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Caste: Part 1 - Toxins in the Permafrost 
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Post Re: Caste: Part 1 - Toxins in the Permafrost
Quote:
“Be Happy for Coal Miners Losing Their Health Insurance,” the headline blared. “They’re Getting Exactly What They Voted For.”

The dismissal is curt and callous: clearly, Trump’s victory provoked some of his opponents to double down on their hostility toward his supporters. But the blog post also shows—more broadly—that being a liberal Democrat no longer means what it once meant. Sympathy for the working class has, for many, curdled into contempt.
...The spectacle of liberals jeering at coal miners reveals seismic changes in our larger public discourse. The miners were “getting exactly what they voted for”—exactly what they deserved, in other words. The belief that people get what they deserve is rooted in the secular individualist outlook that has legitimated inequality in the United States for centuries, ever since the Protestant ethic began turning into the spirit of capitalism.

I couldn’t read much of the New York Review that Robert Tulip linked to, but I see several problems. One is the quote above. I’m reminded of a married couple who had Obamacare, voted for Trump specifically because he promised to get rid of Obamacare, then were shocked and dismayed when they lost their health insurance. “But we’re good people! We expected those other people to lose insurance not us!” The caste system had infected their thinking to the extent that they just assumed no harm due to being members of the highest caste. Would that experience increase their sympathy for others who lost health insurance? Oh please. They became exalted victims and those others are undeserving bums. The author seems to think people like this cannot be criticized for any reason.

Robert Tulip wrote:
Martin Luther King also traded on this elitist fantasy of the ideals of equality, which is incompatible with the somewhat fatalistic outlook that sees people’s potential as constrained by caste.

Another problem is this elitist fantasy of equality. I couldn’t read that far so I’m probably misunderstanding, but this seems disturbing. Upholding the caste system is elitist; how can fighting against that also be elitist?



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Post Re: Caste: Part 1 - Toxins in the Permafrost
DWill wrote:
I don't view what King said as trading on elitist fantasy


In feeling affronted at being called an untouchable in India, it seems King's emotional reaction started from the assumption that as an American his identity started from the premises of rights to liberty, life and the pursuit of happiness, created equal.

But in India such Enlightenment premises did not cut any mustard, since low castes had no such rights. King was viewed as the descendant of slaves, excluded from rights that belonged only to the higher castes.

The ringing cadences of the Declaration of Independence produced an elitist fantasy to the extent that the assertion of universal human rights was hypocritical in the context of the acceptance of slavery and racial discrimination.

King turned the fantasy of universal Jeffersonian rights against the elite.


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Post Re: Caste: Part 1 - Toxins in the Permafrost
DWill wrote:
I don't view what King said as trading on elitist fantasy, but rather as great statesmanship.

Fantasy, no, but mythology, perhaps. On the other side of that era we recognize that the caste system had been so complete it was nearly invisible. Why? Because White people chose not to see it, if they were genteel, and to lean into it if they were not. It was okay for Disney to make fun of Black culture as part of the Song of the South, and okay to sing Al Jolson's blackface songs.
But Jackie Robinson and Jesse Owens before him, and Booker T. Washington and Black troops in WWII were beginning to raise uncomfortable questions among the genteel, and the ideal of equality was beginning to be compared to our realities as the challenge of Communism still held the high moral ground. Dr. King, like Frederick Douglass in an earlier age, pointed out the obvious from outside the whispers of uncomfortable White people who could still think of African-Americans as "them". Articulate Black people dared to be part of "us" and that is already enough to shake the assumptions that uphold caste.

DWill wrote:
Those words of the founders rounded back on us all, carrying meaning that the founders didn't intend, and this is what King exploited. It was deeply ironic that, at the time, we white males took Jefferson's words about equality as expansive, whereas blacks immediately knew--and later, many white men and women did, too--how limited that proclaimed equality was.
It's worth giving some thought to the appeal of what the founders did intend. Democracy dared to provide an option to aristocracy, which was essentially still feudal lordship, upheld by the moral claims of legitimacy as an alternative to naked power grabs. In a land where naked power grabs still occurred on a regular basis, the Americans turned to ideals such as consent of the governed as a matter of right, in part because the lands had been granted to groups of colonists rather than to individual lords. They sensed that those ideals of Locke and the philosophes were more fitting to their land of rugged settlers, and so the ideals had a visceral, practical appeal. The justification from ideals was expansive, and yet seemed wholly natural in the limited context they envisioned for it.

