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Caste: Part 3 - The Eight Pillars of Caste 
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Post Re: Caste: Part 3 - The Eight Pillars of Caste
LanDroid wrote:
Geo wrote:
But we have never set out, per se, to create a caste system, correct? It was never the end goal. It just happened as an outcome of a multitude of factors. Perhaps it could be argued that slavery in the New World was an economic necessity and we have engaged in a lot of cognitive dissonance ever since to justify our actions.

My understanding is a different sequence. The caste system came first - the underlying philosophy that a few are in power, that some are not deserving and must be starved of resources, that separation is required to prevent contamination. Harry Marks mentioned this goes back at least to Aristotle, but even further with the bible. With those ancient cultural influences, it becomes easier to enslave or to exterminate. Think of it this way: Would you keep a person as a slave under your boot without such ideas in your head?

That's a good point on cognitive dissonance - there must have been an extraordinary amount of that going on. "Oh my, these slave babies cry just like mine do. Women scream under the whip just like I would. We don't give them enough food. Aren't we horrible people?" Then comes the resolution of this cognitive dissonance: "Oh wait, slaves are not human, they are beasts of burden created to serve me. Oh and listen to that (forced) singing and dancing! It's OK, whew!"

In my mind, geo asks whether New World slavery came about organically, not as a premeditated system but as a response to circumstances, especially the need to make money off the colonies, whatever that took. Sure, powerful people were powerful exactly because of their total willingness to exploit labor to the highest degree, and things had run that way for centuries. It was considered perfectly OK to do that, which is about the only philosophy needed. But if we take "system" literally, then clearly the relatively rare and exceptionally brutal variation that was New World slavery developed over time.

Sometimes I find that talking about the possible historical reasons for bad things that happened isn't well received. There can be an impatience, at the very least, about such talk, because it seems to be getting into excuse-making, when the only thing seen as necessary is to condemn bad men. To be sure, history is often twisted in favor of the bad men, so we always need to be skeptical. But it's just that people who are interested in history can't help but try to trace what was happening, and often we're going to face moral ambiguities, unintended consequences, and gaps in what we'll ever know.

Still, some things resist understanding even when we've done our best to take the history into account. One of these is how American patriots could rattle on about liberty and their righteous cause against the British, all the while committing heinous crimes against black laborers. It seems too extreme an offense to impute to cognitive dissonance, but I see no other explanation.



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Post Re: Caste: Par- The Eight Pillars of Caste
LanDroid wrote:
Geo wrote:
"All men are created equal" according to The Declaration of Independence. And, yet even through Jim Crow and the Civil Rights era, we seem to resist this notion or selectively apply it only to the upper caste (which in our case means white people). What makes us do that?

I mentioned before that I think one key to this puzzle is that the word "ALL" is a Caucasian code word. When Jefferson penned those words he owned slaves. He did not need to specify that "all" did not refer to blacks. He also did not need to clarify that women are excluded. Or non-property owners. Those exemptions to the word "all" were internalized so deeply by Americans that it took at least three amendments to the constitution to begin to rectify it.

However I believe the code word "ALL" is still active, meaning it applies only to the upper caste. For example when some bigots scream "ALL Lives Matter!" at Black Lives Matter protestors, they know the explicit meaning (denotation) sounds like it applies to everyone. But the bigots also subconsciously know the implicit meaning (connotation), given our history, is more like "MY life matters, YOUR lives certainly do NOT!" The protestors understand both meanings of the Caucasian code word and get the message. But ironically I expect the bigots are conscious only of the explicit meaning and mistakenly believe they are being more inclusive than the protestors.

