind the discussion, so it's not even theoretically problemantic

      Helping a food pantry on the Cheyenne River Reservation.

      by betson08 on Thu Dec 15, 2011 at 04:28:38 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  good to see you hepshiba. (6+ / 0-)

    This comment is dedicated to my mellow Adept2U and his Uncle Marcus

    by mallyroyal on Thu Dec 15, 2011 at 05:23:22 AM PST

  •  Well that told us! (4+ / 0-)

    Sometimes it does us good to be told. Your Diary is a healthy dose of reality and I'm pretty sure that you were not intending to shut down discussion.

    There is a real problem when discussing emotive subjects, whatever their flavour. Generally, but not always, we are on the same side. While some may have a great deal of expertise and knowledge, others are struggling to understand and this medium has limitations.

    Listening is a skill we can all develop, and I think that much of the angst arises from those who, for whatever reason, cannot hear well.

    For example ..... I cannot know (I certainly do not know) what White Priviledge feels like to non-white people. All I know is what my life feels like to me. So there are some things I, and we, simply have to take on trust.

    When Black Americans are less than sympathetic to some of the struggles of the working poor, and reflect this by suggesting that "Now you know what we feel like" .... Police violence being one facet, then I get it.

    You don't have to be an expert to get that. You just have to listen to your Brothers and Sisters who have been telling you for years.

    If we start by accepting, rather than denying the experiences of others then we put ourselves in a vastly better position to truly understand. From there we can make a difference.

    I am no expert in matters of Race and Racial Awareness but I will comment. Sometimes I will be wrong and then all I ask is that you tell me that I am wrong and I promise to listen.

    I hope that the quality of debate will improve,
    but I fear we will remain Democrats.

    by twigg on Thu Dec 15, 2011 at 07:18:22 AM PST

    •  I'm a huge fan of productive discussion (4+ / 0-)

      And I think you get my point:  discussion is usually most productive if both sides come to the table with something substantive to offer.

      I'm not speaking against experience -- a whole lot of my own academic work rests on examining and taking seriously the experiences of other people. I admire people who speak out of their own experience and, even when I don't agree with them, I respect them.  What I'm taking issue with here are the folks who actually have very limited experience, but who want to make sweeping generalizations about subjects they've not bothered to research (either academically or personally) that have implications for the real lives of the oppressed peoples whose opinions (amateur and expert) they have not bothered to survey.

      Part of being a good listener is seeking out the voices one should hear, rather than waiting for them to come to you. This is especially important for people in privileged classes, because if we're not active in this regard, there are a lot of important opinions we're just not going to hear.

      "If you fake the funk, your nose will grow." -- Bootsy Collins

      by hepshiba on Thu Dec 15, 2011 at 08:10:54 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Great diary - thank you (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    twigg, a gilas girl

    It's very important that we, as a society, return to respecting the evidence presented by experts. It's also important to remove the iron curtain that separates "hard" sciences from "soft" sciences. If the scientific method is strictly followed, then there is no reason to elevate one science over another.

    Two minor concerns: people's feelings shouldn't be dismissed, because those feelings are real, even if the evidence that they're based upon is not, and that sometimes people use "I think" and "I feel" interchangeably. Additionally, it's important to separate an argument from authority from an argument based on research. I've known many experts who hold opinions that cannot be supported by research or data. I find such opinions only slightly more compelling than the opinions of lay-folk (and usually because they are embedded in the language of expertise).

    Run for office. It's fun!

    by Alfonso Nevarez on Thu Dec 15, 2011 at 07:24:05 AM PST

    •  Thanks, and I share (3+ / 0-)

      your concerns on both counts.

      I would state, for the record, that an expert who holds an opinion that can't be supported by research or data isn't speaking as an expert when s/he voices that opinion. "Expert" isn't a title like "Dr."  One is always an expert in relation to something.  If I make an argument about race or gender, you'd better believe I can back it up, from the evidence, to the argument, all the way to basic philosophical principles & moral assumptions.  And if I find I can't back it up, you'll see me revising my opinion.  Part of expertise is being able to figure out when and why you're wrong...

      "If you fake the funk, your nose will grow." -- Bootsy Collins

      by hepshiba on Thu Dec 15, 2011 at 08:21:33 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Expertise is a necessary component... (0+ / 0-)

    as is deference to the experts in defining terms.  Once the terms are understood, meaningful conversation is possible.

    If I have erred in defining the terms I wish to discuss, that is a fault of ignorance.  If exception is taken, please let it rise to the level of a correction.

    You seem to be suggesting that I not converse about racism.

    Plutarch 120 A.D. - An imbalance between rich and poor is the oldest and most fatal ailment of all republics.

    by BlatantBigot on Thu Dec 15, 2011 at 07:33:17 AM PST

  •  appeal to authority (4+ / 0-)

    Experts get it wrong too. Quite often. Nor does one have to be an "expert" to add valuable insight to a dialogue.

    •  You don't understand "appeal to authority" (0+ / 0-)

      The criticism of "appeal to authority" applies when the person being cited has authority in a field different from the one in question -- such as, "Tiger Woods endorses the Republican approach to economic policy," or "I'm not a doctor, but I play on on tv."