But as the country evolved into an industrial powerhouse, equality took on different implications. Universal White male suffrage came early on, even though many of those given the vote were newcomers, not speaking the language and clearly in no position to occupy ranks of lawyer or military officer. Railroads and steamships and telegraphs created tycoons with no need to claim aristocratic heritage. Equality of opportunity ratified the ideals.

Where this is taking me is to a sense that there was already a tension between equality as an ideal and equality as a practicality. And despite enormous economic inequalities, America had come down on the side of equality as ideal for White people. Thus, as King was able to argue, it had taken a position which implied that Black people had the same right (as the 14th Amendment stated, despite its being gutted in practice by the end of Reconstruction and by Plessy v. Ferguson). And White people knew he was right, as they had known it in the days after the Civil War when the forward-looking "Radical" Republicans attempted to overcome caste and make the ideal real.



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Post Re: Caste: Part 1 - Toxins in the Permafrost
LanDroid wrote:
Quote:
“Yes, I am an untouchable, and every Negro in the United States of America is an untouchable.” In that moment, he realized that the Land of the Free had imposed a caste system not unlike the caste system of India and that he had lived under that system all of his life.
MLK was one of the most prominent civil rights leaders visiting India and yet he did not make the connection between India and a caste system in the US. Why do you think that was so shocking to him?
I had to give this some thought. Of course, MLK had a doctorate, and his father was a prominent minister. It might never have occured to him that a group of people restricted to cleaning up (especially the latrines) would constitute an equivalent situation to that of his people. But I wonder if it wasn't the religious connection that made this so difficult to see.

In Hindu religion the caste is a matter of karma channeled through reincarnation. Whatever you do in this life determines your status in your next life. It strikes me that this ultimately guilty status, reflecting something bad in a previous life, might have seemed a completely different category from that of descendants of slaves. To use a far-fetched comparison, if someone told a conscientious objector that their serving as medics for the army was just like shooting a gun, they might be shocked at the idea. Not that King would have believed the untouchables were actually guilty, but they probably seemed a different category, oppressed in a completely different way.



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Post Re: Caste: Part 1 - Toxins in the Permafrost
Robert Tulip wrote:
The ringing cadences of the Declaration of Independence produced an elitist fantasy to the extent that the assertion of universal human rights was hypocritical in the context of the acceptance of slavery and racial discrimination.

King turned the fantasy of universal Jeffersonian rights against the elite.

The excuse that a person can't be judged by the standards of a later era is often offered up. To call the excuse acceptable in Jefferson's case requires giving a pass to one of the most enlightened men of the age. But another thing to consider is that at the time of the Declaration, Jefferson, though a slaveowner through inheritance, considered himself anti-slavery, and in his draft of the Declaration included a passage condemning the King for foisting the institution on the colonies (deleted by the committee). Jefferson introduced or proposed legislation on partial slavery bans until about 1784, but after that was silent on the matter. Moral compromise was the cause, as his plantation became the engine powering his lavish lifestyle. Did Jefferson at first believe that equality should extend to blacks? Possibly, I don't know what other evidence there might be. But if so he definitely abandoned such belief over time.



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Post Re: Caste: Part 1 - Toxins in the Permafrost
Jefferson did not believe in equality for blacks. Although he was anti-slavery in some corner of his mind, he also did not believe free blacks could roam around in society - they would have to be returned to Africa. He calculated that cost at equivalent to $1 Trillion in today's currency and abandoned that idea, kicking the can onward believing a war would be required to settle the matter.

As to judging history in light of current values, I've been thinking about an important word. The word "ALL" is a caucasian code word, or a caste code word in this context. When used in code the word "ALL" does not include everyone.
Quote:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that ALL men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

When Jefferson wrote those words it was understood that "all" excluded large segments of the population. This did not need to be stated, it was accepted at a very deep level. It was impossible to interpret that sentence literally at that time, so I'm not sure it could even be termed an elitist fantasy. It took at least two amendments to the US Constitution to consider blacks as citizens and to grant blacks and women the right to vote.
Quote:
I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for ALL.

