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Thursday, September 13, 2012

Are You, Too, Lacking Access to Roses?

I came across a paper in an academic setting -- I'm not going to say where, because my goal is not to embarrass an individual but to comment on just how nutty things can get in academia -- that contends that white, heterosexual women have privileged "access" to roses compared to homosexuals and non-white women, and that this is a symptom of patriarchy and exclusion.

Color me baffled. Can't pretty much everyone "access" roses by walking into a florist and paying for them? Are there really florists out there checking on the sexual orientation of their potential clients? If lesbian women aren't getting enough roses, shouldn't they be complaining to their lovers? How is "patriarchy" stopping black guys from buying black women roses?

Is the author's point, perhaps, that white guys should be paying for roses for everyone, regardless of whether or not we are dating them? What would the lesbian couple next door to me make of it if I start buying... one? both?... of them roses?

And anyway, isn't it white women who are getting roses? You know who really lacks "access" to roses -- well, not in that "access" means actually being able to access them, but in whatever mysterious sense of "access" the author meant: me! Never once in my life have I been given roses! What kind of stinking patriarchy is this where I get to pay for the roses instead of being given the roses?


19 comments:

  1. This gives me all of the confidence that I need in expressing the fact that I probably could have squeaked by and received a college degree. Please tell me that it is to be your red pen that is going to be evaluating that paper.

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  2. Gene: You are not ready.

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  3. Wait, wait, shouldn't we trust the experts? Clearly who ever wrote this paper has access to knowledge and years of experience that I- as one who generally does not buy roses- do not have. So, just as I should assume that I should defer to the super-sciency consensus building global warmist crowd, surely I should believe this other nutball?

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    1. August, you seem to be operating under the following syllogism:

      M: Anyone who is qualified to make a negative judgment on anyone who calls themselves an expert in anything is equally qualified to pass judgment on EVERYONE who calls themselves an expert in ANYTHING.

      m: I, August, am well qualified to pass judgment on someone, whatever their qualifications, who makes blatantly nutty claims about our everyday social life ("some people are excluded from access to roses")

      C: Therefore, I, August, am well qualified to pass judgment on people with years of experience in a real empirical science that uses sophisticated mathematical models and absolutely staggering amounts of data who make claims that are obviously not nutty (which does not mean correct, just not nonsense) about areas far from my everyday experience ("human activities are gradually raising global temperatures").

      I think that's a pretty good line of reasoning, August! Next, perhaps, you should go prove those nutty scientists wrong who say that there are invisible little bad things sneaking out of uranium and causing illness in high doses (can you believe that crap!) by getting yourself a uranium mattress.

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  4. You project too much. I do not think in terms of qualifications. Indeed, if you want to make good assessments of competence, you have to wait until after the fact.
    As an experiment, someone ought to take this rose-exclusion theory and try to get funding with it. Hysteria + at least an implicit call for government action- that ought to work. The 'need' for government action can easily be made explicit. Call for nationalizing the florists. Add in some computer modelling with untold numbers of variants, and it will even seem plausible to you. Indeed, you ought to contribute to this experiment- try to think out how to make the rose-exclusion theory sophisticated enough for you to think it is plausible. Somewhere in this process you might figure out why I take a rather dim view of academia.

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    1. "You project too much. I do not think in terms of qualifications."

      You're getting a "becoming an a-hole" warning here. "Well qualified to pass judgment" has nothing to do with "qualifications" like degrees, so your invocation of "projecting" is just an obnoxious attempt to personalize this.

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    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    3. "Indeed, if you want to make good assessments of competence, you have to wait until after the fact."

      That's generally right, so, when climatologists predicted warming, and now the evidence is massive that they were right, will you acknowledge they are competent after all?

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  5. That's kind of backwards isn't it? In the 1970s people were predicting cooling, and on the right timescale that is probably right, ice ages being a rather regular feature on the planet.
    But things were warming up, so a new theory was born. Based on this new theory, they predicted a lot of other stuff. There isn't an argument over the actual warming. There is an argument over the meaning of the actual warming. When they predict warming they routinely overshoot.

    The beginning of my understanding of these things comes from this book:
    http://www.amazon.com/Trashing-Planet-Science-Depletion-Nuclear/dp/0895265443

    One of the things I realized just now is that you are happy to ignore whatever qualifications the other side has. Indeed, quite a lot of my opinions come from people more learned than me. I must have learned that multi-variant computer models are bad for research from somewhere.
    You sir, do the personalizing.

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    1. " In the 1970s people were predicting cooling, and on the right timescale that is probably right, ice ages being a rather regular feature on the planet.
      But things were warming up, so a new theory was born."

      Wow, August! These so called "scientists," when their theory was shown to be wrong by the data, developed a new theory.

      If that doesn't convict them of being charlatans, what could?

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  6. Gene, the best way to approach where I think this post goes wrong is to quote something one of my favorite bloggers wrote recently: 'To a great extent, your values are not "your own" at all, but have been handed to you by your culture.'

    I haven't read the essay. If you've got a link I'm happy to do so. I'm sure, being a human work, it has its flaws. Also, as a 21st-Century leftist I am probably more amenable to critiques of "privilege," and inclined, perhaps to a fault, to extend them benefits of the doubt.

    But on the internals of your post, it sure reads like you're committing the error you've put so much energy into identifying in others: treating a social phenomenon as identical to its constituent individual phenomena.