I can see that Jefferson definitely meant to exclude women from his "all men" statement. It might be that "men" sometimes referred generically to both sexes, but in this time it was understood that women, as the weaker vessel, weren't equal to men. Jefferson needed his rhetoric to be soaring in order to meet the occasion: the delegates waiting for the statement that would announce to the world the colonies' independence. So he declares the general principle on which independence was based, that all men are created equal. An alternate view from yours is that Jefferson at this time, a 33-year-old who had inherited his father's slaves, a person deeply versed in the philosophy of John Locke, was anything but a public champion of slavery despite enjoying its benefits (and having one of his slaves attend him in Philadelphia). He could harbor in his mind the thought that he could escape his hypocrisy by advocating for the gradual manumission of slaves and their relocation to a homeland. A key piece of evidence in the Declaration is the extensive passage on the English King foisting slavery upon the colonies. That passage caused the biggest stir among the delegates, who deleted all of it.
Well, obviously, Jefferson never did absolve himself of hypocrisy, as his lavish lifestyle came to depend more and more on enslaved labor on his plantation. Publicly he condemned slavery (an "abominable crime," a "moral depravity"), and in 1824 proposed a plan to end it. But his personal involvement and freeing of only a very few of his 600 slaves, is damning.

White privilege (and screwed-up thinking) is evident in "ALL Lives Matter!" This is saying, how dare YOU protest against injustice! To be able to do so, you'd have to include US! You're telling us that OUR lives don't matter!



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Post Re: Caste: Part 3 - The Eight Pillars of Caste
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Human history is rife with examples of inconceivable violence, and as Americans, we like to think of our country as being far beyond the guillotines of medieval Europe or the reign of the Huns. And yet it was here that “Native Americans were occasionally skinned and made into bridle reins,” wrote the scholar Charles Mills. Andrew Jackson, the U.S. president who oversaw the forced removal of indigenous people from their ancestral homelands during that Trail of Tears, used bridle reins of indigenous flesh when he went horseback riding.

America looked down on Nazis for being so wicked as to make lampshades from human skin, and yet look at this behavior, not from just a prison guard, but from one of America's heroes. Up until very recently, I thought the Trail of Tears involved only the Cherokee, who could not be saved from this brutality even though they had set up a democratic government with a bicameral legislature. But I was wrong, it was a truly massive operation.

Image

Sorry, but I gotta admit all this horror and genocide is really getting to me, but your comments are so good I resolve to see this through. I think it is critical that we get through the section titled "Backlash."



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Post Re: Caste: Part 3 - The Eight Pillars of Caste
PILLAR NUMBER EIGHT
Inherent Superiority versus Inherent Inferiority

Quote:
Beneath each pillar of caste was the presumption and continual reminder of the inborn superiority of the dominant caste and the inherent inferiority of the subordinate. It was not enough that the designated groups be separated for reasons of “pollution” or that they not intermarry or that the lowest people suffer due to some religious curse, but that it must be understood in every interaction that one group was superior and inherently deserving of the best in a given society and that those who were deemed lowest were deserving of their plight.

...At every turn, the caste system drilled into the people under its spell the deference due those born to the upper caste and the degradation befitting the subordinate caste. This required signs and symbols and customs to elevate the upper caste and to demean those assigned to the bottom, in small and large ways and in everyday encounters.

Quote:
In India, the caste system dictated the length and folds of a Dalit woman’s saris. Dalits were not to wear the clothing or jewelry of upper-caste people but rather tattered, rougher clothing as the “marks of their inferiority.”

In America, the South Carolina Negro Code of 1735 went so far as to specify the fabrics enslaved black people were permitted to wear, forbidding any that might be seen as above their station. They were banned from wearing “any sort of garment or apparel whatsoever, finer, other or of greater value than Negro cloth, duffels, coarse kerseys, osnabrigs, blue linen, check linen, or coarse garlix, or calicoes,” the cheapest, roughest fabrics available to the colony. Two hundred years later, the spirit of that law was still in force as African-American soldiers were set upon and killed for wearing their army uniforms.
p.160



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Post Re: Caste: Part 3 - The Eight Pillars of Caste
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...the life of a slave on an antebellum plantation was far superior to that of a factory worker in the enlightened North.
3/17/2021

Random comment regarding an article on the 1619 Project. :roll: :slap:



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Post Re: Caste: Part 3 - The Eight Pillars of Caste
LanDroid wrote:
Quote:
...the life of a slave on an antebellum plantation was far superior to that of a factory worker in the enlightened North.
3/17/2021

Random comment regarding an article on the 1619 Project. :roll: :slap:

There was Northern slavery during much of the period known as the antebellum. Would the random commenter still say that factory workers had it much worse? Somehow I don't think so. The northern "industrial slavery" trope was an apologetic device that I thought had expired.