      When the person is an actual authority in the relevant field, one doesn't make the criticism that it's a wrongful appeal to authority.

      •  You are incorrect (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        MKSinSA, The Raven

        It is  you who do not understand it.  What you cited is an appeal to a fallacious authority, which is a sub=-genre.

        •  The Museum of Creationism vs. Stephen Gould (0+ / 0-)

          Neither can be referred to as a more authoritative source  on evolution.

          Right.  No difference.


        •  argumentum ad verecundiam (0+ / 0-)

          But in the second case I believe the accepted English term is fallacious appeal to authority, the point being it is the reasoning that is fallacious not necessarily the authority quoted, typically being a statistical syllogism that jumps from the basis of an accepted general rule to a specific conclusion that does not logically follow.

          It brings to mind the Einstein quote: "To punish my disrespect for authority, God has made me one."

          What about my Daughter's future?

          by koNko on Sat Dec 17, 2011 at 05:52:52 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

      •  Strange (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Dr Swig Mcjigger, denise b

        Because usually the appeal to authority is within the field, as in when we cite economissts on their technical analyses on subjects we do not have training in.

        The key of course is that the authority is intended to trump.

        •  I referring to a common internet rhetoric putdown (0+ / 0-)

          that the commenter, Dr Swig Mcjigger, tried to use.

          There is in rhetoric, a criticism of certain arguments as "appeals to authority."  As he himself pointed out, that criticism is actually an appeal to fallacious authority -- as in, Tiger Woods says Colgate toothpaste makes your teeth stronger.

          For reasons that are beyond me, people like Dr Swig Mcjigger confuse this with, as you point out, legitimate appeals to actual authority, as in Paul Krugman says the payroll tax is stimulative, or Michiu Kaku says that the Higgs particle experiments are very important.

          It has become a common internet put down and distraction -- to criticize any citation to any authority as wrong because it is an "appeal to authority."

    •  How about that Laffer Curve? (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Dr Swig Mcjigger, Tselkenoodles

      Arthur Laffer is an Authority. He has degrees in economics, and is a tenured professor at U. of Chicago.

      Arthur Laffer's work is the basis for trickle-down economics. He believes that cutting taxes grows government revenues, an idea which we all know to be total BS.

      But he's an Authority.

      I say make everyone show facts to back up their statements. Especially these days, when hyperlinking to a study or dataset is so easy.

      I don't care who they are.
      I don't care what degrees  they have.
      I don't care about their personal experience.
      I don't care about their friend-of-a-friend anecdote.

      Prove it.

      This is especially true on the Internet -- where you don't know who anybody is.

      •  Wrong on many levels (0+ / 0-)

        Laffer is an authority on economics.  People who popularized and deliberately misinterpreted his curve (Cheney, for example) are not authorities on economics.

        His curve did not say what most people think it say, was not the "basis for trickle-down economics" and did not say that "cutting taxes grows government revenues" -- except in certain circumstances.

        All it really says is that between 0% taxation and 100% taxation, there is a rate that maximizes government revenue.

        (Trickle down economics had to do with predictions of the effect of tax cuts for the rich on incomes of workers -- not on government revenue.)

        And to the extent that the extrapolations of Laffer or anyone like him were proven wrong -- eg that the high marginal rates of the 70s were suboptimal for revenue --  we would still use the collective authority of the economics profession, and subsequent empirical studies, to show where he went wrong.

        •  Laffer was the basis for... (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          ...trickle-down. Tax cuts for the rich were not contemplated until Laffer (wrongly) assured policymakers that government revenues wouldn't suffer.

          The Laffer curve had no equation. It was just drawn. The fact that Laffer was an "authority" let him get away with this.

          If you or I had claimed to have defined the relationship between tax rates and government revenue, they would make us show numbers. But if you are an Authority, you just have to show a cocktail napkin.

          That's why I'm skeptical of those who say, "I have a Ph.D. in XXX, therefore my opinions matter more than yours". Maybe they do.

          But my 8th-grade algebra teacher only gave half credit on a test for a correct answer...unless you showed your work.

          I realize now that my teacher was very wise!

        •  Actually (0+ / 0-)

          Laffer's curve is an especially notorious case because it was a simple rhetorical device used to illustrate the concept of a hypothesis for the purpose of argument, not the result of statistical analysis. He literally drew it on a piece of paper in the course of a discussion to illustrate a point.

          Which probably makes it the ideal argument for people with such a well-proven misunderstanding of economics.

          What about my Daughter's future?

          by koNko on Sat Dec 17, 2011 at 06:00:57 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

    •  I'm always happy when students of rhetoric (3+ / 0-)

      drop by.  

      But please, reduce my claims to a syllogism and then point out which claims I fail to logically support.  Because waving the name of a fallacy around isn't at all the same thing as demonstrating a fallacy.

      I'm pretty sure I'm not basing my claims on a fallacious appeal to authority, but, hey, maybe I missed something.

      "If you fake the funk, your nose will grow." -- Bootsy Collins

      by hepshiba on Thu Dec 15, 2011 at 12:06:55 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  perhaps, but (3+ / 0-)

    Education and expertise are not a license to be unkind.

