Thursday, September 17, 2009

Caution, White People

Update March 2010: It took six months for the mainstream to catch up, but now Frank Rich is saying pretty much the same thing in the NYT: white people are upset that they are not in charge any more.

UPDATE: This article has attracted the usual trickle of informative and thoughtful reader comments, which are always welcome, plus a torrent of venomous stupidity, which, unfortunately, I have had to look at in order to reject. It is quite clear that the US is headed in the direction of very stupid, hurtful and dangerous politics. What is also clear is that I have neither the time nor the interest nor the stomach for it. I regret having to do this, but I am disabling comment submission.

I happened to be in Washington, DC last weekend, and on the way to and from the National Gallery I had the opportunity to observe the March on Washington, which was in full swing. Once upon a time I had joined demonstrations, not out of some misplaced idealism, but to pick up women (I was still single at the time). The demonstrations were always full of pretty, high-spirited young women, and the context of marching and chanting slogans together rendered them approachable. And so my first question concerning the crowd marching around the Mall last weekend was, "Where are all the pretty young women?" There weren't any! Surprised, I observed some more. What I saw only deepened my consternation. Not only were there no pretty women to be seen, but the crowd included exactly zero blacks, Latinos or Asians. I don't believe I have ever before seen so many middle-aged, obese, shabbily dressed, melanin-challenged individuals gathered in one place!

What political interests bind over-the-hill flabby white people to the exclusion of all other ethnic groups? What is the shabby white agenda? Perhaps the signs the marchers carried might offer a clue? Most of them carried white corrugated cardboard signs stapled to a sharpened pine stake, of the sort designed for displaying on suburban front lawns. The slogans they scribbled on them were of their own devising, but the form factor of the signs was identical throughout. The slogans related to disparate interests: health care, monetary policy, constitutional law. I eventually stumbled on a pile of the stock they used to make their signs. These were printed signs: the printed side said either "Office Space for Lease!" or "Condos for Sale!". The demonstrators would pry the cardboard off one sign, staple it to another sign face down, and scribble on the blank side of the one in the front. These people are refugees from foreclosure-land that somebody organized and shipped in, together with their props!

Although the topic of war did not seem foremost on their minds, some of the men, and even a few of the ruddy, rugged-looking women, were clad in warrior garb of one of two varieties: quite a few aging road warriors sported motorcycle gang leathers decorated with Harley-Davidson insignia, while others wore frumpy US Military camouflage pyjamas. One very large would-be warrior paraded with a sign that read "I will defend the Constitution by any means necessary." He could certainly snuff one or two enemies of the republic by belly-flopping onto them with his gigantic gut! But this wasn't a rabidly militant crowd, unlike some of the pro-war demonstrations I've witnessed. For this bunch, militarism is clearly just part of the clutter in their mental attic.

The one theme that seemed to tie it all together could be summed up by the statement "Obama is bad". This message was often couched in laughable, preposterous bits of hyperbole: "Obama is a socialist/Marxist/fascist". (To my knowledge, Obama holds no Marxist credentials whatsoever.) Interestingly, some of the signs were decorated with the hammer and sickle, but I did not see a single Swastika. I would venture a guess that this was to avoid mistaken identification; it is probably easier for these people to be mistaken for fascists than for communists. Not that they are either of these: clearly, they are just some regular old shlubby people, self-organized along strict ethnic lines, self-selected by their hatred of Obama.

Since Obama happens to be a politician, a superficial assumption is that these people joined forces in opposition to Obama's politics. It is, however, difficult to see much daylight between Obama's politics and those of his predecessor. There is a dearth of ideas on how to reverse the country's economic slide and point it in a new, more promising direction. Instead, there is a great deal of continuity: in financial bail-out strategies that benefit large financial institutions and wealthy investors (who are part of Obama's base of support just as they were of Bush's), in the policy of open-ended military engagement in Iraq and Afghanistan, in Obama's refusal to investigate and prosecute the previous administration for war crimes, and in most other areas of policy as well, Obama has tuned out to be a Bush in sheep's clothing.

