Classic Classification

By most people’s standards I over-use “scare-quotes”. It’s a recognition that in many contexts use of a word to name a concept is inherently “political”. All naming is identity politics. Naming the classification of any “object” is always short-hand for a whole collection of variables, simply to get a handle on the topic of conversation, which is rarely well-defined objectively anyway. I prefer scare quotes to indicate that this is understood, rather than the PC alternative of avoiding the words and substituting neologisms or detailed-context-specific alternatives.

Race is notoriously slippery in this regard. (See previous Religious Racism post.)

The Beard / Taleb spat is exactly that same example, again.

Simply choosing “Western” as a label for European and Colonial cultural heritage back to the classical Greeks and Romans is really a recognition of that shared & overlapping cultural heritage. It has little to do with genetic DNA markers of racial heritage. The label “western” is useful for what it allows it to be contrasted with; Oriental, Arabic and aboriginal cultures. Cultures, not races that is. And even for cultures, that’s enormous short-hand for many points of overlapping co-evolution over time.

So, in a cartoon – simplistic visual, no visible culture or genes – how does one show a racial ethnic mix within Britons and Romans (and why?). Visual appearance of skin and hair is your only option. The token black-man in Roman attire as I said already. As a reminder that Romans were ethnically mixed it’s OK only with a stack of caveats. As a “heuristic” representation it’s not likely to be very representative, and it does matter what was the objective in making the Roman ethnic mix point in the first place?

This was only ever Taleb’s original point, but sadly Beard responded questioning his credentials. There’s no doubt both understand the politics of labels, and there is no doubt both have valid academic-political agendas. However whilst neither respects the other, nor acknowledges the validity of their agendas, then no useful discourse can emerge. To Beard’s “mob” Taleb is simply a loutish bully, and from his fuck you position, he’s fine with that. To Taleb and his mob, Beard represents Western “hegemony” in its entirety. Taleb followed-up with this post, lest there be any doubt. The detailed caveats that should be acknowledged around the cartoon representation are lost in the heat of battle.

Even this curious response – to the twitter traffic, not the article – needs caveats around the 140-chars choice of “narrative” and “truth”, but all considerations of the content of any debate are indeed buried by the inter-personal “hate”. On both sides. Underneath it, they’re both right of course.

On mobs:

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