  •  Remember the judge with a law degree and lots of (0+ / 0-)

    experience, who then said about pornography: "I know it when I see it?"

    I would absolutely defer to an expert on the matter of definitions, etc...but soo much in the social sciences (and that includes economics, psych, sociology, education, etc) is definitions, but then "knowing it when you see it."

    Justified anger does not grant you unrestricted license.

    by GoGoGoEverton on Thu Dec 15, 2011 at 10:24:55 AM PST

    •  Yeah, but the problem with Justice Potter's (4+ / 0-)

      aphorismis, that while Potter and the other members of the SCOTUS had particularly well-trained sensibilities in regard to "constitutionality", "precedent" and other legal topics,  there was no reason to think their opinions on obscenity/pornography was better in the slightest than the opinion of any randomly chosen nine men passing the time of day in a bar or barber shop.
      maybe his claim would have carried some weight

      In contrast ... when a topic has been studied and debated  for at least a century ... as Race and Gender issues have been ...  by  professional level by experts who read each others books and attend each others lectures and whose new arrivals  are then subjected to a peer review by mentors, critics and colleagues -- the idea that someone whose expertise amounts to "my friends and I feel" ought to be accorded equal weight an value makes no more sense than the idea that the lead guitar of a teenage garage band is qualified to criticize (much less conduct)  a philharmonic orchestra.

      •  I totally agree, but it depends on the context. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        One of the biggest flamewars ever since I joined was over whether the Obama comic by a progressive artist was racist because some interpreted the Alice n Wonderland scene as a "minstrel show". Would you argue that a PhD in sociology would better tell someone how to feel or figure that out, than someone who was African-American, or someone who was well-read and understood the reference?

        Justified anger does not grant you unrestricted license.

        by GoGoGoEverton on Thu Dec 15, 2011 at 12:13:59 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Telling someone how to FEEL about (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          this or that almost never works.  

          I remember a kerfuffle a few years ago in which one politician used the word "niggardly" to describe a municipal budget  he considered stingy, mean and inadequate.  But what the  word meant and what the fellow meant by it was a whole lot less interesting than what many, many others felt the word sounded like ...

          And of course, we all remember how a great many people worldwide felt that a depiction of a bearded man with a burning fuse in his turban was obviously an insult to the Prophet (pbuh).

          As for the Alice in Wonderland cartoon ... well, an expert from the Lincoln Center Library of the Performing Arts could give a 2-hour lecture on why that image owed little or nothing to the iconography of  Minstrelry
          . But there too, a great many people were determined to take offense ... ( ...  the cartoon certainly was no complement to the President, so some kind of offense probably was intended) --  so  it's doubtful that any quantity of expert opinion supported with citations, references and color slides would have made the slightest difference.

          On the other hand, when some Sophomore Savant decides that his/her personal  redefinition of the terms used in 100-year-old fields of study is JUST what's needed to bring clarity to much debated issues --

          And when it looks like these new definitions serve to blunt and deflect the action agendas of the people who have been immersed in these issues for many years   (my own favorite is the contention that the word "Humanist" ought to global-replace the narrow and partisan "Feminist" when discussing gender politics and power issues) ...

          Well, yeah, words like "naive", "jejune", and yes, "ignorant" come easily to mind.

          I guess while all people have a right to their opinions ... opinions -- unlike people --  are NOT all Created Equal --

          Thinking of the old Kibbutz cliche:  All (members) are Equal, however some are more (or less) worthwhile.

          •  Sounds like we agree. (0+ / 0-)

            There wasn't a direct call-out (which is good I guess) of the comments/commentors who sparked the diary to be written, so it's somewhat ambiguous whether we're talking about randoms who are telling PhD's what a word means, or whether PhD's are telling other people how to feel or to interpret something.

            Justified anger does not grant you unrestricted license.

            by GoGoGoEverton on Thu Dec 15, 2011 at 02:07:16 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

      •  both are social constructs (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        First, I think I might ditch the idea that there is any absolute "better" or "worse" definition, since all terms are defined by particualr social units and used by those units in various ways.

        For example, in the work of the SCOTUS, interpretations of constitutionality bring to bear both reference to historical arguments as well as (in some views anyway) the judgment of current society.  Look to the debate about capital punishment of minors, for example.  In this case, Justice Potter's job is arguably to encapsulate the views of those 9 passersby, because they define the polity with which the term is to be defined.  This is the "community standards" approach, which explicitly recognizes that terms have a social dimension.

        Contrast that with the "expert model" approach advocated here, which seems to take as an assumption that there is a better or worse definition, and in this case asserts that the better definition is in fact the one defined within a particular social group (academics).  From a literary criticsm standpoint, the conceptual move to establish one social group as the arbiter over another, power relations are necessarily implicated, because one group is empowered while the out groups are disempowered by the assertion of a privilege by one group to control the terms.  At an abstract level, this is no different than, say, fashion magazines privileging themselves to be the arbiters of what is beauty, for example.

        Now, as an former academic myself, part of me agrees vigorously that there is a well-justified reason for academics  (namely the effort of careful thought) to be assigned that primacy and privilege.   I personally think that better informed and better reasoned viewpoints are well "better"  

        However, I am also aware that there is necessary privileging that happens when I make that determination.  I think being aware of how and when we privilege ourselves is critically important to self awareness.  Without that, real discussion gets very difficult.  

