Friday, March 8, 2019


Von Abele readily and unreservedly condemned the treatment of indigenous peoples in the Americas, the slave trade, and European colonialism, characterizing them as tribalist holdovers before personalism took hold. He also argued that if all Western atrocities were put on one side of a scale, awful as they were, with Western contributions put on the other side, humanity was in the aggregate better off. Did I realize how many lives were saved by the Haber-Bosch process alone? That without it, half of today’s population would not be alive?
Conor Friedersdorf "Probing the ‘White People’ Rant That Roiled Columbia"
Ah, the "scale." The imagined weighing of the good with the bad in order to make the point that some or another group is deserving of whatever statements (good or bad) are made about it. It's an obvious way of contrasting things. It's also a pointless one. A cost-benefit analysis presupposes, more or less by definition, that the costs and the benefits come as a set; that you can't have one without the other. But in the case of Western atrocities versus Western contributions, the two are not that tightly related. The contributions that Fritz Haber, for instance, made did not necessitate the atrocities that the Nazi government of Germany carried out with his inventions. But the analogy of a scale tends to imply that it does, and in so doing makes those who suffered the atrocities into acceptable sacrifices to gain the contributions. And this is why, I suspect, it generates such anger. Because the people who belong to tribes other than the one that Julian von Abele claims as his own become worried, reasonably or not, that the next round of trading atrocities for contributions will come at their expense. For the good of the aggregate, you understand. One can't make the world an omelet without breaking someone else's eggs. Because the things that "White people" are typically dunned for, such as "the treatment of indigenous peoples in the Americas, the slave trade, and European colonialism" were costs that other people paid.

There's also another common fallacy in von Abele's reasoning; the idea that without certain great (and white) people, certain inventions, and the advantages they bring, would not have come about. But it's unlikely that there was anything special about Fritz Haber that somehow tied his method of increasing ammonia production to him. And technological advancements that become know worldwide only have to be invented once. So once Haber had perfected his process, it didn't matter if someone else came up with it. And in this sense, the advantages that White Europeans tended to monopolize snowball in arguments like this: Being both wealthier and better educated, they were in a better position to invent things than other people. Likewise, due to other people being locked out of the upper levels of academia and the sciences, they were also better positioned to build and improve upon those inventions. And this becomes a blind spot of the White identitarian; the idea that the "Western contributions" were created on an even playing field, rather than one deliberately skewed. Part of this is due to the tenuous grasp that many Americans have on history as a force, rather then just as stories; progress immediately remakes the world into its ideal state, rather than simply introducing changes into this or that factor over time.

Ironically, the cost-benefit analysis model of looking at this presumed that Western Civilization is, or at least at some point was, incapable of making contributions without committing atrocities. Which doesn't exactly show Westerners in a favorable light. Because if humanity is so much better off than the status quo due to the West managing to contribute more than it destroyed in atrocities, one can imagine that, humanity would be even better off in the aggregate if another group of people had managed to make those same contributions, yet not fallen into atrocities that blunted their impact.

I understand Julian von Abele's frustration with the idea that there's something wrong with White people. I even understand why he also seems to be unable to understand people's frustration with the idea (that he denies) that President Trump is constantly saying that there's something wrong with non-White people (and, depending on how you read him, women). After all, he's young. I don't think that I was really any more self-(or other) aware when I was in college either.

No comments: