Monthly Post

The One Drop Fallacy

Last month, in the process of exploring the awkward fact that most people in today’s industrial world have never learned how to think, I talked at some length about thoughtstoppers: those crisp little words or phrases that combine absurdity and powerful emotions to short-circuit the thinking process.  Thoughtstoppers, as I noted then, very often keep the people around us (and ourselves, let’s be honest) from getting past blind emotion and dealing with the rising spiral of problems that confront us today. They’re everywhere these days; the media is awash with them, and every politician and pundit spews them into our mental ecosystems the way computer factories spew toxic waste into the environment. Learning to detect and dismantle them is a crucial skill for navigating past the rocks and whirlpools that beset voyages of the mind just now.

I’m sorry to say, though, that learning about thoughtstoppers—useful and indeed necessary as that is—will not keep you out of all the mental traps set for the unwary in today’s world. There are other things that lead people into mental dysfunctions of various kinds, and as we proceed with the current sequence of posts on learning how to think, it’s going to be necessary to do as Lewis Carroll recommended in The Hunting of the Snark:

…It next will be right
To describe each particular batch;
Distinguishing those that have feathers, and bite,
From those that have whiskers, and scratch.

Some of the traps in question are logical fallacies so old they have names in Latin.  We’ll be getting to those in due time, not least because it’s good sport to point out, to people who insist that their notions are exciting cutting-edge insights nobody ever thought before, that any ordinarily bright twelve-year-old in ancient Rome could have explained to them exactly why the notions in question are so full of holes they make Swiss cheese jealous. Before we get to that entertaining theme, though, there are other fallacies that don’t have that long of a pedigree, and it so happens that these play an even larger role in the failure of thinking in our time.

It probably has to be mentioned here that the less geriatric mistakes I have in mind aren’t more exciting, cutting-edge, and insightful than the classic fallacies just mentioned. Quite the contrary, most of them would have made the ordinarily bright twelve-year-olds in a Roman schoolroom gape in disbelief, perhaps with a muttered Mehercule!, that anyone could be dense enough to buy into them. That’s certainly true of the first example I have in mind, the subject of this week’s post, which has the distinction of being the most popular fallacy in today’s political culture.

A few examples will be more useful at this point than any amount of abstraction. One of my readers mentioned, a few weeks ago, that he’d been denounced as a racist in the course of a conversation. In that conversation, which touched on affirmative action, he happened to ask whether there was any evidence that affirmative action programs actually worked, as a way to decrease disparities in educational success between white and black populations in the United States. Asking that question was enough to get him accused of racism.

Notice the very peculiar logic here. If it’s a good idea to decrease disparities in educational success between white and black populations in the United States—as I believe it is, and as I have every reason to think the reader in question believes it is as well—then it would make sense to try to figure out whether current efforts in that direction are actually doing what they’re supposed to do, wouldn’t it?  If affirmative action programs don’t accomplish this goal, then it would be helpful to find that out, so that they can be replaced by more effective programs, wouldn’t it?

Try to make this point in a conversation like the one my reader was involved in, though, and you can count on having such perspectives dismissed out of hand. I’ve been in similar conversations myself, and can vouch for that. At best, you’ll get a discussion, by turns angry or labored, about the virtues of affirmative action programs, which pretty consistently will not include the evidence you’ve asked for. At worst, you’ll be told that even thinking about asking such a question proves that you must have a Klan robe in the back of your closet and a Confederate flag on your living room wall.

(Please notice, by the way, that the point of bringing up this example is not to start a debate on the value of affirmative action programs; it’s to discuss a habit of thought used by some defenders of such programs, among many other things. I mention this here because I’ve noticed repeatedly that when I try to discuss habits of thinking, people will very often try to change the subject to whatever I’ve brought up as an example. I suspect this is a defensive move meant to protect bad habits of thinking from close examination. Be that as it may, attempts to detour the conversation on this blog’s comments page into a debate about affirmative action will be deleted without comment and without mercy.)

Such distinctly odd habits of thought aren’t limited to the left by any means. I’ve had at least as many conversations with so-called free market capitalists—I say “so-called” because, as Adam Smith himself pointed out, it’s the first concern of every self-respecting capitalist to make whatever market he or she frequents as unfree as possible, in order to maximize profits—in which raising the most modest question about the supposed benevolence of the market system is more than enough to get you accused of favoring Communism.

