February 18, 2008

An apology for Whiterpeople

The satirical website Stuff White People Like has become an instant hit, and it's not hard to see why: finally, someone has put together an insightful and up-to-date catalogue of the silly, calculated ways by which upper-middle class White liberals try to one-up each other in preening contests. Here's an example from #16, bragging about their "Gifted" Children:

If you see their kid playing peacefully, you say "oh, he/she seems very focused, are they in a gifted program?" at which point the parent will say "yes." Or if the kid is lighting a dog on fire while screaming at their mother, you say "my he/she is a creative one. Is he/she gifted?" To which the parent will reply "oh, yes, he's too creative and smart for school. We just don't know what to do." Either situation will put a white person in a better mood and make them like you more.

One reason for putting the pretensions of Whiterpeople * under a microscope is to show how, despite their claims of ideological cleanliness, Whiterpeople show off their knowledge of other cultures and their interest in environmentalism due only to vanity and the instinct to climb over others in status. Why not pick on some other demographic group? Because this one largely controls the entertainment industry -- from Hollywood to your local indie record label -- so that lampooning the group would be self-criticism as well as financial suicide, which are not generally good motivators.

Surely this hype-deflation is long overdue, as few things make you want to punch another person in the face as hearing them say something like, "Oh, that's too bad that you stayed in a hotel and went to those touristy areas of Rome that are clogged by fat people wearing shorts and fanny-packs. I'd much rather rent a cozy apartment, stroll down the street to the panetteria for a light indulgence, and enjoy a long lunch at a local trattoria while reading the Corriere. My Italian is a bit rusty, but I just think it's a sign of respect to your hosts to learn their language, unlike those insufferable tourists who apparently think everyone should speak English like a bunch of American slobs. Are those cultural imperialists even aware of what they're doing to the local culture?"

But as the above example shows, we shouldn't care so much about what motives people have for their actions. Italians of all stripes prefer being visited by the yuppie know-it-all than the boor. Shifting the focus from attaining purity of thought and motive to increasing the well-being of those around us is a keystone of conservativism in the tradition of Adam Smith, who is famous for saying:

People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.

and

It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our necessities but of their advantages.

In the terms of Thomas Sowell's A Conflict of Visions, this clearly represents the Constrained Vision. We are inherently constrained to care more about our own interests, and especially our own position in the status hierarchy, than about the welfare of strangers who we aren't involved with. In this view, if Whiterpeople are motivated more by status-seeking than whatever pure motives they may claim -- so what? I'm quite glad that living around a critical mass of Whiterpeople means that I can enjoy good grocery stores, pleasing human-scale architecture, and no crime and high trust due to greater ethnic homogeneity. Surely that's better than the opposite, and it's not as if you have to socialize at length with the moral preeners whose wallets maintain these public goods.

Steve Sailer and the guys at 2 Blowhards do a good job of balancing these two tasks: showing that well-to-do liberals don't practice what they preach, while siding with their tastes in the end because they really are better. I'm restricting myself here to Whiterpeople's cultural preferences, of course -- their public policy prescriptions, also based on fashionable feel-goodyness, tend to be disastrous.

I don't care about soft hypocrisy, where a person fails to meet the standards they promote, but I'm not bothered much either by hard hypocrisy, where a person has no intention of trying to meet the standards they promote. It's weasely, sure, but again it's human nature to rationalize our actions in ways that make us look good. What their conduct is, and how it affects the welfare of others around them, is far more important. This point is often lost on those who staff the cottage industry of Exposers of Hypocrisy.

I have in mind someone who points out how Whiterpeople claim to like diversity and interacting with Black people, all while isolating themselves in lily-white communities, whereas the (White) exposer has moved beyond such hypocrisy by living in a vibrant ethnically diverse neighborhood. In reconciling the paradox between the Whiterperson's credo and their conduct, the exposer has decided to implement a set of foolish beliefs instead of living a nice life but dropping the ideological nonsense.