The latest, desperate effort to avoid national bankruptcy at the hands of the medical-industrial complex is not a new initiative. Medical reform has been attempted before, and the outcome can be foretold with some accuracy: efforts at reform will fail because any meaningful reform would be financially damaging to powerful vested interests, and so national bankruptcy will have to be an essential part of the work-out. Feelings of the electorate on the matter are irrelevant. But opposition to medical reform is a convenient ruse to hide the real motivations of these self-selected white demonstrators. Now, could these perhaps have to do with... racism?

Jimmy Carter has recently blundered into the fray, making the following statement on CNN: “I think an overwhelming portion of the intensely demonstrated animosity toward President Barack Obama is based on the fact that he is a black man,” Carter told NBC News." This has caused a bit of an uproar. Captain Obvious was immediately paged but declined comment. The Obama administration immediately started to distance itself from Jimmy. Jimmy does say the darnest things, such as calling Israeli policies toward Palestinians "Apartheid". (Speaking truth to liars is a dangerous sport, because if you do, their lying turns vicious. Everyone knows that anything short of a glowing endorsement of Israeli policies brings an automatic charge of antisemitism. When is Jimmy going to learn?)

Obama's ethnic and racial identity is ambiguous. He is a self-described mutt. If he is black, then he is black in the way a puppy born of a black Labrador and a golden retriever might be black, not the way a lot of the US prison population is black. He is a cross between a Kenyan and an anthropologist, and a privileged, pampered member of America's ruling class. His people did not come from Africa in slave ships to be auctioned at Charleston and work on plantations.

He may not be particularly black, but he is definitely not of the same tribe as the Washington demonstrators, who were predominantly of Scots-Irish or English or German descent. This is who America's proud owners and proprietors have been through most of American history, the ethnic groups that have built the American empire, driving slaves, running factories, fighting the natives and driving them into reservations, driving the Mexicans out of the Southwest, and manning the police departments, the military bases and the prisons. They are the ones who worked to impose Pax Americana on the Americas, and, for a short while, almost succeeded in having their way with the rest of the world.

And now they have grown old, fat and sick and are mired in debt. Their time is over, and they are every bit as upset about it as they ought to be. I can't fault them for it. Up until last year, they could comfort themselves by thinking: "We may be poor, but at least we ain't black!" But now they have a black President. What a shock that must be!

What is lost on many simple minds is that the concept of racism is actually a lot of ridiculous nonsense. The term should be retired. It initially presupposed the existence of some sort of natural hierarchy, with a master race (English aristocracy) at the top and semi-evolved animal-like barbarians (Africans, Asians and such) near the bottom. This theory was responsible for a great deal of misery and injustice, but now it has been thoroughly discredited by genetics. The human genome is not differentiated according to race or skin color: we are all one race.

What remains of the concept of race is irrational racial hatred, but racial hatred is neither necessary nor sufficient to produce ethnic strife. Privileged ethnic groups do not have to hate ethnic groups they oppress any more than I have to hate chickens in order to steal and eat their eggs. Ethnicity-based feelings of entitlement and a clan mentality work just as well to divide a multi-ethnic society into warring factions. You might think that intermarriage and a long history together might mitigate against this risk, but there was plenty of intermarriage and a very long history together between Serbs and Croats in Yugoslavia, and between Tutsi and Hutu in Rwanda, and look at where that got them. Multi-ethnic societies are fragile entities, and have a tendency to explode. When they do everyone loses.

Whenever two or more ethnic groups live side by side, the danger of ethnic strife, civil war, ethnic cleansing and genocide is always present. What usually triggers it is the presence of politicians who are willing to exploit ethnic differences in order to grab or hold on to power. Do we have any of those here? Do they even know that they are playing with fire? The poor people I saw parading around Washington last weekend didn't seem so threatening, but where there is smoke there is fire.

It is possible to excuse those who are upset with the way things are in the country. It is, after all, a sad state of affairs. It is also possible to forgive people for being upset that their leader doesn't look or act like them. Bush did his best to appease them by playing a redneck on TV, cutting up logs with a chainsaw, driving a pickup truck around his ranch during his lengthy and numerous vacations, and cultivating a fake Texas twang to mask his New England upper-class roots.

But what of those in positions of influence who are willing to exploit public frustration and stir up ethnic hatred, all in order to defeat health care reform? Isn't that exactly what we should expect of those who want to continue to extort money from sick people in order to make profits even while the country teeters toward bankruptcy? Are they too stupid to realize how dangerous a game that is? Or do they think that it might not be too bad for them, and that a bloodletting might be good for their business, making it even more profitable?

