Sunday, June 04, 2017

On Burritogate:"Cultural Appropriation Is A Problem; A Misguided Burrito Cart Is Not Part Of It"; or: Well, You're Half Right

I thought this, by Christine Emba, was actually pretty good in important ways.
   She basically lays out several of the true premises, setting things up so that the objective reader can see that the warranted conclusion is, basically: cultural appropriation is not a thing. She's certainly right that the burrito thing is idiotic. And she's on target when she points out that things like theft of intellectual property are wrong...though she fails to go far enough. She doesn't recognize that, at every point at which it seems that alleged "cultural appropriation" is wrong, it's actually something else entirely. Is it bad to steal intellectual property? Sure--but that's a different matter. (And: not really what's going on in Burritogate.) Being disrespectful to people is sometimes (thought not always) wrong. (Some people don't deserve respect.) Is it bad to disrespect a culture? Maybe... That possibility is certainly worth considering. But I've never quite been able to figure it out.
   Look, I think this is important. Let's get down to brass tacks: Burritogate is not an anomaly. Burritogate is a consequence of ideas and attitudes that are absolutely central to neo-PC (or social-justice-ism...or whatever you want to call it). And it's totally, batshit crazy. It can't just be shrugged off. It's not just some extreme outlier. It's a logical (or illogical) consequence of core principles of neo-PC. And this is basically what happens with every PC / SJ idea when you apply it consistently. You get something totally nuts.
   And another thing: I think it's really important to see that the reason that PC / SJ tries works so hard to control language is that it's an efficient way of controlling a debate. This is why it's important to reject the diktats of the language police: once they secure acceptance of their preferred terminology, it becomes much more difficult to see the issues objectively, and much more difficult to explain why they're wrong.

   Take 'cultural appropriation' itself. It's got a kind of descriptive content and a kind of normative valence. To some extent it just means something like adopting the ways of another culture. However, it is also used in a way that is obviously condemnatory. This means that, if they can get you even to just use the term, you're in a bind. If they say Burritos are culturally appropriative, how does one go about denying it? 'No' is a bit of a problem, because it seems inconsistent with the fact that you did adopt them from another culture... With respect to the descriptive content, 'no' seems wrong. But if you say 'yes', then you seem to be committing yourself to the disapproval that's being expressed. (Yes it's appropriative, and appropriation is bad, so...) It's loaded terminology that puts you in a loaded-question-type bind. Have you stopped drinking too much? Yes!!  The only way to win is not to play. By which I mean: you have to reject the formulation of the claim or question. And in this case that means: reject the defective terminology. Are burrito's "culturally appropriative"? 'No' is a problem and 'yes' is a problem...which means: the terminology is the problem.
   Simon Blackburn somewhere in Spreading the Word uses the following example to make a related point: Fritz is a Kraut. Yes or no? Well, if Fritz is German, then it seems inaccurate to say 'no'...OTOH 'yes' seems to commit you to endorsing a kind of slur against the I mean against Jerry...
   tl;dr: PC bad; "cultural appropriation" not a thing.


Blogger Lorenzo said...

Very nicely put.

5:43 PM  

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