Similarly, with our caste and multi-tiered justice systems, I doubt many reciters of the Pledge of Allegiance believe the final clause literally. When some folks state "ALL Lives Matter," they are deploying a code word, but act dismayed when met with skepticism.



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Post Re: Caste: Part 1 - Toxins in the Permafrost
LanDroid wrote:
Here in Chapter 2, the author starts to define the caste system.

Quote:
A caste system is an artificial construction, a fixed and embedded ranking of human value that sets the presumed supremacy of one group against the presumed inferiority of other groups on the basis of ancestry and often immutable traits, traits that would be neutral in the abstract but are ascribed life-and-death meaning in a hierarchy favoring the dominant caste whose forebears designed it. A caste system uses rigid, often arbitrary boundaries to keep the ranked groupings apart, distinct from one another and in their assigned places.


Quote:
The hierarchy of caste is not about feelings or morality. It is about power—which groups have it and which do not. It is about resources—which caste is seen as worthy of them and which are not, who gets to acquire and control them and who does not. It is about respect, authority, and assumptions of competence—who is accorded these and who is not.

Quote:
Race is what we can see, the physical traits that have been given arbitrary meaning and become shorthand for who a person is. Caste is the powerful infrastructure that holds each group in its place.

HOW has the concept of caste remain suppressed the US? Americans understand it existed in India and Germany (the master race) but have no idea a caste system also exists in America (while taking pride in our freedoms)?
WHY has the concept of caste remain suppressed in America?

Thank you for pulling out valuable portions and raising interesting questions, LanDroid. This discussion is benefiting from your leadership.

I feel as though I am settling in to the real work of thinking about this stuff. I feel there is a certain arbitrariness about the distinction between racism and caste, but I take the main points as correct.

What I want to mull over is the fluidity of caste in America. For example, I can remember when "Catholic" carried a certain stigma, and some European ethnic backgrounds were looked down on (though not subject to, say, lynching because of it.) Polish, Greek, to some extent anything that goes with "Orthodox" such as Armenian or Syrian, all had some vulnerability and disparagement. Yet today there would be very little stereotyping and, at least in areas where I have lived, no suspicion about marriage or hiring or living next door.

The status and opportunities of women have changed drastically since the 70s. Yes, there is still prejudice, harassment, stereotyping and subtle discrimination, but women are conscious of opportunities that RBG was probably thrilled to see, after what her generation of highly capable women had to go through.

Racism has been more persistent, although I can point to tremendous progress in my area. There is still steering by real estate agents, of Blacks and of Hispanics. But individuals prepared to endure a certain amount of loneliness can get past the steering and live wherever they want. Interracial couples are everywhere, including on TV, and the kids I teach are conscious of race but also conscious of considerable fluidity around it. They have some stereotypes, but they treat them as overgeneralizations, reflexively. There is some occupational segmentation, but no enforcement of it that I am aware of.

Essentially, the caste system has broken down considerably, even around race. Wilkerson is in the uncomfortable position of wanting to underline the persistence of caste, and the subtle enforcement of caste, even while many people can observe its breakdown going on around them. We saw a display of the contradiction in the more civil of the Presidential debates. Trump was bemoaning the threat to "your beautiful suburbs" (a dog whistle to enforce caste structures) and Biden countered that the suburbs are already integrated (part truth and part wishful thinking).

I'm not sure how this is related to American suppression of knowledge of caste. We Americans tend to try to put a brave face on anything, and this easily shades over into denial. I wonder if a lot of the persistence, and a lot of the breakdown, are going on in a subterranean, subconscious mental field that we put forward a certain amount of unconscious effort to ignore.



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Post Re: Caste: Part 1 - Toxins in the Permafrost
On the fluidity of caste in America, Part 2 coming right up starts to address that.

On the "arbitrariness about the distinction between racism and caste," I'm starting to understand that relationship in the following way, perhaps already obvious to others.