While some of the Whiterpeople status symbols contribute nothing to the well-being of others -- the Prius, for example -- these annoyances aren't too hard to ignore, while many of the beneficial ones can only be found in areas populated by Whiterpeople. Overall, they make great neighbors you love to hate.

* A name suggested by a commenter at Steve Sailer's blog.

Addendum: How much of a Whiterperson am I? Not very, but I do like rap music before it became gangsta and was renamed hip-hop, living near the water, the stuff at Whole Foods, Netflix, good architecture, '80s night, not having a TV, Manhattan, being an expert on other cultures, traveling, Asians girls (well, only from Southern or Western Asia), and tea (caffeinated only -- I lose points for not liking East Asian green teas, but I gain points by liking strong Indian teas. I come out ahead since South Asians are more fashionable now than East Asians, who haven't been exotic since, like, 1996).

7 comments:

  1. Half Sigma tried to figure out who is behind the site. It appears to be run by a white Canadian now living in California, but some of the entries are written by an Asian guy.

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  2. a great example of not taking whiter people's hypocrisy too seriously is in their snobby anti-gentrification posing. here you have the worst sort of hard hypocrisy -- white people agitating for neighborhoods to stay bad while they have no intention of ever living in the "authentically diverse" ghettos they extol.

    i despise their status preening, yet i wouldn't live in a hip hood that hadn't gone through a whiter people makeover.

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  3. When I made my list of the art since 1950 that I thought would be remembered, the harshest reaction was to my inclusion of the Beatles. Apparently, a lot of people just hate the 60s amd the baby boomers (with good reason), and just cannot untangle John, Paul and company from their era. Which is a shame, because they really could write good tunes.

    For a gentler approach to the whole whiterpeople thing, I'd recommend David Brooks' Bobos in Paradise.

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  4. Ah, South Asians are fashionable now. That explains why my first boyfriend (who is African American but loves whiter people culture to an overwhelming degree) now loves to hang out with an Indian friend, and why Thai girls are more popular among non-nerdy whiter guys than ever.

    Actually, the reason why East Asians seem less exotic is because they are as big status whores as whiter people. They flock to whatever whiter people like, with the most status preening ones (Japanese) being the first to do so.

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  5. Spike Gomes2/19/08, 1:04 PM

    Dude, I could introduce you to some Green Teas that will kick your ass harder than 90% of the Assams out there, but I do have to agree since I prefer Indian teas on the taste level as well, though if you like black teas in general, I wouldn't neglect Chinese Keemun and Yunnan blacks. They're pretty damn good.

    Looking at that page though, I'm struck by how white I am without actually being white. The odd thing is that I got a combo of the Latin and Polynesian temperment which is really off-putting to most of those types. Those people don't really like people who openly show genuine emotion such as losing their temper or crying in public.

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  6. a great example of not taking whiter people's hypocrisy too seriously is in their snobby anti-gentrification posing.

    I remember back in the summer of 2001, I was part of the DC radical activist community (yeah, the follies of youth). Everyone was a Whiterperson, no exceptions. Most were first-wave colonizers of Columbia Heights -- which, when I checked last summer, now boasts "luxury apartment buildings."

    One guy, a student at AU, lived just across the border in Adams Morgan, which you might think was hip enough, but not for these Whiterpeople. They never let him forgot how safe and bourgeois he was to live insulated from the vibrancy of Northeast.

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  7. They never let him forgot how safe and bourgeois he was to live insulated from the vibrancy of Northeast.

    ha. i live in amorg and i hear the same things, though couched in terms of "the action has moved east". gotta love that action.

    i suppose they're right - brownstones on biltmore street are now going for $1 to 2 million, which does a lot to reduce the "vibrancy" of a neighborhood. in the past three years there has been so much renovating and lawncare involving dainty japanese ornamental shrubs that it would give a whiter person a hard-on.

    for real edgy living, H street NE is the up and coming hood for hipsters angling for street cred. rock n roll hotel is a great venue but make sure the taxi drops you off right at the front door anytime after nightfall. that area is not the place for a midnight stroll.

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