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Post Re: Caste: Part 3 - The Eight Pillars of Caste
DWill wrote:
Would the random commenter still say that factory workers had it much worse? Somehow I don't think so. The northern "industrial slavery" trope was an apologetic device that I thought had expired.

Well, yes and no. The best-off slave may have had a life better than the worst-off laborer in the North, and especially compared to the most abused peasants of Europe or Russia. The destruction of family relations was surely the sharpest distinction, since chattel slavery permitted, and seemingly encouraged, the heartless practices that sold family members and undermined generational ties. But we should also remember that often a "house slave" was the son or daughter, unacknowledged, of the master, and so could be relatively privileged. Not that this justifies the rape or other inequality behind that truth.

Since we know that it was not rare for wage workers to be beaten by the "straw boss" to encourage the others, and that starvation was a threat in the background that rarely faced slaves, we can conclude that the accusations about Northern wage slavery were not totally imaginary.

Still, the numbers don't come close to justifying a claim that slaves were as well off on average. Shorter lifespans, denial of education and the opportunities that went with it, very limited food, housing, clothing, medical care and recreation added up to a pretty grim life for the slaves. I think the best that can be said for the notion of worse conditions in the North is that it reminds us we may have idealized pictures of White Northern life that leave out a lot of the actual trouble in their lives.



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Post Re: Caste: Part 3 - The Eight Pillars of Caste
Harry Marks wrote:
. . . It tells us something interesting about the flexibility and adaptability of the structures in the human mind. One reason I am not very comfortable appealing to evolutionary psychology is that it often pretends to give determinative outcomes and implacable forces, when in fact all it can tell us about is pressures, tendencies, possibilities and probabilities.

Sorry it has taken so long to respond to this post.

Evolutionary science does rely on assumptions about our ancestral environment and it’s important to understand its limitations. But it doesn’t really take a leap of faith to understand that we evolved under very different conditions than exist today. We can make inferences about the past, such as that our ancestral environment lacked agriculture, technology, medicine, media, mass-produced goods, money, police, armies, and communities of strangers. As Stephen Pinker said way back in 1997 (in a rebuttal to Stephen Jay Gould), these absences have “profound implications for the minds that evolved in such an environment.”

Many universal human traits: our tribalism, our need for acceptance (approval) and belonging, which leads to forming cliques and in-groups (and out-groups), were forged in the distant past and make sense only in that context. I’ll say again that something seems to be missing in this discussion of castes, though I really should finish the book before commenting further.

Harry Marks wrote:
As Kierkegaard said, life can only be lived forward, but can only be understood backward. In order for our life to be lived with meaning, we have to decide whether our understandings, including understanding of what is just and moral, are determinative. If not, then we have accepted a fundamental nihilism. But the choice between meaning and nihilism is a different way of relating to truth than understanding is.

Being able to explain the way people behave is a different process from deciding about commitments and values. Our understanding of why things go the way they do becomes part of the mental structures of our engagement, our living forward. But they cannot overcome the loss that we suffer if we choose nihilism, one species of which is to buy into the Stockholm Syndrome of supposedly determinative "scientific" principles which are not at all absolute.

I’m not quite sure I’m following your train of thought here. The reason I think human psychology is so important to this discussion is not to make excuses for our incomprehensible brutality—in both the past and present. For me, a better understanding of how the mind works—as limited as that knowledge may be—makes it possible to make conscious choices to rise above our primitive hardwiring. My point is anything but nihilistic. I’d argue that our chances to become better people (through commitments and values) are only helped by understanding the science behind our thoughts and deeds. I think it helps to talk about the universality of many of our behaviors. It’s usually not enough to simply call someone a racist. It’s better I think to acknowledge that we are all racist to some degree. And that we can acknowledge that and do something about it!

https://www.nybooks.com/articles/1997/1 ... -exchange/


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Post Re: Caste: Part 3 - The Eight Pillars of Caste
LanDroid wrote:
Sorry, but I gotta admit all this horror and genocide is really getting to me, but your comments are so good I resolve to see this through. I think it is critical that we get through the section titled "Backlash."