  •  Good diary. It's a problem (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Mindful Nature, betson08

    endemic to social science in general. My area of expertise doesn't overlap much with race; but, like race, it also doubles as a hot-button political topic. I know what it's like to be told that my decades of commitment to the intensive study of a single subject does not qualify as expertise because it's a "soft" or "subjective" matter.

    I do struggle sometimes, though, with the interplay between academic and colloquial definitions on matters such as race. Here's why: Colloquial definitions of racism -- as far afield as they might be from the origins of the term -- have real power in law, politics, and society. Take, for example, a common syllogism that relies on a sloppy, overbearing definition of racism:

    a) Racism is bad. Very bad. A high crime in contemporary society.
    b) [person] is/said something racist.
    c) Therefore, [person] should be fired/thrown out of office/fined/punished/etc.

    After internalizing that incessantly communicated framework, it's easy to see why well-intentioned individuals will shut down and go on the defensive when asked to grapple with broader, more precise concepts like institutional racism. It's not the fault of scholars that a carefully defined term takes on an incendiary subtext in popular discourse -- but it's a reality nonetheless. I confess that I have no good ideas as to what to do about it.

    With every goddess a let down, every idol a bring down, it gets you down / but the search for perfection, your own predilection, goes on and on and on. . .

    by cardinal on Thu Dec 15, 2011 at 10:30:16 AM PST

    •  I find this insightful (3+ / 0-)


    •  I have some suggestions (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      cardinal, Mindful Nature, denise b

      "Experts" in any field can:

      cultivate patience and compassion

      form reasonable expectations of the average person's knowledge & interest base

      understand they have to reach people where they are, not where they want them to be

      become willing to teach or find another line of work

      treat others with dignity and respect

      model ideal behavior

      remember their own thinking process from before they learned what they currently know

      put their stated values &  agenda ahead of their egos

      avoid making others wrong so they can be right

      refrain from indulging in intellectual snobbery

      provide information and resources

      discuss principles & ideas calmly and objectively

      •  Good list. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        bluebird of happiness

        I try to employ a lot of that when I teach. Whether I succeed or not is an open question.

        With every goddess a let down, every idol a bring down, it gets you down / but the search for perfection, your own predilection, goes on and on and on. . .

        by cardinal on Thu Dec 15, 2011 at 11:27:19 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  I think you forgot .... (0+ / 0-)

        Lose their patience and rant, making provocative remarks that spark productive debate leading to insight.

        What about my Daughter's future?

        by koNko on Fri Dec 16, 2011 at 05:34:02 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  that is not the way (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          I roll, personally. But I read this diary in the context of knowing what it was responding to, hence it comes across to me as primarily about making someone else wrong - in other words, an ego trip. Some people enjoy making others wrong, they get off on it. Some may view that as lively debate or entertainment, but I see it as mean-spirited and petty. Also it annoys me because of the obvious class bias. Only the academic geniuses of the world are allowed to think, apparently.

          Do you know how many uninformed people I've had to deal with? Do I throw a tantrum about it? Well, yes, actually, I have done that - but it didn't accomplish anything other than to alienate those people who still don't know what I know, won't bother to learn because now they think I'm a douche, and don't respect my "expertise." I've learned I have to meet people where they are and sell them what I know from their perspective, not mine.

          If others like yourself have found this thought-provoking, great - you're seeing something in it that I didn't see. Really this diary just reminds me of every liberal academic type who's ever talked down to me, and why I don't try to talk to those people any longer. The only "insight" here for me is that the middle class is full of snobs.

          •  Interesting (0+ / 0-)

            My take on this was the diarist had reacted emotionally to the diary in question and now you seem to be repeating the pattern.

            I certainly prefer civil discourse then ranting but sometimes a good rant or a good fight gets to issues that tend to be subjugated by the filters of civility and diplomacy and clean the cobwebs out of the discussion.

            Or as a famous Chinese blogger put it when asked about the success of his blog, he basically replied that hit counts didn't really mean much to him, it was the quality of discussion that he valued, noting "Sometimes people are rude or angry when they post but if they express themselves honestly, then I count that as success, Better to do that on the internet then face to face".

            Rants can be part of a process that leads to more rational conclusions.

            And please note that the diary that set him off was posted by a user who has purposely chosen a provocative username and who's self-stated goal is to provoke discussions on bigotry that "let it all out" no matter how uncivil and he got exactly what he asked for - but now seems to be complaining about it. Suggest you track-back to read his original blogs and comments here and ask if this diary is one possible legitimate (if overheated) reaction.

            Sometimes folks get a bit carried away, but emotions serve a useful purpose.

            Curious: what does "middle class" have to do with this and how do we know who is/isn't that?

            What about my Daughter's future?

            by koNko on Sat Dec 17, 2011 at 04:30:51 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  you make good points (0+ / 0-)

              And in fact my response to this was very emotional, I was pissed off for most of the day. Maybe the diary is not responding to the person/diary I thought it was, but something else entirely. In which case, "Never mind." The diary I thought she was responding to might have been naive but it was definitely not mean-spirited, it seemed quite sincere and well-intentioned. So my sense of justice was violated in that I felt the response was unwarranted & disproportional. As was mine. That dynamic is a perfect example of why the world is so fucked up.