Caste is like a general foundational philosophy that undergirds the system in ways that are subtle.
  • It's the raw concept that some group must be top of the heap, exerting power and extracting resources.
  • It's also the obverse where other groups must be subservient, show deference, and lack power to build or retain resources.
  • The subservient groups are tainted and must be kept separate lest the dominant group become polluted.

So caste includes those general concepts (and more) that are enforced in different ways in various cultures. The differences between racism in America, antisemitism in Germany, and the complicated systems in India are the specific manifestations, like furniture and decorations, that the caste philosophy houses and protects.

Although the caste paradigm is easy for Americans to identify in India or Germany, perhaps it is difficult to recognize and is suppressed here because it becomes almost like a Jungian archetype, a subconscious force saying something like "Of course you are a superior being, just look at those people..." Etc.
Developing...

  • Is racism weakening in America? Probably a majority deny institutional racism exists.
  • If so, is the caste foundational philosophy summarized above also weakening?



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Post Re: Caste: Part 1 - Toxins in the Permafrost
Harry Marks wrote:
I'm not sure how this is related to American suppression of knowledge of caste. We Americans tend to try to put a brave face on anything, and this easily shades over into denial. I wonder if a lot of the persistence, and a lot of the breakdown, are going on in a subterranean, subconscious mental field that we put forward a certain amount of unconscious effort to ignore.

Joe Biden's speechwriters wrote:
Our history has been a constant struggle between the American ideal that we're all created equal and the ugly reality that racism, nativism, fear, and demonization have long torn us apart. The battle is perennial and victory is never assured.

We might see this statement as relatively candid and bold coming from a U.S. president. I sense that such balancing of good and bad regarding race is too moderate in Wilkerson's view and that of many others currently. Maybe they are correct that the facts point to a dominance of racism over equality. The argument seems to be about what America essentially is. I don't know whether it's possible that America, or any complex society, is essentially any thing.

I did feel some wariness as I listened to the section comparing a caste system to the Matrix. Wilkerson loves to use analogy, and she uses it well to give her writing interest and heft. But I heard her saying that caste-ism operates on an unconscious level and doesn't need explicit commands, so that denying that it could be present is almost a signal that such a program exists. No matter what claim is presented, I would always shy away from such an "unseen forces" rationale. That is not to deny that caste has some quality of "the air we breathe."

I had never thought that "breakdown" of caste-thinking could happen unconsciously, but now I see how it probably does. That is what gradualism seems to be about.

An interesting synchronicity: while reading about persecution of Mormons in the mid 1800s (murders and calls for extermination), I had a thought that perhaps whiteness is not an all-powerful defense against being out-caste, after all. Then the writer says this: "The violence was justified, in part, by the portrayal of Mormons as a degenerate, nonwhite race--an idea that would spread throughout the 19th century. Medical journals defined Mormons by their 'yellow, sunken, cadaverous visage' and 'thick, protuberant lips.' Cartoons depicted them as 'foreign reptiles' sprawled out over the U.S. Capitol. At one point, the secretary of state tried to institute a ban on Mormon immigration from Europe."

https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/ar ... on/617263/

Edit: consider the great Hank Aaron and the inexplicable racism that plagued him throughout his career.



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Post Re: Caste: Part 1 - Toxins in the Permafrost
LanDroid wrote:
It's the raw concept that some group must be top of the heap, exerting power and extracting resources.

... it becomes almost like a Jungian archetype, a subconscious force saying something like "Of course you are a superior being, just look at those people..."


We are animals and animals have "pecking orders" or dominance hierarchies. There can be an equilibrium in which a range persists, because the increased access to resources that comes from dominance also means increased risk from fighting over dominance. But I find it a little mysterious that humans, unlike other social animals, have hierarchies that extend beyond the group we mainly interact with. There can be a merchant class or even a merchant caste, a landowner class, etc. that cuts right across a whole tribe or people. And we will often hold as much allegiance to our class as to our language group or our tribe.