This is difficult material to be sure. I for one greatly appreciate your leadership in this discussion.

I'm reminded of a remarkable essay by Native American writer Sherman Alexie: What Sacagawea Means to Me. Alexie, too, is struck by America's contradictions and the clash of civilizations that got us here. I started to quote a few passages, but instead I'll just post the entire essay here.

Quote:
What Sacagawea Means to Me by Sherman Alexie

In the future, every U.S. citizen will get to be Sacagawea for fifteen minutes. For the low price of admission, every American, regardless of race, religion, gender, and age, will climb through the portal into Sacagawea’s Shoshone Indian brain. In the multicultural theme park called Sacagawea Land, you will be kidnapped as a child by the Hidatsa tribe and sold to Toussaint Charbonneau, the French‐ Canadian trader who will take you as one of his wives and father two of your children. Your first child, Jean‐Baptiste, will be only a few months old as you carry him during your long journey with Lewis and Clark. The two captains will lead the adventure, fighting rivers, animals, weather, and diseases for thousands of miles, and you will march right beside them. But you, the aboriginal multitasker, will also breast‐feed. And at the end of your Sacagawea journey, you will be shown the exit and given a souvenir T‐shirt that reads IF THE U.S. IS EDEN, THEN SACAGAWEA IS EVE.

Sacagawea is our mother. She is the first gene pair of the American DNA. In the beginning, she was the word, and the word was possibility. I revel in the wondrous possibilities of Sacagawea. It is good to be joyous in the presence of her spirit, because I hope she had moments of joy in what must have been a grueling life. This much is true: Sacagawea died of some mysterious illness when she was only in her twenties. Most illnesses were mysterious in the nineteenth‐century, but I suspect that Sacagawea’s indigenous immune system was defenseless against an immigrant virus. Perhaps Lewis and Clark infected Sacagawea. If this is true, then certain postcolonial historians would argue that she was murdered not by germs but by colonists who carried those germs. I don’t know much about the science of disease and immunities, but I know enough poetry to recognize that individual human beings are invaded and colonized by foreign bodies, just as individual civilizations are invaded and colonized by foreign bodies. In that sense, colonization might be a natural process, tragic and violent to be sure, but predictable and ordinary as well, and possibly necessary for the advance, however constructive and destructive, of all civilizations.

After all, Lewis and Clark’s story has never been just the triumphant tale of two white men, no matter what the white historians might need to believe. Sacagawea was not the primary hero of this story either, no matter what the Native American historians and I might want to believer. The story of Lewis and Clark is also the story of the approximately forty‐five nameless and faceless first‐ and second‐ generation European Americans who joined the journey, then left or completed it, often without monetary or historical compensation. Considering the time and place, I imagine those forty‐five were illiterate, low‐skilled laborers subject to managerial whims and nineteenth‐ century downsizing. And it is most certainly the story of the black slave York, who also cast votes during this allegedly democratic adventure. It’s even the story of Seaman, the domesticated Newfoundland dog who must have been a welcome and friendly presence and who survived the risk of becoming supper during one lean time or another. The Lewis and Clark Expedition was exactly the kind of multicultural, trigenerational, bigendered, animal‐friendly, government‐supported, partly French‐Canadian project that should rightly be celebrated by liberals and castigated by conservatives.

In the end, I wonder if colonization might somehow be magical. After all, Miles Davis is the direct descendant of slaves and slave owners. Hank Williams is the direct descendant of poor whites and poorer Indians. In 1876, Emily Dickinson was writing her poems in an Amherst attic while Crazy Horse was killing Custer on the banks of the Little Big Horn. I remain stunned by this contradiction, but the successive generations of social, political, and artistic mutations that can be so beautiful and painful. How did we get from there to here? This country somehow gave life to Maria Tallchief and Ted Bundy, to Geronimo and Joe McCarthy, the Nathan Bedford Forrest and Toni Morrison, to the Declaration of Independence and Executive Order No 1066, to Cesar Chavez and Richard Nixon, to theme parks and national parks, to smallpox and to vaccine for small pox.