Note the same peculiar logic at work. If capitalism has flaws, as of course it does, those who want to see it survive anyway might reasonably want to know about those flaws, so that patches of one kind or another can be used to mitigate the failings of the system. Insisting that there are no such flaws simply drives anyone harmed by capitalism into the arms of Marxist radicals. Try telling that to your average rock-ribbed American conservative, though, and see how far you get!

(For the reason mentioned above, any attempt to detour the conversation on this blog’s comments page into a debate about the virtues and vices of capitalism will be deleted with extreme prejudice. Capitalism isn’t the issue here; the habit of thought used by some defenders of capitalism is.)

Along the same lines, consider what happens when anyone on any side of the fraught political landscape of our time—left, right, center, up, down, or around the bend—proposes a possible solution to any social problem you care to name.  The first concern of critics is to find one person somewhere, or one small group of people somewhere, who will not be helped by the proposed solution. Once such a person or group can be found, the person who proposed the solution can count on being told in strident language that their proposed solution is wrongetty wrong-wrong-wrong, and that they themselves, because they have suggested it, are bad people who are personally responsible for the sufferings of the person or group that has been left out.

Here again, the same peculiar logic is at work. If, let’s say, ten million people are being affected by a given problem, and a proposed solution will help nine million of them, pursuing that solution has two straightforward advantages. First, nine million people will be helped; second, it will be much easier to find a solution for the remaining one million, since the scale of the problem has just decreased by an order of magnitude, and whatever specific factor or mix of factors keeps those one million people from being helped can be targeted more directly with a solution. Yet I promise you that if you point this out in a discussion of the kind I’ve sketched out, you can be sure that you’ll be accused of personal wickedness for even raising the issue, much less suggesting that helping nine million people right now might be a better idea than waiting around indefinitely on the off chance that a perfect solution can be discovered.

These three examples all unfold from the same bit of florid illogic—the insistence that whatever isn’t all the way over on one side of a given spectrum must therefore be all the way over on the other side of that spectrum, that what isn’t perfectly good must therefore be perfectly evil. With an eye to the one of the richer ironies of American history, I call this the One Drop Fallacy.

Those of my readers who don’t happen to be connoisseurs of the richer ironies of American history may benefit from an explanation. For many years, in the Southern states of the Union, laws were on the books requiring that all citizens be categorized as  either “white” or “black.” These terms didn’t actually have much to do with skin color; they were abstract conceptual fictions pure and simple, as indeed was (and is) the entire concept of race. The rule in Southern states was that if you had a single ancestor anywhere in your family tree who had ever been categorized as “black,” you were “black,” full stop, end of sentence. This was known as the One Drop Rule, from the habit of speaking of heredity in terms of blood; if you had “one drop of black blood”—and of course plently of ugly synonyms for “black” got inserted into that phrase instead—why, you were on the wrong side of the Jim Crow laws, and that was that.

Now of course in practice this was gamed thirteen to a dozen and six ways from Sunday. There were, and are, plenty of strawberry blondes with peaches-and-cream complexion down South who had, and have, at least one ancestor who got to this country chained in the hold of a slave ship.  Back in the days of the One Drop Rule, it was commonplace for a little convenient bribery to take care of the matter and get them categorized as “white.” Similarly, light-colored African-Americans routinely redefined themselves as “white” when they could get away with it—the classic jazz number “The Sunny Side of the Street,” for example, is all about the joys of “passing.” In reality, most people in the Southern states are descended in varying proportions from a free mix of European, African, and Native American ancestors, and their skin colors fall on a spectrum that fills the entire space between pale pinkish-white and really dark brown.

Yet this was not a reality that Southern elites in the days of Jim Crow laws were willing to address. The entire structure of political and economic power in the postbellum South depended on the ability of privileged white people to keep poor white people and poor nonwhite people at each other’s throats, so that they never noticed that they had much more in common with each other than either one had with the privileged classes that were exploiting them both. The One Drop Rule was a crucial element in that strategy of division. By turning the lively and complex texture of Southern genetic diversity into a rigid and arbitrary distinction between “black” and “white,” it erased the existence of the middle ground where everyone actually lived.