              What middle class has to do with it is that if anyone has college or advanced degrees or makes claims of "expertise", they are middle class, no matter how much money they make. It is not about money, it's about having been trained into an attitude of inherent superiority, in which more = better instead of different. Although I recognize when someone knows what I don't, and will gladly defer to their knowledge, I don't appreciate snobbery. There have been so many times when someone's told me I can't write about or think about something because I'm not on their advanced level, that I'm not part of the club of insiders who deserve to have opinions. It pisses me off when people try to silence me in this way. The correct response should be to share what they know instead of going out of their way to dismiss someone who doesn't. It's that neener-neener-neener shit, especially of the brow-beating variety, that really gets to me, along the lines of "how dare you not know what I know." The most shrill and outraged people are the worst offenders. This is a huge trigger for me. I regret when I come unglued and find myself reacting to people in ways I think are uncool when others do it. It's not cute, not the mind-space in which I prefer to live my life. Better for me to avoid inflammatory discussions entirely.

    •  We would construct different syllogisms (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      joe pittsburgh

      but I agree that colloquial definitions of racism do have a huge amount of power in law, politics & society.  Proof of their power can be seen in the right wing's concerted (and largely successful) campaign to foist the concept of "reverse racism" off on the American public.  Popular definitions are not something we should take lightly. But in order to understand and to manipulate popular culture definitions (as the right does so... adroitly) we need to understand what we're talking about a lot better than most people currently bother to understand it.

      As E. Franklin Frazier once famously stated:  All your life you have been bamboozled.  I am here to de-bamboozle you. De-bamboozling ought to be the job of progressive race & gender activists and scholars, and it would be if only the rank & file of the progressive movement weren't so busy reinforcing racism & sexism by insisting we don't actually matter and that they all know more than us about what we do and what we study.  This ain't the way progressives treat the climate scientists, and there's a reason for the difference, even though everybody and his elderly aunt has an opinion about the weather.

      "If you fake the funk, your nose will grow." -- Bootsy Collins

      by hepshiba on Thu Dec 15, 2011 at 12:22:48 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Speaking of language (0+ / 0-)

        Here, where you say this:

        there actually is expertise on the topic of race, racism, racial prejudice and discrimination

        My sense is that there is a kind of expertise in the way people can talk about the topic of race, etc. A defensive bulwark of jargon is, after all, the defining hallmark of race/gender/class studies.

        It cannot be coherently argued, though, that those with formally sanctioned training in the expression of ideas regarding those subjects are necessarily possessed of especial insights into the fabric of the matters they circumscribe.

        They certainly might be, but whether or not they actually are remains open to question until adequately demonstrated. In my own field of linguistics, it is generally allowed that laypersons will have idiosyncratic conceptions of language qua language, yet such are not devalued merely because the speaker lacks the tools of precision required to handle them formally.

        That is, what something means to a person isn't a matter of debate. Where the issue becomes critical is when we are having a discussion, wherein it is important that we are talking about the same things. Thus, in the case of this diary, when a layperson expresses an opinion about matters of race/gender/class, what matters is what the speaker means when using those terms.

        If the speaker and the listener have different operative definitions of the words in question, then communication will be problematic. The validity of the respective speakers' viewpoints is an entirely separate matter. The term "expertise" in the diarist's entry seems to conflate the two issues.

        In most cases, the burden of explanation rests upon the shoulders of the savant, not the other way 'round. Are the  "experts" accomplishing things of apparent and useful import in the lives of those outside the academy? Where is the rhetorical rubber meeting the road of real life?

        This problem confronts anyone engaged in any of the defined sciences. It is usually best to lower the drawbridge and invite participation, as Jay Smooth does so nicely here.

        Every day's another chance to stick it to the man. - dls

        by The Raven on Fri Dec 16, 2011 at 04:53:46 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Excellent Diary! (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Chitown Kev

    I do write about race here at the Daily Kos from time to time. What I call "the dangerous intersection of race, class and gender" is where I like to park myself because there is so much to learn.

    I also feel that understanding that intersection is necessary to human survival. As a species we need to do some serious social evolving in that area...and fast. It's amazing how quickly evolution can work to eliminate species.

    Every time I research the topic, and I do mean every time, I'm pulled in so many directions by the sources that its hard even to define a focus. Just scanning the footnotes and bibliographies of the experts is daunting. There is so much complexity and detail to process.

    Finally, the intersection of race, class and gender is always a moving target because human society is about change. Some basic truths stand the test of time, but there is always something new.

    "Don't believe everything you think."

    by BobboSphere on Thu Dec 15, 2011 at 02:32:32 PM PST

  •  Let me see if I can (3+ / 0-)

    say something here without getting HR'd on all fronts, for a change

    I use myself as my example. I have spent most of 35 years as an academic, with degrees in political science, although mostly teaching political philosophy in philosophy departments. I have also studied and taught American government and constitutional law, along with course titles like, "Philosophy and Public Policy." Not unexpectedly, I have tackled the topic of racial issues many times over many years, reading much and doing what I believe is some hard thinking about these matters. In short, I claim some expertise in examination of these issues.

