May 10, 2012

Race-related eruptions as a modern springtime sacrifice?

As usual during spring, there've been a series of scandals, brou-ha-has, and Two Minutes Hate having to do with race. The springtime racial conflict on campus was an openly talked about phenomenon even by the spring of... 2002, I guess, the last time I was heavily involved with the activist scene in college. The Don Imus brou-ha-ha was in April of 2007, the Duke lacrosse rape hoax was April of 2006, and so on and so on.

I checked Wikipedia's list of race riots for the past 100 years, and most were in spring or summer, including the L.A. Riots of April-May 1992. Partly that's because people aren't in hibernating mode. Also men's testosterone levels are peaking, leading to more male-male competition during the mating season.

Still, I don't buy that as the main cause of the vernal battle about race. A good deal of it is not physical but verbal, so cold weather during fall and winter shouldn't keep you from verbally lashing out at others. I don't buy the testosterone and male-male competition thing because, while that would explain the physical rioting, the main form these days is again verbal, and it's mainly prissy men and bitchy women launching the attacks. Not something that stems from high testosterone.

Sticking just to the verbal conflict, it's mostly the elites on the attack, the ones who would've been part of the priestly or mandarin class in ye olden days (and aren't too different from that right now). It's not engineers or programmers, and neither is it graphic designers or songwriters.

Given the elite status of the hounders, how savagely they pounce on their target, how publicly they try to make the humiliating spectacle, and how loudly they insist that there's a greater order-preserving purpose behind it all, not to mention the seasonal regularity, perhaps the best way to make sense of it is as a springtime sacrifice. The threat of chaos ever looms on the horizon -- whites forming lynch mobs, blacks burning down the ghetto -- so that every year the priestly class must sacrifice victims to the unseen powerful forces that could sow dissension among the people by provoking race riots.

This explains why the victims in the ritual tend to be higher-status, from the same racial group as the sacrificers, and often part of that very class. They see it as a greater loss, hence something that will buy greater influence with The Forces. At the same time, they choose crooked members of the in-group in order to kill two birds with one stone, as it were, by combining the sacrifice with a crime and punishment function, not unlike the burning of witches.

Blacks and lower-status whites, when they wage a race riot in the spring or summer, are falling back on the good old days when you sacrificed a member of the out-group to propitiate the in-group's unique gods. The whites who run the country, though, are more the inheritors of the Axial Age and after, where sacrifice became something of your own that you gave up to more universal gods. This case is not as self-sacrificing as Lent, but it still culls its victims from within the racial or ethnic group, even the same social class.

This also fits well with how elite whites feel about racism, namely that it isn't just a sign of poor taste, bad manners, low status, etc., but a more apocalyptic anxiety about something that threatens to open up the pits of darkness (so to speak) and engulf the world in turmoil and chaos. Some bargain must have been struck deep within the mists of history, whereby their priestly ancestors agreed to give up some of their own, provided that The Forces maintained the integrity of the barrier protecting us from the realm of disorder. And every year that original sacrifice must be re-enacted to ensure a secure spring-summer season, when people will be coming out of hibernation and potentially stepping on each other's toes, and so potentially ready to burst into open conflict.

It doesn't seem like the elite whites view blacks as having much control over the evil that they could do, otherwise they would appeal directly to blacks themselves -- please, no matter how outraged you get, don't burn down the inner city again! That's how a good deal of them dealt with the white rioters in Vancouver last year, evidently thinking them more in control over good vs. evil behavior. Instead they make vague addresses to the gods of social justice, or whatever, that the elite whites invented on their own. They don't address the local gods of the blacks, in the same way that you might try to talk to the neighborhood hell-raiser's parents to make him behave better.

They apparently see blacks more as foot soldiers, along with lower-ranking whites, in a race battle that would truly and ultimately be unleashed by an angry group of The Forces responsible for sealing the barrier, if the elites had failed to offer them a proper sacrifice.

In general I don't find it helpful to equate ideologies with religions, since ideologies rarely touch on the sacred supernatural. But now and then there are cases where they do look like yet another case study in some religious phenomenon. I haven't thought too much about all the connections or implications in this case; it's just the first thing that popped into my mind when trying to account for why they always happen during springtime.


  1. Like Sailer, I think the Jezebel/Gawker writers are lower status than the "Girls", uh, girls. And certainly lower than Zooey Deschanel. Who was the highest status person involved in the denunciations this year?

  2. > "In general I don't find it helpful to equate ideologies with religions, since ideologies rarely touch on the sacred supernatural"

    "Nature" seems to pretty sacred. "The environment" is routinely attributed the characteristics of unitary conscious being.

  3. The denouncers are high-status, part of the elite that tries to morally regulate society. Not blue-collar workers, artists, technicians, etc.

  4. They might wish to be elite, but that's not the same as actually being elite. Like I said, who was the highest status individual?

  5. Don't be an argumentative idiot. They're college-educated, do "intellectual" work, and see their role as morally regulating society. Hence part of the priestly class.


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