That’s what the One Drop Fallacy does, too. Wherever it appears, it’s a rhetorical gimmick that erases the middle ground. It redefines every issue into a choice between two predefined answers, one allegedly good, the other allegedly evil. This is extremely useful if you want to keep people from noticing that your “good” may not be all that good, and that there may be better options you don’t want them to think about. Since the entire structure of political and economic power in late industrial America depends on trying to trick people into thinking that the only choice they have is between one alternative that’s really bad and another that’s slightly worse, the media, the universities, and the officially anointed intellectual class—the principal instruments of regime propaganda in every contemporary society—play the One Drop Fallacy on every stop and key.

The One Drop Fallacy also serves political ideologies not currently in power that want to enforce absolute doctrinal conformity. Watch the culture warriors on both sides of the current political spectrum, and you’ll find a precise equivalent of the old One Drop Rule at work: if a given writer, let’s say, ever expressed an opinion that the approved ideology labels as evil, then the writer is entirely evil, and anyone who thinks otherwise is automatically redefined as a supporter of whatever believers in the approved ideology hate most. No middle ground is allowed; if you don’t conform to every last detail of the ideology, you are assumed to reject all of it.

In the real world, of course, this is abject nonsense. Theodore Seuss Geisel, for example—the children’s author who wrote under the name Dr. Seuss—drew, during the Second World War, some cartoons that made use of then-standard ethnic caricatures of the Japanese. On that basis, certain social-justice activists have insisted that Geisel must have been a fascist—after all, he did one thing that current social-justice ideology doesn’t approve of, so he must have been everything current social-justice ideology doesn’t like, right?  Wrong. Geisel also crafted blistering and hilariously funny caricatures of Hitler and the Nazis—far more of them, by the way, than the handful of cartoons he did that contain ethnic sterotypes about the Japanese. He was also, by the way, Jewish. The One Drop Fallacy doesn’t make room for such things, which is one of the core reasons why the One Drop Fallacy is a fallacy.

The crucial thing to remember, in dealing with the One Drop Fallacy, is that there is such a thing as a middle ground. There are plenty of people today, for example, who have no time for the political correctness of the left, and who also reject the patriotic correctness of the right. They are probably a majority in this country just now, in fact. Thus it’s the first concern of the well-funded pressure groups that want to promote political correctness, on the one hand, and patriotic correctness on the other, to insist that such people do not and cannot exist. If you’re pushing an ideology that’s arrogant, antidemocratic, and absurd, as of course the pressure groups in question are doing, the only way you’ll be able to get most people to buy into it is to insist that anyone who doesn’t accept every last tenet of the ideology you’re trying to market must therefore accept every last tenet of something even worse. That sort of Hobson’s choice will get you a certain amount of faux credibility, for a while.

The best way to get out from under the One Drop Fallacy, in any of its myriad manifestations, is to remember a simple rule: the opposite of one bad idea is usually another bad idea. Is fascism a bad idea? You bet. Those of my readers who have taken the time to learn something about the political landscape of early twentieth century Europe already know that the people who yelled the loudest about the evils of fascism at that time—the anti-fascist activists that today’s Antifa groups lionize, in fact—were supporters of Stalin’s regime in Russia, which killed around three times as many people as the Nazis did, and presided over a system of prison camps, torture chambers, and mass graves that made Heinrich Himmler drool with envy. It isn’t enough, in other words, to be opposed to evil, because it’s possible—and in fact very easy—to oppose one evil so monomaniacally that you fall into another. If you want to avoid that, you actually have to stand for something good.

In a broader sense, the fact that drowning is bad for you doesn’t mean dehydration is good for you, and so on straight through the lists of opposites. As Aristotle pointed out a very long time ago, every virtue is not the opposite of one vice, but the midpoint between two. Democracy itself, that much-maligned and much-misunderstood system, is a midpoint—it occupies the unsteady point of balance between anarchy, on the one side, and tyranny on the other. Being a midpoint, and thus having to be eternally patched together out of compromises that never quite satisfy anybody, it inevitably offends people who want nice simple answers of the kind that make them right and everybody else wrong.