In the US, politics is a stupid, pointless, but mostly harmless game. Let's all do our best to make sure that it stays that way.


Todd the Toad said...

Bravo on an excellent essay! The funny thing is, my best friend went up to DC to find one of those angry conservative women. Hate is a real passion-driver in bed, I told him (but just made it up). The woman who led the bus convoy here from Georgia was a nice, attractive, middle-aged woman, and fueled by plenty of anger. Life is just too funny. Keep up the great work! Todd

Pangolin said...

KOLLAPSNIK_The bush you are beating around can be summed by the phrase 'No-Sheets Klan Rally."

Absent the objection to President Obama's race the objections voiced by the "protestors" are incoherent. They object to big government but not the worlds most massive military. They object to socialized health care but at least half of them are on Medicare. They claim Obama, born in Hawaii, could not be a legitimate president when the alternative was John McCain, born in Panama.

These are STOOPID WHITE PEOPLE at their finest. They don't know and they hate you for having actual facts to use against them.

b.t.w.-Can somebody please explain to me when the whistle was blown and all the Harley riders turned into over 50 fat men with immense pot bellies? When contrasted with the over 50 bicyclist types one must assume that they would be better off pushing their bikes than riding them.

v-word: submets. Google increasingly appears to be a) sentient and b) sarcastic

Dmitry Orlov said...

Now I've done it! Looks like I am going to be getting plenty of hate mail from my fellow angry white people. Question for them: is it really necessary to be 100% white in order to (a) understand that Obama's policies are bad, and (b) not understand that protesting against them is 100% pointless? Hello, "reject" and "delete" buttons, you are my true friends! Oh, and Captain Obvious, of course!

Anonymous Lover said...

This made me laugh most:

Hello, "reject" and "delete" buttons, you are my true friends! Oh, and Captain Obvious, of course!

What are people going to get by sending hate mail to you?

I think I'm going to make a super hero device to wear on my wrist with these two buttons and corresponding sounds. Perhaps Captain Obvious could use one, too?

Thanks Mr. Orlov for your insights and wit. Darn fine.

Pangolin said...

Excuse me for double-dipping but may I point out that I am a) fishbelly white b) actually, right-now, red-necked due to failure to understand sunscreen c) possessing a training potbelly (think training bra for bald guys) also, d) bald.

I do not agree with many of Obama's policies. Generally because they occupy the same space as Dubya's policies.

I protest the war for one hour every Saturday. It's about as useful as watching cartoons but it gets me out of the house. Just because there will be more dirt tomorrow doesn't mean you stop sweeping.

v'word; dedreleg

6damon9 said...


Excellent, perfectly on target! Yes, they are misguided bigots; they don't even realize how they're arguing against their own interests. Their anger is intentionally stoked, then misdirected against some convenient polar opposite, just to afford distraction from the real action: the kleptocratic elite plundering the last remains of the (fantasy) wealth.

The "health care debate" is an excellent example. The masses are completely distracted from the central issues:
- US agreed it's a BASIC HUMAN RIGHT in 1948
- What is REAL GOAL? (1) PROFIT or (2) HEALTH
- Tax = War/Empire/Death v. Health/Nation/Life?

And most people, with few exceptions like you, don't realize or don't care about impending lethal consequences. said...

They are comparable to the Protestants of Northern Ireland and the Whites in South Africa. They are used to the privilege of a ruling minority. But they cannot count. The Israelis will be there soon if they aren't already. The Irish Protestants relied on the British. The Afrikaners relied on themselves [and the U.S. and Israel]. Israel relies on the U.S. Someday the U.S. will turn off the tap of U.S. taxpayer money. The upcoming economic collapse [round two] will end the funding.

Sticomythia said...


You never lose the ability to make me laugh; Gospodin, (and occasionaly spew the coffee that I've just sipped all over the laptop screen).

Up here in Vermont it's still Obama Country; the folks with any voice trust in their trust funds and land investments, and truly believe. They now drive their hybrids to the drive-in Church of Global Warming. Bishop McKibben lives just down the block from me; but I have chickens, I'm too poor for his ecclesiastical crowd.