    But here's the kicker: I do not much like the claim that only those of the ____ race, ethnic group, or other 'identity' is capable of truly understanding the issues and problems that go along with membership in that class (fill in that blank as you will). I have concluded, after much thought, that these claims must fail on various grounds that I do not intend to attempt to revisit here.

    Unfortunately, even to broach that thought here on DK unleashes a massive storm of circle-the-wagons, man-the-ramparts, string-up-the-dissenter political correctitude. There are days I think that DK must attract some of the least tolerant folks on the face of the earth—and all of them preaching toleration and diversity (but only so long as you entirely agree with the groupthink). In context, then, it turns out that "expertise" hereabouts is to be interpreted as "agrees with the party line and everything we thought we knew already." It is dispiriting, to say the least.

    And now that I've had my say, I think maybe DK and I can probably do with a break from each other. Please return to any previously scheduled agreement and nodding.

    •  Try studying anthropology instead (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Chitown Kev
      only those of the __ race, ethnic group, or other 'identity' is capable of truly understanding the issues and problems that go along with membership in that class

      I think you may be overstating the claim.  I would explain it more as it is unlikely that unless you've lived in a certain ethnic community, you're not likely to understand that community's problems and certainly not likely to understand the subjective experience of its members, which in turn, conditions their behavior.

      I'll never be able to understand why this seems impossible for people in certain disciplines to grasp, especially political science, while it is fundamental to the discipline of anthropology -- at least those anthropologists who practice immersive field work.  It's not that an outsider "can't" understand another group's experience; it's that they rarely to the immersion field work that would enable them to.  

      I studied African history and anthropology at the graduate level, but it took a year of living in Africa, trying to learn the language (and some of its built in structures of meaning), talking to people constantly and voraciously reading African novels before I had a clue.

  •  the unspoken subtext of this diary (3+ / 0-)

    is that the social sciences don't command the same respect as the "hard" sciences, and being an expert in a social science doesn't make one an authority in most people's eyes to the same degree as an expert in the "hard" sciences. The diarist doesn't like that. It's the way things are though, and it's not likely to change anytime soon. Whether it should be that way or not is another issue, and not one I'm going to tackle here.

    "Soylent Green is a corporation!"--Mitt Romney. Eat the rich.

    by ubertar on Thu Dec 15, 2011 at 03:43:58 PM PST

  •  Why (3+ / 0-)

    This special deference to purported "experts?"  If one needs to be an expert to have a valid opinion,  then we oiught to take this blog down immediately. Many of us, myself included, opine on various topics here. Consider economics, for example. This field has been around longer than sociology, so ought economists be given even greater deference?  There are numerous diaries on here, written by peoplewho are clearly not experts in the field of economics, yet these diaries are quite often well received on here, making the rec list. I don't see the hostility and derision heaped upon these people that I do in the race discussions. How about politics? How many of us make predictions about the outcome of races without having the experience of being a political pollster, a statistician or a political consultant? I am GLAD we don't  limit ourselves to simply saying "She's an expert, end of argument."

  •  Here's the thing with race (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Race is personal, by definition.

    And white liberals have a very very long history of lecturing at black folks (and perhaps other people of color) about who we are, what we should be, and what we need to do.

    Eventually, because a white person is privileged in this society, white discourse on blacks tends to become the dominant discourse and drowns out black voices.

    I see it all the time.

    And white folks rarely have to suffer for it.

    •  ... (0+ / 0-)

      this dynamic goes both ways.  Which is what makes race very nearly impossible to discuss in any meaningful way.

      •  But if you're white (0+ / 0-)

        then what do you have to lose?

        Now if a white person actively chooses to be anti-racist (and there are examples of that here on Kos, hepshiba is one of those people) and does not deal with me or other black folks in a...distant fashion, then that earns my respect.

        Other than that, I really have no reason to trust anything that you say.

        •  That is your choice (0+ / 0-)

          how you choose to orient yourself to other people, to be open or closed, to listen or not, that is always entirely in your own control.  that is true for all of us.

        •  it is a good implicit question (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Dr Swig Mcjigger

          why do people choose to have this conversation at all, instead of simply disengaging and talking only with people with whom one agrees.  Much easier that way.

          I would say, because the conversation matters.  Having a conversation that matters fail, and fail repeatedly, also matters.  the question of what anyone "has to lose" is a very complicated one, actually.  If you want to engage, then do.  If not, then don't.

        •  Just a side note (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Chitown Kev

          I really appreciate your comments in this subthread, because it's made me think a bit further afield.  What's surprising is that exactly the same dynamic's happened all over the planet--when I think about race in southern Africa, for example, the public discourse is always defined by "whites" (however defined).  A hundred years ago, however, Boers and English and Scots were different "races" in the public discourse, but it was that collective minority who together collapsed the terminology around whiteness and blackness in southern Africa.  It persists in the public sphere in SA and Zim today, with other identity divisions reduced to "ethnicity" event though the terms used in (for example) luVenda for other groups of people are precise and have an equal status with distinctions between various groups of people of European or Asian descent.