For those of my readers who agree (as I do) with Winston Churchill’s dictum that democracy is the worst system of government, except for all of the others, learning how to detect and dismantle the One Drop Fallacy is an important skill. It’s actually pretty easy, once you have the concept handy: simply look for the middle ground that’s being erased, and then figure out what stake the person pushing the One Drop Fallacy has in erasing that middle ground. Like most of the fallacies that beset the life of the mind in modern industrial society, the One Drop Fallacy very rarely happens by accident; it’s not simply that someone got careless or clumsy when they were thinking; there’s usually an agenda being pushed. Identify the agenda and you can give it as much honest consideration as it deserves.


In other news, I’m pleased to announce that several of my posts on this and the old blog, including Hate Is The New Sex and several of my posts on Schopenhauer’s philosophy, have been republished on the very impressive Norwegian news-and-views website Kulturwerk. The one drawback, for those of my readers who aren’t sufficiently multilingual, is that they’re appearing in Norwegian translation. Those of you who do happen to be fluent in that language, by all means head on over and join the discussion!


  1. The One Drop Fallacy appear to be a more specific, politicized instance of the False Dilemna logical fallacy, is that right?

    Correct me if I’m wrong if there are important reasons as to why this is the still case, but the habit of thinking specifically behind the One Drop Rule which categorizes people as being either ‘white’ or ‘black’ still seems to be in effect today. For example, Barrack Obama is often described as the first black president. If you use this logic, because he is a child of a white mother and a black father, he could equally be described as ‘just another white president’.

  2. You’ve pretty much described a good deal of the reason I have mentally discarded the old right/ left linear political spectrum in favor of the Political Compass. I fall right smack in the middle of the “green” or southwestern “left-libertarian” quadrant. (Though I should point out that I totally cheat on the question on the designation-test about astrology. I usually socially and politically agree with people who think astrology is for the birds, and that question just seems like an unnecessary way to penalize people on the “authoritarian-libertarian” axis for not being good orthodox atheist-skeptics.)

    Of course the compass isn’t perfect, but the improvement it offers over the old linear spectrum is pretty vast. The appeal of it for me is that it really seems to me that reasonable people who reject the “one-drop rule” and recognize the middle ground of which you speak have a strong tendency, at least these crazy days, to gravitate to that southwestern green quadrant. Of course, that’s not to say that we “greenies” could never be unreasonable or subscribe to fallacious notions by sole virtue of being “greenies”. (If the Compass ever catches on in popular discourse, I’m pretty sure that’s what our detractors will start calling us, so why not adopt it as a badge of honor before that happens?)

    To veer a little bit off the subject of this post, another reason I appreciate the Compass is that it allows for recognizing a difference between the authoritarian left and the libertarian left. After all, popular discourse recognize a difference between “paternalistic” (authoritarian) conservatives and libertarian conservatives, so why not also for the left?

  3. The really sad thing here is that those employing this fallacy often do so with innocent good intention, but reap disastrously bad results.

    Consider Prohibition: the zero-tolerance policy on alcohol consumption promised utopia, but what it delivered was a conversion of the mafia from a gang of petty thugs to a force to rival legitimate government. Prohibition is long gone in most districts, but the power of the mafia remains firmly entrenched.

    Consider Fascim: their policies and actions promised utopia (notice that the swastika is an ancient religious symbol representing paradise), but delivered genocide and nuclear war. Fascism is long gone, but the threat of nuclear war now looms over us forevermore.

    These are just two shining examples of reform programs run by the well-intentioned but poorly-informed brothers’-keepers who ended up creating viscious monsters that far outweighed and long outlived any small benefit ever derived. When are we ever going to learn??

  4. Ah yes, good old “All or Nothing.”

    I’ve noted that the thinking that makes the program serving 90% well but not the other 10% baaaad, does not apply to medications. The old shingles vaccine, frex, had a 50% success rate, but it was better than nothing. I got shingles after a very nasty period of physical stress, and was told the vaccine probably helped reduce the pain and damage.The latest one has (IIRC) a 90% success rate, which is considered a major improvement! I’m not going to argue with either one. They did what they could with what they had, as all of us do in real life. Thanks for this eye-opener.

    Incidentally, one of my nephews, asked what would make a good Christmas gift for his young son, suggested a book called Bad Arguments. Written on a 3rd grade level, illustrated,and a really handy reference to the classic fallacies, in case anyone is interested in encouraging those close to you to think well.