However, the fact that the Left have actively come out against Vermont Secession means that they psychologically acknowledge that the Empire may be potentially unfixable (think Bernie Sanders and Patrick Leahy). Denial takes strange and profound forms.

I also spent some time in the former USSR, during the late 1990s. I don't know if this is a representative sampling, but folks universally seemed to consider all politicians to be crooks, ,and felt that to oppose them was to grant them an affirmation of legitimacy. So yes, let's hope that politics remains a silly sideshow. The alternative is scary.

Tony said...

I have a friend who lives in DC and works for a public transit company there. He sent me this link, to a Wall Street Journal blog post about Rep. Kevin Brady complaining that the city's public transit service didn't properly prepare for the "huge mass" of protesters.

They come to protest government spending, and demand better service from tax-supported public services. You can't make this stuff up! I sent him (my friend) a reply about "lazy metro queens." Sometimes, you just have to laugh....

BalticDry said...

I think the problem here Dmitry is that you are associating "race" with genetic inheritance, which though all very scientific, is not how it works in the real world.

Oswald Spengler thought race had nothing to do with genetics, and that there was no such thing as racial superiority. For him race was about a shared culture and a relationship with the landscape.

However, he still thought that race was the most powerful agent in human affairs - more than money, class and ideology.

It is the current misunderstanding of race amongst modern liberals - that because we're biologically the same we're all one race really, so racism can easily be defeated by "education" and judicious thought-policing - that is going to lead to merry hell amongst all those Western countries that have been busy embracing multiculturalism as part of their extended efforts to show what good, tolerant people they are in comparison with the old days.

As the "wealth" dries up expect to see the atavism of racial and national identity return with a vengeance.

Anonymous said...

These are NOT stupid people.

They are just people who have had their established social order collapse. Even if that wasn't our social order and we have never shared its ideals, lets show a little compassion.

When our established and cherished ideas don't apply any more in a changed world, we'll be in the same boat.

Lets share any ideas we have on dealing with collapse with them and hope we all come out better people.

v word: uncitish - I like that!

Anonymous said...

Great piece; many fine fine comments. hope that the following is useful - greetings from sunny (!!) Scotland:

From David Michael Green entry in this week's Counterpunch:

I doubt anyone has ever reminded us of this ongoing danger more eloquently than did the famous American diplomat, George Kennan, when he wrote: “The counsels of impatience and hatred can always be supported by the crudest and cheapest symbols; for the counsels of moderation, the reasons are often intricate, rather than emotional, and difficult to explain. And so the chauvinists of all times and places go their appointed way: plucking the easy fruits, reaping the little triumphs of the day at the expense of someone else tomorrow, deluging in noise and filth anyone who gets in their way, dancing their reckless dance on the prospects for human progress, drawing the shadow of a great doubt over the validity of democratic institutions. And until peoples learn to spot the fanning of mass emotions and the sowing of bitterness, suspicion, and intolerance as crimes in themselves – as perhaps the greatest disservice that can be done to the cause of popular government – this sort of thing will continue to occur.”

Anonymous said...

George Kennan? What did he ever do for human progress and social justice? He was the ultimate operator, a colonialist and worse.

If George Kennan is going to be cited as a wise man _for the people_, I have to protest. He served other interests, in short, he was an operator working for the Man.

nina said...

Ah Dimitri, I studied Anthropology. The first thing we learned was race IS an outdated, has-been, old school, long discarded term for the study of Ethnicities and Phenotypes which all have their purpose in the geography of the planet. Too much sun? Lots of melanin. Too hot? Kinky hair allows the breeze to cool the scalp. Cold climes? Hair flat to head. Slender nostrils. Far less melanin required to work the land of the northern light.
Its only sensible our President's Mom let him in on that one early. Thus an incorrectly defined, but politically motivated, uproar of the ignorants would to him, be those same tiresome annoying motivations of special interests continuing to stampede across his efforts to make some kind of dent in the American mess.
Former President Carter actually helps special interests set off fireworks every time he comes up with plain talk from Plains.

I do love your work. Its always a highlight of the week. Thank you.

william readling said...

The thing about middle aged white people, even the fat ones, is that they vote. If this is any indication of the state of mind of the nations middle aged white people, I predict a huge turnover in the house next year.

