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Old 09-24-2007, 06:16 PM   #121
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Quote:
Originally posted by BonoVoxSupastar
I always found it interesting that the word ignorant has the root word ignore, which implies an effort, yet 'ignorant' is often defined as just lack of knowledge...
In the dictionary sense, 'ignorant' (as well as 'ignorance' and 'ignoramus') can only be used in the sense of lack of knowledge--the verb form 'ignore' is unique in carrying that sense of willful disregard. But I too was wondering why that is, so I checked the OED...

French ignorer in its various forms entered English via the Normans, at that time carrying only the sense of 'uninformed'. Since English already had its own series of words based on the Germanic form ('know') of that same root (gno-), and since that's the sort of ultra-basic core vocabulary not easily displaced, the French forms don't seem to have become widely used until quite recently--especially the verb form 'ignore.' That verb appears in 17th- and (with sharply decreasing frequency) 18th-century texts, carrying the sense of 'to manifest a lack of awareness of'. But then around the late 18th century, it was revived in the specific context of law: to 'ignore' a proposed bill was to pointedly 'un-know' it. By the mid-19th century, the word made its way back into popular use--but this time carrying only the new meaning of 'to disregard, refuse to know'. Meanwhile the noun and adjective forms, which had never fallen out of popular use, confusingly continued to carry the older meaning.

Interestingly, in Latin itself ignorare actually carried both senses, but apparently that sense of willful disregard was lost in most of the Romance languages for at least some period of time. The fact that Latin was (and is) so important in law presumably accounts for that particular sense of it being revived in English via that profession--not sure if that's how it might have worked in the Romance languages or not.
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Originally posted by maycocksean
I would argue that the greed came first. In the early years of the settlement of the New World, blacks and whites were both brought over as indentured servants and essentially treated eqaully as far as I understand it. Look at the way black/white racism has developed in this country and it's radically different and far more corrosive than the more common "fear of the foreign Other" prejudice found in many other parts of the world.
I'm not sure you meant to suggest this, but IMO it's questionable whether racism as we know it emerged only from a need to justify the Atlantic slave trade. I would argue that racism was at least incipient in the 'logic' of European colonialism (which was already well underway) to begin with: 'These heathen brutes need what Christian civilization has to offer them.' While that ideology doesn't in itself lead inevitably to slavery and mandatory social segregation, and in theory even offers 'freedom' to said 'brutes' once they adopt the master's ways, I think its consequences still represent a distinct departure from the less systematic kinds of depredations you get from the more time-honored combo of 'mere' greed (we'll invade, then retool their economy to suit our goals) plus "the more common 'fear of the foreign Other' " (...then of course, put structures in place to protect our interests) seen in, say, Moghul India. It may not be 'racism' per se, since the chauvinism involved is primarily cultural, not based on skin color, but it's already sliding towards that idea of 'what you are is innately bad and beastly and wrong, such that it's our natural right and duty to put a stop to it'. (And perhaps even, '...and there must be something wrong with you to live so contemptibly in the first place'.)

Maybe that was critical to the development of racism 'proper', maybe it wasn't, but either way I tend to see that context as a powerful enabler of what came afterwards. Bacon's Rebellion was only the most noteworthy of a string of late-17th-century upheavals which made it clear to the aristocracy that the danger of poor whites and blacks joining forces against them was too real to not be taken seriously. Already by 1667, Virginia had passed a law declaring that baptism conferred no immunity from being enslaved for life--in other words, 'once a heathen, always a heathen' (prior to that, it was generally understood that Christian Africans could not be slaves, only indentured servants). In some ways that was probably an emblematically fateful moment, because it 'resolved,' and not for the better, a tension already inherent in the 'heathen brutes' justification: if there really is nothing wrong with these people besides an undesirable worldview, then why are we going about changing it so violently, and in practice continuing to hold the cloth they were originally cut from against them, even after they accept the changes? So there really is an ironic paradox lurking in there--the widespread acceptance of 'all men created equal,' when confronted with the temptations of profit and power, winds up enabling the lame qualifier 'but these particular men are innately less equal than others,' cementing an ideology which outlasts the empire itself, because it locates its authority in 'nature' and not the government.
Quote:
Originally posted by BonoVoxSupastar
In other words, if you were taught that the world was flat and didn't question it, then the world was flat. But let's say you weren't taught the world was flat, but it would be profitable to believe so, could you convince yourself to believe the world was flat just because it would make you money?
Ever read Jefferson's Notes on the State of Virginia (1781)? In a nutshell, that was the essence of his views on slavery. Like many Westerners (not just Americans) of his time, he did hold a condescending and infantilizing view of black people, considering them clearly inferior in 'reason' and 'imagination'--the old 'heathen brutes' idea, basically--and therefore not really worthy citizenship material for his country. At the same time, he emphatically denied those were acceptable grounds for slavery, which he proposed legislation to end several times (the end of the slave trade in Virginia came about through one of his bills). His proposed 'solution' to this 'dilemma' was a sort of population exchange: free the slaves...but ship them back to Africa; then to make up for the loss of their labor, bring in more white settlers.