    First off, it's plain even from your post, that the author uses "access" in a larger rather than smaller sense of the word. She isn't just talking about physical access. That is, the ability of individual people to "walk[] into a florist" doesn't settle the issue.

    Second, even that "and pay[] for them" reveals a blind spot. Because that's actually an issue for poorer people. Given the realities of income distribution, we've already established that white heterosexual women, tending to pair with white men, will have more economic access to roses than women of color - or even lesbians of Gen X age or older. (Assuming the more equal male-female income distribution of Millenials holds up.) White women make less than white men on average; white lesbians tend to pair with white women.

    That's just the economics, and already we've shown differential access to roses for white, heterosexual women, I think. The extent to which this stems from and reinforces "patriarchy and exclusion" is up for debate. If you think patriarchy and white supremacy are forms of institutional domination, as I do and surely the author does, then you'll tend to find that the economic (and political) disparities are the point. If you don't, you won't. But the concept isn't incoherent; there's no WTFery to it.

    But as you would point out, economics are only the beginning of the matter. But maybe it's also true that the folkway of buying roses to express love and signify apology have been "handed to you by your culture" if you're a white heterosexual man, but not if you are a brown or black man, or a white gay man, or a white gay woman. This does not seem conceptually nonsensical. If anything, it seems like an empirical question.

    Maybe the typical beloveds of what gay people and men of color don't value the folkway of a gift of roses as much as the typical beloveds of white, straight men do. That's also an empirical question. At first blush that would seem to solve the problem, but does it? Maybe the rose folkway actually functions effectively to reconcile and foster intimacy between couples, and these other cultures suffer from the lack of it. That's a matter for cultural criticism and social science, I'd think, but it's not self-evidently ridiculous.

    Or maybe, because white culture is the dominant culture and no culture is sealed off from the others, there's actually a "rose asymmetry" in African-American culture, or Latino culture, or gay cultures. Women of color want to get roses more than men of color want to give them. Gay beloveds want to receive roses more than gay lovers want to bestow them. This too may or may not be the case, but it's perfectly intelligible as concepts go.

    Adding the cultural case to the economic case strengthens the idea of, yes, "privileged rose access." That doesn't automatically make it true. But it certainly makes sense.

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    1. OK, but:

      1) Poor people have less "access" to ALL economic goods. Why single out roses? The poor lack access to health care... and we should be worried about whether they are getting enough roses?!

      2) If certain cultures value rose-giving more than others, so what? Do we need to absolutely flatten all cultural values to level sameness before the revolution can rest?

      "Maybe the rose folkway actually functions effectively to reconcile and foster intimacy between couples, and these other cultures suffer from the lack of it."

      OK, so encourage them to go out and buy roses! Don't blame *me* for the fact they are not!

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    2. Ah. I think the last sentence is the rub. As a white man, you feel personally insulted by critiques of white male privilege. I can relate! I spent, at a rough count, decades feeling the same way.

      I think you should try to get past this. I experienced my own fumbling, partially successful attempt to do so as a moral imperative. And the basic social theory you've propounded hereabouts points the way. Social phenomena are not reducible to individual phenomena. Therefore social evils are not reducible to individual evils. Therefore, someone saying "here's an example of white patriarchy, which by the way sucks, in action" is not necessarily saying, "And that means Gene and Jim, who are white, straight dudes, also suck."

      In fact, in my reading, the preponderance of critics of privilege make this distinction explicitly. They'll say that we relatively benefit from privilege, which is true! (I have seen it many times in my own life, once I became willing to look for it.) But they won't say we are necessarily witting agents of privilege enforcement. Their whole point is that we should stop thinking of, say, racism as set of attitudes held by individuals and start thinking of it as a structure of relations.

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    3. Jim, I could contemplate deeming this study worthwhile if it involved white males having more access to high-level executive jobs or health care. I bet we do! And perhaps something could be done about this. Perhaps.

      But ROSES?! Who cares what the friggin' rose distribution in the US is? Why are we not worrying about young black males' "privileged access" to jeans that can stay up even though fastened below the buttocks, or Latinos' "privileged access" to Jesus statues that bob around on the dashboard?

      So Jim, I'm down with people worrying about young Hispanic kids having a poor diet, or Laotian immigrants being afraid to go to the police and thus having poor access to protection. But come on: we are going to push this to the point where if not every group has the exact same amount of everything there is a "social problem" that indicates that privilege has not been wiped out?

      (And by the way, as far as "not sucking" goes, speak for yourself. I suck big time.)

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    4. "And perhaps something could be done about this. Perhaps."

      Just to clarify: Of course many things could be done about this. I mean perhaps something could be done that would actually improve matters.

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    5. "I suck big time."

      I can confirm that!

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    6. Gene, as God told Charlie Brown (according to Charlie Brown anyway), "This could take more than one night." :)

      I'm content that you no longer seem baffled, as in the original post. Or at least, not baffled in the same way.

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    7. "Maybe the rose folkway actually functions effectively to reconcile and foster intimacy between couples, and these other cultures suffer from the lack of it."

      What kind of low-life cultural hegemonist are you? Some leftist you are.

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  7. Oh no, everyone is pretty much in agreement that an ice age will still happen. This global warming stuff is just trying to explain a blip. It isn't on the same timescale. And when I mean everyone, I mean both your 'experts' and mine- like those who notice solar activity can explain this stuff pretty damn well.

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