As a Native American, I want to hate this country and its contradictions. I want to believe that Sacagawea hated this country and its contradiction. But this country exists, in whole and in part, because Sacagawea helped Lewis and Clark. In the land that came to be called Idaho, she acted as diplomat between her long‐lost brother and the Lewis and Clark party. Why wouldn’t she ask her brother and her tribe to take revenge against the men who had enslaved her? Sacagawea is a contradiction. Her in Seattle, I exist, in whole and in part, because a half‐white man named James Dox fell in love with a Spokane Indian woman named Eta Adams and gave birth to my mother. I am a contradiction; I am Sacagawea.

Alexie, Sherman, “What Sacagawea Means to Me.” Short Takes: Brief Encounters with Contemporary Nonfiction. Ed. Judith Kitchen. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2005. 133‐136. Print.


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Post Re: Caste: Part 3 - The Eight Pillars of Caste
geo wrote:
Evolutionary science does rely on assumptions about our ancestral environment and it’s important to understand its limitations. But it doesn’t really take a leap of faith to understand that we evolved under very different conditions than exist today. We can make inferences about the past, such as that our ancestral environment lacked agriculture, technology, medicine, media, mass-produced goods, money, police, armies, and communities of strangers. As Stephen Pinker said way back in 1997 (in a rebuttal to Stephen Jay Gould), these absences have “profound implications for the minds that evolved in such an environment.”
Sure. And I agree with you that those things are interesting to learn about, and can influence the way we make choices that seem sensible and promising. I also agree that we should think about such influences on, for example, the development of caste systems or imperialism. But I also see such investigations as potentially toxic, so that they should be handled with care.

I spent considerable time, when reading through "The Righteous Mind" by J. Haidt, trying to distinguish between his actual findings and the implications he drew from those findings. Sometimes it was a matter of much subtlety and serious effort. I was led to that effort partly by a rather strong disagreement with him about what was driving his results. He consistently interpreted the differences between conservatives, with their variety of "fundamental" dimensions of morality, and liberals, with their constricted set of dimensions, as an inevitable result of innate personality differences. Even when he explicitly recognized that culture shapes our perceptions about what makes sense morally, he made no effort whatsoever (that he mentions in the book, anyway,) to sort out whether those cultural influences might be shaping the number of different dimensions perceived in moral justifications. His book begins with the more-or-less unconscious elephant determining the reasoning process, and never considers whether feedback loops from reasoning, or the lack thereof, might shape the elephant's inclinations. That's fine - his business is to sell his books, not to question them. But it's important for me to question them as closely as possible.

In the same way, I am very interested in what drives the tendency to sort societies into castes and enforce boundaries and hierarchies within them. I want to be skeptical of all explanations, and I freely admit that my effort at such skepticism is determined heavily by my priors. Because of those priors, I am deeply skeptical of anything that rings of "people just be like that." I am much more likely to credit the economic opportunities and military imbalances that may have shaped them, in other words the cultural factors, than any tendencies within human nature.

geo wrote:
Many universal human traits: our tribalism, our need for acceptance (approval) and belonging, which leads to forming cliques and in-groups (and out-groups), were forged in the distant past and make sense only in that context. I’ll say again that something seems to be missing in this discussion of castes, though I really should finish the book before commenting further.
Probably there is something, or maybe multiple factors, that are missing. If we take economic and military pressures as the fundamental shaping forces, it still may be true that there are aspects of "universal" human nature that push people to respond to these in ways that re-appear across many different environments. So I hope you don't take my skepticism as hostility - I am interested in what you arrive at in the way of conclusions, or hypotheses.