          It's an intriguing process--not surprising, given the monopoly on scientific systems of classification held by whites globally, but its pervasiveness is marked.  But you've sparked a renewed interest for me in how far people in Africa and Asia really internalized that mental categorization, and how much of it was simply using the words that Europeans approved of.  (Our classes on Africa have a long discussion of the pejorative words "tribe" and "primitive" at the start of a term, and this point always comes up.  Maybe I have been too complacent, and we need to specifically add "race" to that list of problematic terms.)

          I suppose the only real contribution to the matter under discussion directly is to suggest that there is another node of meaning that is not being considered here: culturally differing conceptions of the meaning of various divisional terminology with a) their purchase on "objective" analysis among specialists and b) what that difference means in a real sense to discourse and action.

          Sorry, I'm being an academic, so this is a long and roundabout way of saying "thanks for making me think."

  •  Man, this strikes such a chord here. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Mindful Nature

    My work touches on race and gender as a key component, being rooted in social and cultural history (of another continent).  Hearing people wax poetic about things I know very well, as though because it's about people and spoken in words that those of us with expertise are no better (and worse, we're "indoctrinated elitists") than people just going off of one newspaper clipping, is infuriating.  

    When we respond with "what's your evidence," you either get unsourced anecdotes or else you get an insulting and dismissive "I don't have time to do your work for you," ignoring the fact that we have in fact already done the work, which is why we're telling you that you are wrong complete with citations.  Lest anyone think this just invades Internet fora, I have to deal with it here in a University setting as a faculty member.  Knowledge makes us agenda-laden, biased fools in the eyes of people with no actual knowledge at all.

    What Isaac Asimov said long ago about the thread of strident ignorance in American society is very trenchant: “Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that 'my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.'”

    Sorry for tagging your diary with this rant, Hepshiba, but I'm so glad you're calling this out--it's everywhere, not just on the right, especially when we start talking about touchy things like race, gender, class, and heritage.

  •  Not all experts are equal (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Dr Swig Mcjigger

    Yes, it is a tragedy Americans by and large do not understand evolution and its definition. And I agree that dialog on racism is needed, but not understanding evolution and not understanding racism are two somewhat different things.

    Experts in race and gender studies are, I am sorry to say, the vanguard of a more subjective field then biologists who study natural selection and random mutation. Evolution is a definitive scientific observable phenomena. I can map it out, I can make equations for it, I can prove or disprove evolution.

    Social sciences and the humanities are not as exact/true sciences. In sociological fields like gender studies and race studies you have experts crafting theories about society and relations between people. However to say these theories are the direct equivalent of theories such as the theory of Evolution, is giving them too much credit. Maybe patriarchy and white privilege exist, maybe they do not. They are popular interpretations of social phenomena, and certainly there are experts on these interpretations. But an expert in those subjects is not the same as say an expert in chemistry or calculus.

    Race and gender are hard topics, I grant you that. But I would say they are hard topics because they are subjective and interpretive topics.

    •  uh (0+ / 0-)

      You are aware that the natural (aka "hard") sciences are strongly influenced by subjectivity, yes?  You need to read Thomas Kuhn and everything that's come after.  If you are a scientist, you also know that you can't actually prove that something IS.  You have a theory that best fits the available evidence, which holds up until it is disproven in part or in whole.  At that point, a new theory, or modified theory, must be adopted.  It's one of science's greatest protections against the fallible and limited nature of human beings.

      Within evo bio, for example, people argue about the meanings of evidence and the mechanisms of change.  Some things are more certain than others, and occasionally something is downright surprising.  Gradualism or punctuated equilibrium? Wait, mitochondria came from WHERE?  Et cetera et cetera.  Sometimes these arguments are heavily flavored by very subjective, culturally contingent, and like non-quantitative factors.  Scientific racism is an excellent case in point--some people still believe in it, though it's now out of favor.  And let's not even get started on the battles over climate change science and the subjective agendas at work there.  If you start to pick at the intellectual foundations, even the "true" sciences have a lot of missing tiles on the floor.

      Do social sciences and humanities lack precision in numerical data?  Not always, but generally speaking, you're right that they are more interpretative.  That does not mean that the evidentiary standards, and the analysis or debates over the same, are somehow inferior.  You still have to mobilize evidence--even more strongly, given the interpretations possible--to make a firm case.  If the preponderance of reliable data/other evidence does not support your interpretation, then the interpretation needs to change to account for it.  Experts in the field don't just make this stuff up any more than biologists just make up phylogeny.  They argue about links and particulars, but they know the basic elements with as much certainty as anyone can.

      Bottom line: you still need to know the subject you're talking about, and people who have studied it in depth are almost always more prepared to talk meaningfully about it as a general phenomenon than someone who hasn't.  That's true in psychology, history, or sociology just as it is in climatology, biology, physics, or medicine.  Just because there's more interpretation doesn't mean there aren't rigorous academic standards.  The tone of the message suggests that (often) decades of learning and expertise doesn't actually matter as much in discussions on the former set of subjects, merely because the vocabulary is more accessible--but that erroneous belief is squarely at the heart of the problem.

      •  come on (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Chitown Kev

        you didn't know that science is absolute, positivist, and without the influence of context, history, power, and culture!