Dr. Doom said...

Oh Dimitry, I'm so looking forward to sending you a white person's hate mail cleverly disguised as a legitimate comment that will sit there in you IN box for weeks and then suddenly explode on the screen like so much nanoparticulate thermite paint used instead of the real ink from your "colored" printer!

You are a funny man. Boom!

Bizzle said...

"multiculturalism" ENCOURAGES racism.

you see, we are not all simply "Americans." we are either African-Americans, or Asian-Americans, or gay-Americans, or any other label Americans...

and all those titular prefixes do is serve to divide us.

Nudge said...

Dmitri: Great post. The only people I know personally who express that sort of unbased, unfocused, incoherent opposition to president Obama's policies (despite the fact that they're essentially just like those of GWB) are in fact 50+, white, grossly overweight, and from the South.

Look on the bright side, at least they got away from their blaring Faux Nooz screens for a couple hours on an otherwise nice day.

Anonymous said...

This is what happens when you have at least two generations of people who didn't learn critical thinking either at school or at home. The something for nothing mentality, the lack of mental discernment, the -yes- obesity.

It's sad to think that the WWII generation gifted this to us via their children.

Anonymous said...

It seems that anyone who questions President Obama's policies is automatically considered a racist. I strongly object to the path that Obama is taking this nation by increasing the size and cost of the federal government and funding this by increasing our national debt. However, this is not limited to Obama but has been the trend for the last 40 years. Most of our laws reduce the rights of individuals and make people more and more dependent on the government. This is happening at all levels of the government. Since the financial meltdown last year, people are finally waking up to what is happening. Hopefully we can make some changes in the near future. If not, then our national economy will follow the same path as the Soviet Union.

Pangolin said...

Right then. No more people being dependent upon the government. When somebody sticks a gun in your face don't go calling the police 'cause that's the government. Should a raging wildfire head for your house stay off those socialist roads while you evacuate. If that requires trespassing on your neighbor's property make sure you get permission, in writing, from each property owner whose land you cross. Oh, and don't be asking for government paid fire crews to get in the way of the fire for your narcissistic ass either.

We could go on all day like this. I don't care who you are but if you can read this, your wealth, every bit of ceramic mug, cotton sock and zinc penny, is the gift of somebody else's labor and innovation. The part you contributed is so freaking small with your own labor that it really doesn't matter if you had spent the last sixty years spooning sugar in your mouth or mining coal. (did you invent steel tools? oh no you didn't)

So for the (not-really) last time..... If you're a bootstrapper; could you please STFU until you have a fact on your side. Just one.

Lordy, you can't even call these people retards lest you impugn those poor souls legitimately born with Down's syndrome and the like.

v'word: chinge freaking google AI is ON today. (mexican slang)

Anonymous said...

Thanks Mr Orlov! When are people going to understand that Obama is merely the latest body being possessed by the spirit of POTUS (President Of The United States)? There is no Bush I, Clinton, Bush II, or Obama: there is only POTUS, an entity that temporarily inhabits the bodies of (painfully) ordinary politicians. Every 4 to 8 years transferring itself to another body. Ever notice how these guys all do pretty much the exact same thing? Well, that's POTUS doing all that.

Dmitry Orlov said...

You think you know America? Do your research.

Pangolin said...


You win. Stupidity is an infinite resource and despite a lifelong residency in Northern California where weird is a way of life.....

You got me there.

Maybe it was the picture of the mom pushing the shopping cart with the toddler with a plastic bag over it's head.

I don't know what was more disturbing; the pictures themselves or the ads running in the sidebar. Who could think of breeding after that?

You wanna know really sad? They sell pregnancy test kits at the Dollar store checkout line. That's SAD.

Anonymous said...

Lincoln said it: you can fool some of the people all of the time. This is the lesson of populism.

@Pangolin, if anything were to teach us the merits of Franklin's "That government governs best which governs least," it's Bush's commandeering of the executive branch, which ever seeks to accrete to itself more powers and rights. Put the right cronies in charge of key departments, and you have yourself a fine racket. Your precious roads were built at the behest of auto, oil, and tire magnates at the expense of reliable and efficient rail transit. The police you cherish are a product of reactionary 19th-century political philosophy, and are quick to accede to a centralized power base.