Jefferson does seem to have revised his low opinion of blacks late in his life. But he never did free more than a few of his own slaves--something he'd said he'd do once all his debts were paid off, which never happened. If we're to take that vow at face value, then I think his was pretty clearly a case of someone who 'knew the world isn't flat' (i.e., that there can be no morally acceptable arguments for slavery) effectively continuing to live in accord with the (profitable) premise that indeed it is flat.
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Old 09-25-2007, 05:22 AM   #122
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Originally posted by yolland

.

I'm not sure you meant to suggest this, but IMO it's questionable whether racism as we know it emerged only from a need to justify the Atlantic slave trade.
You're right, it was not my intention to suggest that economic profitability was the ONLY cause of racism in North America. I was oversimplyfing, I concede. The added nuances you explained seem right to me and I think, still support my view that racism STILL wasn't just some unfortunate cluelessness that a little "educating" would have resolved.
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Old 09-25-2007, 11:01 AM   #123
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Originally posted by maycocksean


There is something deeply ugly about this type of prejudice--it's a prejudice borne not out ignorance and distance, but out of "knowledge" of a sort and close proximity. Blacks and whites in the South before slavery, and to a degree, after, lived, worked, and played very close together. Black women nursed white babies, raised white children. There were even sexual unions of questionable consensuality. The problem here, was not ignorance. Far from it. There was nothing you could have done to "educate" whites in the South. They had an evil system--a system that dehumanized both the owners and slaves-- on which their society, economy, and culture were built, and prejudice was their way of protecting that system and their own consciences.

This is very true, but most people don't know it.

protecting that system and their own consciences.

This is the heart of it all and so much more. People always find some way to justify what they want to do no matter how bad it is to avoid guilt.
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Old 09-26-2007, 01:18 AM   #124
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Originally posted by maycocksean
You're right, it was not my intention to suggest that economic profitability was the ONLY cause of racism in North America. I was oversimplyfing, I concede. The added nuances you explained seem right to me and I think, still support my view that racism STILL wasn't just some unfortunate cluelessness that a little "educating" would have resolved.
Eh, I wasn't meaning to be lecturesome about it, lol. For professional reasons I spend a fair amount of time reflecting on the impact of colonialism and the 'worldview' underpinning it on modern-through-to-contemporary social identities, and in a perhaps occasionally too-theoretical way, it's just very striking to me how much the kinds of arguments for slavery you see developing in the 17th-century Southern US echo, e.g., those made by Juan de Sepúlveda well over a century before for why the Indios were 'natural slaves' and there was no sin or crime in enslaving them, since 'reason' revealed this to be all in accord with a divinely ordained order in which it is manifestly the destiny of some to be ruled, and others to rule; whether or not the 'ruled' converted (not that they had much choice about that) really made no difference. Of course by the time Jefferson came along, the prevailing view of human nature was quite different; by then you have the far less malleable maxim that all men are created equal and to deny liberty of the person is to violate nature...but, as Jefferson himself ruefully acknowledged, old habits die hard ("Our children see this, and learn to imitate it...The parent storms, the child looks on, catches the lineaments of wrath, puts on the same airs in the circle of smaller slaves, gives a loose to his worst passions, and thus nursed, educated, and daily exercised in tyranny, cannot but be stamped by it with odious peculiarities"). It's a horribly cynical way to look at it, but it's almost as if the West arrived at that bold assertion of 'inalienable right' to liberty before it was really ready for its full implications--or perhaps more correctly, that idea inconveniently developed at the same time the colonial era was getting into full swing, so it faced an immediate and profound challenge which deeply stunted its growth. Almost as if its bold essentialism demanded an equally essentializing 'qualifier' or bust. So yes...what results is not 'mere' "fear of the foreign Other," but a (convenient, profitable and self-flattering) assertion of inherent right to racial tyranny, supported by a slew of ex post facto 'evidence' for why black people are not truly 'men' where those inalienable rights are concerned--in the abstract at least, really an even more noxious idea than de Sepúlveda's.

I agree that all this is fundamentally greed-driven, and in that narrow sense it's unextraordinary in human history, but there's something singularly tragic about the ambitions being compromised, precisely because they were so great, and the means of compromise so enduring.

"Hatred" at least in the usual sense, I think, came later..."Fear" and distrust, there from the beginning, but held in check by 'containment' of the 'threat' (from self and others). I guess to me, "hatred" is really just fear at full throttle. And no, you can't really "educate" anyone out of any of those; at best, the most that can do is cultivate self-questioning. Beyond that, it comes down to having the moral imagination and courage to see yourself in others...something Jefferson was clearly not ready to do, despite being brilliant and educated and (to give him credit...if that's the right word) unable to fully "protect" his conscience.
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Old 10-23-2007, 07:23 PM   #125
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