  5. I think of this as what I call the Christmas Lights Fallacy. You may remember the old Christmas light strings where if one bulb went out they all went out? I’ve tried to bring up exceptions or alternate views on hot button topics and been accused of believing everything opposed to the topic at hand, real or imagined. Once I was told I love Putin because I was talking about the Soviet Union’s participation in WWII. That Vladimir Putin hadn’t even been born yet didn’t seem relevant. Another popular one is the thought vaccine. Conspiracy theory is a thought vaccine. It inoculates the user it against rational thought.

    I think we should rename our species to Homo ad Hominem.


  6. Your “One Drop Fallacy” is similar to what lawyers generally call\ “the Slippery Slope.” It argues (or threatens) that if you take one step in a direction whose furthest point is objectionable, you will inevitable find yourself at that furthest point and then all hell will break loose. Sort of like opening Pandora’s Box. I really hate slippery slope arguments exactly because they erase the middle ground and don’t permit anything like the sort of balancing or mediation that makes human affairs work in real life.

    BTW, I think Dr. Seuss was actually a Lutheran, or so says Wikipedia.

  7. This was very relevant to the current political climate. I see it on both left and right. People seem to go to canned responses to an imagined rhetorical enemy with little regard for the argument being made. Many seem very insecure and unable to address the person in front of them and therefore end up pounding a straw man. The example of communism happens regularly from people on the right. Likewise, if I’m talking to someone with a social justice mindset and I question the degree to which some white people display their white guilt and shame I get labelled the enemy. If the opposite of a bad idea is another bad idea I think the collective white shame of the social justice left is a mirror of the white pride on the far right. Both are rather pathetic. Current affairs had good piece on this.

    I also can’t help but think of the one drop rhythm in reggae music when the phrase comes up.

  8. I think the best resisting of the one drop strategy as you call it is best done by the group. I have a long background in left politics and have run into many variations of it. In one case I saw a couple who used it in two separate groups: it worked in one group and fell completely flat in a second group, after which they gave up on it and became very productive participants in my opinion. It was simply their strategy, and if it worked, good (they thought), it not, move on. In the case where it failed, it was because the response of the group was a sort of eye-rolling – we’ve seen this one before and don’t even respond to the charges. They didn’t directly challenge it but sort of ignored it. Who is next on the stack to talk? And the next person just ignored the previous and had their say. There was no back-and-forth defensiveness. They just moved on and the people who made the accusation realized it wasn’t going to work. This worked well in that small group setting, but I’m not sure how it can be taken to the larger public stage. By the way, I would add that if I am personally in a discussion with somebody and I genuinely think that hey are a racist/fascist or whatever “beyond the pale” label I think applies, I would not accuse them of it. I would say, “whatever you think” and just terminate the discussion and move on. If you really think somebody’s claims or opinion are beyond the pale, then there is no point discussing it with them.

  9. Jbucks, yes, the One Drop Fallacy is the extreme form of the False Dilemma fallacy. As for Obama et al., what his status as officially black (despite having a white mother) points out to me is, again, the fact that race is an arbitrary social construct rather than a biological reality.

    Mister N., fair enough. I use “left” and “right” as labels in these essays because everyone knows what I’m talking about when I use them; the color labels from the Compass system aren’t anything like so transparent.

    Steve, exactly. I don’t expect our species ever to “learn,” in the sense of outgrowing this sort of silliness; since progress is a temporary condition followed by regress, not a law of nature, there’s no reason to think otherwise…

    Patricia, you’re right that vaccines don’t fall into the “must help everyone” form of the fallacy. What I’ve seen mostly on that subject is the more general form: from pro-vaccine people, “if you mention the existence of problems with vaccines, you want everyone on the planet to die of smallpox,” and from the anti-vaxxers, “If you mention that any vaccine ever helped anyone, you’re personally responsible for autism.” Thanks for the book recommendation!

    Jon, that’s highly funny! Thank you.

