In Another's Shoes

Posted on October 16, 2015 by Richard Goulter
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As part of a speech in 1928, Churchill gave the following fable:

Once upon a time all the animals in the Zoo decided that they would disarm, and they arranged to have a conference to arrange the matter. So the Rhinoceros said when he opened the proceedings that the use of teeth was barbarous and horrible and ought to be strictly prohibited by general consent. Horns, which were mainly defensive weapons, would, of course, have to be allowed. The Buffalo, the Stag, the Porcupine, and even the little Hedgehog all said they would vote with the Rhino, but the Lion and the Tiger took a different view. They defended teeth and even claws, which they described as honourable weapons of immemorial antiquity. The Panther, the Leopard, the Puma, and the whole tribe of small cats all supported the Lion and the Tiger.

Then the Bear spoke. He proposed that both teeth and horns should be banned and never used again for fighting by any animal. It would be quite enough if animals were allowed to give each other a good hug when they quarreled. No one could object to that. It was so fraternal, and that would be a great step towards peace. However, all the other animals were very offended with the Bear, and the Turkey fell into a perfect panic.

The discussion got so hot and angry, and all those animals began thinking so much about horns and teeth and hugging when they argued about the peaceful intentions that had brought them together that they began to look at one another in a very nasty way. Luckily the keepers were able to calm them down and persuade them to go back quietly to their cages, and they began to feel quite friendly with one another again.

The context was (apparently) discussing why disarmament talks were ineffective. In that context, it’s not difficult to see how the fable’s metaphors of teeth and horns may map to air force, navy, etc.
– A more concise way to describe this may be along the lines of “Armament for me, but not for thee”; or “self-interest”. But what’s striking about the fable is more subtle:
– In terms of the fable, each agent tries to justify the value & necessity in their own armaments, while pointing out the excess in their hostile’s. - More abstractly, in terms of “power”, each animal tries to keep its own power, and diminish the power of its opponent.

But I can’t help but be reminded of this analogy whenever anyone mentions “diversity” (and, more broadly, any use of identity politics).
Just as the animals use ‘disarmament/to make the world a more peaceful place’ as a means to increase their own power, calls for diversity, etc. play out as increasing one’s own power.

In a piece, as scathing as any using the term “white feminism” can be expected to be, titled “#FFFFFF Diversity”, the writer berates the tech community’s efforts as “diversity” being limited to “more women” rather than “more people of colour”.
– The writer here shares my point, insofar as ‘white women calling for “diversity”, yet this benefit is only seen by white women’. - Writer then goes on to demonstrate my point, in that her lament is that ‘calls for diversity’ don’t extent to black women. (I’m not quite sure of the culture that’d use the terms “women of colour” and “person of colour”, but never “men of colour” when discussing diversity issues). The medium piece doesn’t mention with even so much as a comma the logical corollary: diversity efforts should (if we’re playing the privilege math game) also pay heed to trans-, gays, etc.
– i.e. for the woman of colour author, it’s a shame that diversity doesn’t promote women of colour.
(There’re a number of points related to the issue in the post people can get pretty heated over. For some perspectives, yes, gender/sex diversity really is that much more important than ethnic diversity, which tech ostensibly has. – That Asian’s are over-represented somewhat complicates the notion of diversity beyond anything-but-straight-white-and-male. etc. etc.). – Some fun shit-stirring in the comments to that post was from an Asian offended to be so stereotyped as “model minority”, as if the job was handed to him without having to work his ass off to get to that point..

This perspective, that things are inherently about increasing one’s own power/status, also presents itself in the common and shrill point that the complaints about lack-of-diversity are always for positions of power. (Would tech still be under such focus if it weren’t perceived as some kind of gold rush?). There’re more complaints about lack of women in senior positions than lack of women in dangerous jobs.
– In the context of education, it’s more common to see complaints about male-dominated fields, never about female-dominated fields. - Yet, both of these would be just as ‘diverse’ as the other.

The personal bone to pick is that calls for diversity rarely include ‘gross’ or unpopular opinions. ;-)

– Amongst the identity politics, the ‘ally-ship’ thing makes this a bit quaint. (And, no, “alliance” wasn’t the word I was looking for, kthx). Because, ostensibly, the ‘ally’ is the straight/white/male lookin’ out to help the little guy. (It’s common to see Twitter hashtags have a lot of fun over this). So, ostensibly, the ally is like the turkey defending the bear’s idea about hugging. - I’m sure this isn’t how it plays out, though, so-much-as the in-group/out-group dynamics are work don’t align over straight/white/male but over different lines. (e.g. ‘ally-ship’ belongs to the ‘progressives’).
– Of course, this does play with this meta-game a bit, too; if the game is that you fight for your own team, then anyone ostensibly against their own team must be favouring justice/truth..

Mapping the other way, the analogy works the other way too: those who benefit from some “power” are unlikely to see that they benefit; those who don’t are likely to over-state/emphasise the benefits. Where a system of rules can be used to gain power, it will be (ab)used in such a way.
– It’d perhaps be remiss to mention these things without mentioning Harrison Bergeron. But perhaps what’s frustrating about discussions on ‘privilege’/etc. is that the notion of “privilege means gains advantage, it doesn’t mean ‘is without disadvantage’” is at best acknowledged, but often left at the door. - So, e.g., this leads to situations where of course women want to be treated equally, just not treated like men. What often gets lost in translation is that advantages don’t come without disadvantages. This doesn’t mean striving for equality is in vain. It does mean that it’s obnoxious, though, to complain about not having the advantages, without then complaining about not having the disadvantages.
– Rather, when someone expresses a grievance, it’s polite to listen (& impolite to dismiss); and the notion of ‘punching up’/‘punching down’, based upon ‘privilege math’ (explicitly or implicitly) seems a great way to be able to bypass having to listen, or reason.
(As an example of how American-centric the discussion is, though, the fun-folk in Singapore play ‘privilege math’ where ‘not-white’ isn’t the bottom of the axis).

My point here isn’t “hey, people calling for ‘diversity’ just want more power, so it’s not worth listening to them”; and I do believe there’re those who genuinely believe equality-of-outcome is a necessary goal. But it’s a bias and an attitude entwined within the discussion.

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