I do think, though, that Wilkerson is much more interested in getting Whites to see, and query, the practices of caste than she is in explaining them. We, the privileged, are much less likely to be aware of stuff we don't want to think about. Does that mean we should not try to understand? No indeed. I just finished teaching about housing segregation and White Flight to the suburbs. Even after explaining how we can tell there was racism at work, I went on to tell about the desire to consume more space, which is cheaper when you get farther from the city center. As incomes rose, people who could afford it (so, almost all White,) moved out to newer, more spread out communities outside the central city. I want my students to see that impersonal forces can be part of a process which also has racist dimensions. I fear that a fair share of the current "Anti-Racism" movement does not take such forces into account, or expects society to steadfastly oppose such forces just because they reinforce racism. I'm still looking for processes of mutuality and don't necessarily accept an obligation to confront impersonal forces for the sake of rectifying structures that persist from the past.

geo wrote:
Harry Marks wrote:
As Kierkegaard said, life can only be lived forward, but can only be understood backward. In order for our life to be lived with meaning, we have to decide whether our understandings, including understanding of what is just and moral, are determinative. If not, then we have accepted a fundamental nihilism. But the choice between meaning and nihilism is a different way of relating to truth than understanding is.

Being able to explain the way people behave is a different process from deciding about commitments and values. Our understanding of why things go the way they do becomes part of the mental structures of our engagement, our living forward. But they cannot overcome the loss that we suffer if we choose nihilism, one species of which is to buy into the Stockholm Syndrome of supposedly determinative "scientific" principles which are not at all absolute.

I’m not quite sure I’m following your train of thought here. The reason I think human psychology is so important to this discussion is not to make excuses for our incomprehensible brutality—in both the past and present. For me, a better understanding of how the mind works—as limited as that knowledge may be—makes it possible to make conscious choices to rise above our primitive hardwiring. My point is anything but nihilistic. I’d argue that our chances to become better people (through commitments and values) are only helped by understanding the science behind our thoughts and deeds. I think it helps to talk about the universality of many of our behaviors. It’s usually not enough to simply call someone a racist. It’s better I think to acknowledge that we are all racist to some degree. And that we can acknowledge that and do something about it!

I think we see pretty much eye to eye on this. I was more interested in exploring the philosophical point about the difference between explaining things and deciding what to do about them (descriptive vs. prescriptive understanding, basically) than in raising some kind of fierce objection to studying for the sake of explanation.

I would raise a small objection about "we are all racist to some degree." There are two distinct processes going on at the level of people's subconscious judgment. One judges anyone who is "other" (i.e. not "us") as more likely to be threatening. That one finds White people to be more suspicious of people of color than of other white people. And Asians to be more suspicious of non-Asians, etc. The other embodies the particular judgments people make about particular races in America, with the result that African-Americans are, like White people, more likely to be suspicious of Black people. The second is what should be properly considered racism, since the oppressive structure is much more of an issue than people's tendency to be suspicious across groups. Until there is a better term for the structures that hold people of color down, I reserve "racist" for such structures. And that means that I don't agree that "we are all racist to some degree." That is much more true of the first, weaker, tendency to be suspicious across perceived groups.

In fact, I have a feeling that if we didn't have the structures of caste we would not have much of the first tendencies at all. I am quite serious about that. I can remember a time when Southern Europeans tended to be labeled with terms like "hairy" and "swarthy" that no one even notices anymore. They used to be "othered" and for the most part they no longer are. Why? Intermarriage, positive role models on television, breaking down of caste barriers. All the usual suspects.



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Post Re: Caste: Part 3 - The Eight Pillars of Caste
Harry Marks wrote:
I do think, though, that Wilkerson is much more interested in getting Whites to see, and query, the practices of caste than she is in explaining them. We, the privileged, are much less likely to be aware of stuff we don't want to think about.

That is a gigantic step! Remember MLK did not consider himself a member of a lower caste until he went to India in 1959. I admit I had not considered the concept of a caste system in America until I encountered this book. :blush:

Consider: It is now illegal to provide water or food to voters standing in long lines in Georgia. Which level in the caste system are these Georgia voters likely to be from? I'm thinking of contemporary SNCC bus riders heading down there with overwhelmingly massive aquatic and caloric relief in non-violent protest. #vote2022
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In fact, I have a feeling that if we didn't have the structures of caste we would not have much of the first tendencies at all.

Yes, my understanding is the underlying philosophy of the caste system is what racism, anti-Semitism, and nazism are attached to.



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geo, Harry Marks
Sat Mar 27, 2021 5:03 am
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