  10. An example of this is on display this week in the media. I read RT as one of the several media sources that I balance to put together my own picture of the World. As part of the Russia-gate kerfluffle we have seen RT demonized as Baddity Bad because it has a drop of Putin in it. Most of those ( many people I know) who view this news channel as a direct link to Satan and as such the direct opposite of the wise, impartial and democratic media they enjoy (NYT anyone). Of course no one with this view has ever looked at or watched RT because the made up version is more satisfying. If they had viewed RT with any regularity they would see that while there is a bit of Putin worship, and the Russian view of Syria there are also points of view on the world somewhere in between Putin and Thomas Friedman ( and guests like Chomsky or Michael Hudson) that would help their understanding of the world. But to admit that there is some kind of media middle ground not covered by the WAPO or CNN would dash their worldview.

  11. Given this:

    “There are plenty of people today, for example, who have no time for the political correctness of the left, and who also reject the patriotic correctness of the right. They are probably a majority in this country just now, in fact.”

    How can the following even be possible?

    “If you’re pushing an ideology that’s arrogant, antidemocratic, and absurd, as of course the pressure groups in question are doing, the only way you’ll be able to get most people to buy into it is to insist that anyone who doesn’t accept every last tenet of the ideology you’re trying to market must therefore accept every last tenet of something even worse.”

    I don’t doubt that the pushers of such ideologies actualy believe that to be the case, but if, as you say, the majority have no time for it, what *other* thought-stoppers are said pushers afflicted with to believe that their antagonizing, repellent strategy has a hope of working with a majority of people? Is it that they have just enough compatriots in extremism (notably, not necessarily of their own faction) to sustain the delusion?

  12. Dear Mr. Greer,

    I’ve also observed a similar phenomenon in my interactions with certain people in my work. I am an Emergency Room RN (for over 28 years). I frequently interact with people with whom I have a difference of opinion over their perception of the cause of their problem. When I point out to them a more likely cause that they don’t agree with, they often become angry and I hear words to the effect of “Well, if you’re saying nothing is wrong with me and you’re not going to take care of me I might as well just leave or I want someone else to take care of me”. When I point out to them that’s not at all what I’m saying, it takes time for them to get it and some never do at all and they stare at me like I’ve got a horns growing out of my head.

    It’s very strange when I encounter this and seems to be increasing in frequency. I suspect it’s a part of the binary thinking endemic to our society, but I’m certain that in some situations it’s a form of manipulation to achieve a desired effect. Curious.


  13. I’m reminded of a comment thread I once witnessed in which libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson was accused of having said he agreed with “75% of socialism.” What he actually said was that he agreed with Bernie Sanders on about 75% of the issues, which of course includes a lot of issues that have nothing to do with socialism.

    I’m also, of course, reminded of the extreme left’s hostility to more moderate liberals. The classic in that line is the Antifa graffiti, “Liberals get the bullet too,” but I’ve seen several posts around the web that basically accuse liberals of being Nazi apologists who want to compromise and only feed 50% of babies into wood chippers.

    I have to say, though, that right now I can’t help but think of something that’s sort of the opposite of this fallacy: the thoughtstopper I’ll call “God Can Use Bad Men” after a common expression of it. It’s perfectly true, of course, that a bad person can do good things, but I see it used as an excuse to ignore altogether the character of someone you’re considering for a position of authority, especially when you’ve just previously been praising him for his character and convictions. (I’m from Alabama, if that gives you any context here.)

  14. JMG, another awesome post, and a great description for the binary “thinking” that goes on these days, calling it the “One Drop Fallacy”, or ODF. I would further describe experiencing the ODF comes in two flavors – either as the victim, or the perpetrator, though I suppose there’s a middle ground of a mix of both at times.

    As a victim of the ODF, one is unable to remove all the layers of propaganda, half-truths, lies, emotions, slants, etc., wrapped around an issue to actually think clearly about it. This can lead to being called stupid, or feeling stupid, or simply being ignorant of how you’ve been punked. Even though I’m aware of some of the methods in play, I still find at times it happens to me, and don’t consider a middle ground or compromise until well past the decision point. It takes quite a bit of mental effort to avoid it, and today’s lifestyles don’t offer much spare bandwidth to do so.

    As a perpetrator of the ODF, it’s achieving the agenda while ignoring the Silver Rule. Fortunately, this appears to be a minority of the herd, but unfortunately their method of using the ODF is quite effective, and like you mentioned – it’s everywhere.