I suppose it has something to do with occupational differentiation, and the barriers in less advanced societies that obstruct people moving between occupations in large quantities. Also, clearly, it has to do with conquest, and the transition from just pushing foreigners out of an area to ruling over those people for the benefit of an easier life. India's caste system has been traced to the dominance of Indo-European invaders over the indigenous people who were there before, and skin color is still a relevant marker for marriage status and other sorting. The Spartans famously enslaved the Helots and the Vikings were great slavers, selling especially along the Volga and other routes to the wealthy lands of the Middle East and Central Asia. The blue-eyed barbarians who conquered Europe lorded it over the Celts and Mediterranean people who were there before, and kept some of their status advantage down to the modern era.

I'm still haunted by a book I read about way back, arguing that Freedom referred to the ability to be free of the mundane tasks needed to exist, allowing some education and even civic participation. I gather this view goes back to Plato and Aristotle, and raises the question whether civilization was created only because enslavement was practiced

Are all these strands wrapped into our instincts about caste? Is caste some kind of unholy union between tribalism, with its sense of "us", and the need to dominate in order to raise the quality of one's life and one's family life? And if so, how do we throw it aside now that public education has provided great fluidity between occupations and family status levels?

If it is a Jungian archetype, I have to believe it is created out of the instincts to signal and absorb status more than the particular constructions that caste comes to inhabit. I was impressed by Wilkerson's story, early on in the book, about being able to guess that her Indian host was high-caste just by the way she acted in a group. The assumption of being deferred to and having concerns that are central to the topic struck me as a familiar phenomenon. We see some of the same thing from Ivy Leaguers in the U.S. (or at least I did in Washington DC and Boston) - their confidence feeds their competence to steer things, charm people and occupy the high ground of a social process. They start out "knowing" that they are "right" and are thereby able to ask themselves the right questions and move easily into the right judgments and responses to continue being right and continue being advantaged. Stress is almost never a reaction to status, and so it acts as a clear signal of need to respond to whatever threats the group might be concerning itself with.



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Post Re: Caste: Part 1 - Toxins in the Permafrost
DWill wrote:
I don't know whether it's possible that America, or any complex society, is essentially any thing.


DWill wrote:
I did feel some wariness as I listened to the section comparing a caste system to the Matrix. Wilkerson loves to use analogy, and she uses it well to give her writing interest and heft. But I heard her saying that caste-ism operates on an unconscious level and doesn't need explicit commands, so that denying that it could be present is almost a signal that such a program exists. No matter what claim is presented, I would always shy away from such an "unseen forces" rationale. That is not to deny that caste has some quality of "the air we breathe."

I had never thought that "breakdown" of caste-thinking could happen unconsciously, but now I see how it probably does. That is what gradualism seems to be about.

Evidently a person, and mind in general, is not essentially any one thing. The book I finished last month about trauma, "The Body Keeps the Score" by van der Kolk, emphasizes over and over that PTSD is about inability to integrate the traumatic experience with our cognitive structures that get us through ordinary life. The mechanisms of isolation include inability to talk to others about it, largely because the emotional aspects so completely override any structure that reason can provide; but also inability to consider it, because the victim relives the trauma rather than remembering it; and, especially for prolonged stressors such as incest, inability to perceive other people's intention in a way that reflects reality rather than reflecting the heightened sensitivity to danger and the "fight or flight" response that becomes the filter for so much of the victim's perception.

Some of the same issues are surely present in the perpetuation and the potential breakdown of caste structures. Why is it that some people are able to reflect on caste structures and shake them off (for the most part) while other people jump to a stance of defensiveness and denial, seeing mainly the aspects of caste that make sense to them even after it is pointed out to them that this "sense" is created by motivated reasoning? Surely part of these barriers to reflection come from heightened sensitivity to threat, especially status threat, and part from a kind of dominance of this emotional response over thought and cognitive processing.

I think I am waiting to see Wilkerson bring out some of the ways these emotional misguidance structures can lay dormant for years, even decades, and then emerge as from the permafrost. More life stress, more direct evidence of status loss, more "socialism" which people may have primed themselves to sense as a threat to their privilege, any of these may be able to rouse the dragon, to bring these forces of caste perpetuation back to the fore.

And it may even be that the progress occurring in between spells of racist ugliness become a kind of defense against seeing caste. We no longer prevent excellent Black athletes from achieving, so now rooting for Connor McGregor because he is white has become okay, because prejudice is a thing of the past :hmm: . (How's that for motivated reasoning?)



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