A strong central government is tolerable when it successfully regulates big business. All too often though a strong monarchical power falls prey to materialistic control, the very big businesses it seeks to regulate. This is why a ballooning Federal government is not desirable, and why are rights need to be guaranteed at the local, and yes, individual level.

fred said...

politics in the united states harmless? when? it's been informed by imperial design since hamilton, and that's never pointed out that manifest destiny wasn't harmless for native americans or the mexican nation, or black slaves, and even the scotch-irish or germans who woke up to the manipulations of the elites and grouped together to try to do something about it were suppressed...divide-and-rule has been the watchword of imperial elites since rome....american poitics has fit right in with that precept with race being only one fault line...democrats and republicans pretend to disagree while excluding any substantive third party from the non-debate and fostering divsions along economic, religious, and regional lines...demonizing and marginalizing any collective activity they can't bend to their purposes...and it's even worse externally where the constraints on violent persuasion are less formal ( how many heads got busted in d.c.? that demonstration served someone'purpose)...politics here are ignorant, self-agrandizing, opaque, venal, and corrupt...but not harmless

Dmitry Orlov said...

fred -

Several people have tried to make the same point. My point is as follows.

The USA is a monster, just as the USSR was a monster, as empires always are. Politics (by which I mean the pretense of public involvement in governance, separate from the actual wielding of power) was, in both cases, just for show. The population is, by design, not capable of self-governance. One of the more positive functions of any government is in preventing and repressing rioting when things are going badly, to prevent things from going even more badly. When things are going this badly, it makes sense to drop the pretense and stand behind the state, which should maintain a monopoly on all violence, to avoid a conflagration. On the other hand, it does not seem useful, nor pleasant, nor profitable to endlessly discuss the numerous failings of the US government with people who have no authority to remedy them.

Anonymous said...

Looks like the collapse timetable is holding up well.

Mr. Orlov, I would appreciate your views on the education industry, similar to your parody of hunger insurance. Americans, at least the majority, are dumb-as-a-rock while simultaneously being proud of it (i.e. 'my daddy don't believe in evolooshun!'). I don't think this was an accidental outcome.

Mr. Readling: Excellent point. I would posit there is a reasonable probability that a political retro-virus like the Palinites might make it in due to the dumb-as-a-rock-white-fat-vote getting focused by the remaining corporate interests. It would be a marker event that political collapse had occurred - next stop: social collapse.

Good-bye America!

Pangolin said...

"it does not seem useful, nor pleasant, nor profitable to endlessly discuss the numerous failings of the US government with people who have no authority to remedy them."

Now there's an interesting viewpoint. I would agree that the current make-up of congress is about as free from public restraint as could be. There is zero chance that Nancy Pelosi's seat will go to a Republican or that Wally Herger will suddenly find himself ousted by a Democrat. The districts are gerrymandered. Most districts in the US are effectively, permanent seats for one party or the other.

re: The collapse timetable.

Who's to say that what we are experiencing now isn't political collapse? The Federal government seems unable to resolve ANY issue set before it. We are simultaneously facing.... financial corruption and monetary crisis, a health care system run on kludged patches, the occupation of two hostile nations and climate change. Those are just the big problems. Never mind homelessness, farm policy, species extinction, unemployment and our miserable education system. Let me add that 1% of our population is in jail or prison and another 2% are on parole or probation.

The liberal wing of US power politics can seemingly do nothing but hold the status quo while the conservative wing demands that we make all of these problems worse. It's like a bad play where they repeat act one four times with costume changes. It looks different but the important parts stay the same. If that's not political collapse what is?

v'word: cerite

Anonymous said...

Ease up. I sold them-

Flags in 2001
Stickers in 2002
Hummers in 2003
Harleys in 2004
My House in 2005
Tattoos in 2006
My stocks in 2007
Palin in 2008
Glenn Beck in 2009

Sometimes it's hard to keep a straight face, remember the "if you smoke weed you're a terrorist" campaign? BWAHAHAHAHA!

Katrina Witness said...

Here's an interesting story about when a major U.S. city got shut down and taken over—

Is it a precursor? Who knows....?!

Much vodka to you Dmitry Orlov!