Thursday, 29 September 2016

Cloudy With a Chance of Smug

One of the benefits for people who enjoy information sharing of the internet is that there is a multitude of fora where one can engage like-minded (and more importantly, people of differing views) individuals on various topics.

My personal favourite is Quora, where people can ask questions on manifold topics, and solicit answers from people. I like to read and post (follow me here!), and as you post, you build a sort of virtual CV that indicates your interests (and with enough "Up Votes", reputation for knowledge on topics).

I was recently asked to answer (A2A) by a couple of users, on the question:

Should we thank Donald Trump for pulling the Politically Correct bandaid off showing us all that racism and sexism is still rampant in the USA? 
I reviewed the dozens of responses which, frankly, had a high variance for quality.

As someone not supporting Donald Trump -or- Hillary Clinton, I took a somewhat different tack on the question itself.

The larger question (I think) being asked is, “Is it useful for someone to hold up a mirror to the country and show us how we actually behave rather than what we say?” And, additionally, is this, in fact, what Donald Trump has actually done?

I think it’s extremely useful for a nation to recognise its short-comings, just as it is for an individual. As I have said here (and elsewhere), I find negative feedacbk far more valuable than positive re-enforcement, provided it is done in an actionable way (e.g., correcting how I pronounce a name rather than pointing out that I am not tall enough to be in the NBA). I am very happy to be corrected when I am wrong, because I do not desire to persist in holding beliefs that are false.

Reading the responses, and especially, the undertone of smug self-assurance in far too many that the issues of sexism, racism, etc. (what John Lennon mocked as -ism -ism -ism in a sense) seem to be a problem that confronts “them.” It’s not that I am bigoted; it’s a bunch of middle-aged white guys in central Pennsylvania.

WAY too many Americans (and I honestly think, Mrs Clinton and perhaps even the Obamas themselves included) talk very nicely about how open, tolerant, and progressive they are. But what about their actual actions? This is certainly true in San Francisco, California (where I live), which has a reputation for being incredibly diverse and tolerant. Which of course it is. On the surface.

In economics, there is a term called “revealed preferences” where people implicitly indicate what their values really are by how they behave.

Here is an extremely telling link to how we behave rather than how we talk:

One Dot Per Person for the Entire U.S.

Look at this first map:

It shows how “diverse” San Francisco is - red dots represent clusters of Asians, green dots, black people, blue dots whites, etc. The bottom line is that, from how people have chosen to distribute, we do not actually live (and really, associate) with people unlike ourselves. Put simply, liberal San Franciscans seem, by their choices, to like the idea of black people a lot more than they like, well, actual blacks.

Here is a blown-out view of the area:

That blue cluster of whiteness to the north of the city is Marin County, one of the most progressive in the US, and reliably, and overwhelmingly, supportive of the Democratic Party. I would be shocked if Donald Trump got more than 20% of the vote there (NB: in 2012, Barack Obama polled 75% of the vote in Marin).

Marin is - by far - the whitest county in the Bay Area, at about 80%. The 15% of the population that is Latino is clustered together in one city. Again, folks in Marin like the idea of Latinos; they don’t, apparently, much care for Latino people themselves.

By another metric here, it appears that the majority of families in SF put their kids in schools with the effect that they will encounter as few black and Latino kids as possible. Whites make up 42% of the population of the city; their kids, 12% of the public schools. According to this site, San Francisco has the highest percentage of its kids in private schools in the entire state of California, and the third highest in the whole country. More than Dallas (in horribly right-wing Texas). More than Salt Lake City (in even more retrograde Utah).

Only Honolulu (where, ironically, our president hails from - and attended private schools) and New Orleans have higher numbers.

Again, we love diverse schools - for other kids.

The point is not that progressives are ‘bad’ people, or that Donald Trump is a good one. But what he has not, in any way at all, done is address the reality that we are as a nation at a cross-roads where we are re-segregating, and the problem is not “them” alone.

Thus, in my humble opinion, what Trump has *actually* done is provided too many self-congratulatory progressives a fig leaf to paper over their own very real prejudices and pretend that the problem is somewhere else.

If we are unable to recognise (and hopefully, root out) our own biases, then we are going to keep replaying these scenarios. 

Long after Donald Trump becomes as relevant to our discussions as the punch line of 1975 (Francisco Franco is still dead!) is today.

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