        How dare you!

        Remember all this race gender sexuality business is all about how people "feel." Where have you been the last few decades ;) and how dare you tell people their opinions are without any basis in research, inquiry, or doing the hard work on theory, historiography, or the like. The nerve you have!

        Obviously, you know where I come from on this issue, he who is arrogant enough to tell people they misuse the term "racism" and they want to throw up the basic (and banal) dictionary definition as a defense.

        •  I recall the science wars. (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Dr Swig Mcjigger

          I am sorry to say this but...

          x2^2 + 3x – 4 = 0
          x2^2 + 3x – 4 = (x + 4)(x – 1) = 0
          x = –4, x = 1

          The above is true, be you black, white, male, female, misogynist, misandrist, atheist, theist, gay or straight. The above equation is going to run like that, assuming your looking for the correct answer that is.

          Professor Sandra Harding can argue that Newton's Principia Mathematica is a "rape manual," and Professor Katherine Hayles can say that physics is patriarchal till every last proton in the universe decays to nothingness. That does not make their "expert," opinion as valid as say the factorization of the formerly mentioned quadratic equation. These two examples are about how two professors feel and interpret scientific and mathematical concepts.

          Perhaps I am not an expert in the humanities, but I do know these two were both professors and still are. They are considered experts, however they have of course made claims that have been shown to be ignorant of the very science they discuss. Yet they are still experts by someones standards. Should Professor Katherine Hayles views on Physics be held as the same as Professor Stephen Hawking?

          •  oh no (0+ / 0-)

            please tell me this is a parody...

            Professor Sandra Harding can argue that Newton's Principia Mathematica is a "rape manual," and Professor Katherine Hayles can say that physics is patriarchal till every last proton in the universe decays to nothingness. That does not make their "expert," opinion as valid as say the factorization of the formerly mentioned quadratic equation. These two examples are about how two professors feel and interpret scientific and mathematical concepts

            If so, it does provide an interesting take on people claiming special authoritative knowledge.

            •  No parody, (0+ / 0-)

              Actually they are interesting gems from the famed "science wars," in which the literary critics and post modern intellectuals of the humanities departments tried to break into the hard sciences.

              The results of course were less then stellar as the literary critics and post modernists lost any credibility they might have had.

              •  Not to argue both sides (0+ / 0-)

                But I shouldn't be so quick to judge.  Note that they weren't trying to do science but to deconstruct it for what it tells us about the cultures that made the scientific works, like archaeology. Although my training is originally in sciences I am pretty heavily influenced by literary criticism to the annoyance of some.   They probably did find traces in the language the concepts and the assumptions that reflected the culture of the time.  I think thought that that comes through in how they are expressed and the ideas are pursued than the reality itself.   For example that very abstract thinking leads us to a control-over-nature oversimplicity that give us a lot of simple unnuanced conservative economic thinking.  ( or did before conservatives went loco).

                There is something there probably but it can be difficult to grasp.  It sure can't be communicated easily on a blog though.  

                Thanks for bringing that!

          •  proves the point (0+ / 0-)

            oh the fun turn of post-modernism run amok.

            they were working outside of their field, just like the lay bloviators here. hopefully, when confronted they knew to take a knee and listen...if I remember correctly they did not.

            good sense is not often common.

        •  snark, snark, true (snark) (0+ / 0-)

          Plutarch 120 A.D. - An imbalance between rich and poor is the oldest and most fatal ailment of all republics.

          by BlatantBigot on Fri Dec 16, 2011 at 05:50:17 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

      •  I can absolutely prove (0+ / 0-)

        Blogging and extreme ignorance are not mutually exclusive in many instances, and sadly, I have enough observational experience with the combination to be considered an expert.

        What about my Daughter's future?

        by koNko on Fri Dec 16, 2011 at 05:30:12 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  I've noticed (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Mindful Nature

      Some people seem not to understand either.

      In fact, there seems to be at least a casual relationship between not understanding evolution and being absolutely clueless about racism.*

      * Based on field observations.

      What about my Daughter's future?

      by koNko on Fri Dec 16, 2011 at 05:25:35 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  I guess you're kind of upset (0+ / 0-)

    But may I make a suggestion?

    This is a general interest political blog populated by people with a range of expertise from 0-100% on all sorts of subjects and while I agree it can be REALLY FUCKING TIRING to engage some people with ZERO EXPERTISE and ONE HUNDRED PERCENT OPINION on any given topic (seriously, I understand your point), absent a CLEAR AND AGREED STANDARD on what constitutes expertise on a given subject we have to tolerate those who speak from a layman's perspective and educate them, or even listen and try to understand them on their own ignoriant, idiotic and opinionated terms, or, in many cases IGNORE THEM.

    Yes, you read correctly, as crazy as it sounds, I am suggesting to completely ignore some comments on the internet.

    Righteous Burning Rant. T+R. Bookmarked.

    What about my Daughter's future?

    by koNko on Fri Dec 16, 2011 at 05:04:27 AM PST

    •  And you've done great work in this area (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      by educating people about China from your first hand experience, and I've found it amazing that there are people who, with no experience or knowledge of China at all, have dismissed your observations and analyses.

      And yes, it's best just to ignore them.

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