  15. @Patricia Matthews: I’ve seen that with a lot of mental health issues, as well. An annoying number of people have the opinion that the potential for side effects, or the fact that not every drug works for everyone’s condition, means that medication as a whole is Bad and Wrong and you should just go hang out in a forest to cure your clinical depression. (And similarly: some people need less medication than they’re taking, maybe, and these things vary over a person’s life, but some people, a lot of them, need to be on something.)

    The idea that something must “magically” work instantly without any trouble, or it doesn’t work at all and is never worth it, is…well, not even magic works that way, as I understand things. There’s always a period of trial and error, of discovering not just whether a thing works for you but what form works best, and no one thing *is* going to work for everyone, all the time…but that doesn’t mean those things aren’t worthwhile on the whole.

  16. Can anyone recommend any resources on the prevalence of these kind of logical fallacies in politics throughout history? I’d be interested to compare how bad things are now against the usual state of affairs. Might be slightly less depressing at least…

  17. “…so full of holes they make Swiss cheese jealous.” Allow me to put on my pedant’s hat for a moment. (Hmm, darn thing goes down over my eyes and I can’t tell where I’m going!) The Swiss cheese is_envious_. “Jealous” means you’ve got something and you don’t want anyone else to have it; “envious” means someone else has something and you want it too.

  18. I find an effective thought-starter for those whose minds are not completely closed is the marriage analogy. “Look, you’ve been married to Pat for, what, twenty years. Is Pat perfect? No? Then why don’t you get a divorce?”

  19. Something we could all remember is – I might not be right. This is how I think now but what about next year?

  20. Hi JMG,

    I had an experience happen to me recently which I think may help to illustrate what is being described in this post. At the end of the summer, I took my two kids to Toronto on the train. We had all had a really difficult summer as my dad (their grandpa) got sick and died, so I wanted to somehow try to bring a bit of cheer back into my kids’ lives. VIA rail was having a sale to celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday, and I wanted to visit some family, so we went. Towards the end of our last day there we had taken the subway back to Union Station where we were to later catch our train, and we had a bit of time to get lunch. I decided to head over to the St. Lawrence market to find some food that my daughter, who has some pretty serious food allergies, would be able to eat. We were on foot, which made it around a 15-minute walk. Of course by that point the kids were quite tired and hungry, and I was keeping an eye on the time to make sure we would get back in time to catch the train. Outside of Union Station, a black man approached us and started talking about Black History. He had all sorts of flyers and information that he was handing out to passers-by. Now, my two kids are of mixed race, as my husband is Nigerian, so I guess he noticed that fact and saw it as an opportunity to find some supporters. Normally I would have been interested, and maybe it was a bit rude of me, but I told him pretty point-blank that we were low on time and weren’t really interested and tried to just keep walking. It didn’t go over well. The poor guy launched into this vicious verbal assault and accused me of denying my children of their heritage, being a bad mother, and all sorts of other nasty stuff, and ended with him yelling at me down Front Street that I was a racist. All I could do was shake my head and keep going, but the whole incident was pretty unsettling, and I thought about it quite a bit to try and process it. Now it strikes me as a classic example of the binary thinking discussed in the post: from his point of view, since I wasn’t willing to give him the time of day and listen to him talk about Black History, I must therefore be a racist. There was no room for the middle ground, that I was just a slightly tired mom with two hungry kids who just happened to have something else going on at that particular moment.

    So now I have to wonder, was this man conscious of the fact that he was engaging in this kind of binary thinking? Was he doing it deliberately just to advance his agenda of promoting Black History? To that, after some thought, I would answer yes and no. I need to look at exactly what part of his awareness was conscious, and what part wasn’t, as I think there are two different selves at work here. I don’t have great terms to describe those two selves, but I’ll give it a shot: his lower self and his higher self. Or, possibly more accurately, his false self and his true self.

    His false self, of which he was conscious of at that moment, was quite occupied by the identity of being a Black Man – promoting Black History and being proud to do it – proud of his heritage, proud of who he was. This self couldn’t conceive of any other possible ways of seeing itself, and so anyone who came along and didn’t seem interested could only be defined in terms of ‘not-self.’ You’re either a supporter of Black History or a racist; end of story. Only his point of view was being allowed to define the situation. He didn’t seem capable of taking on my point of view – it was true binary thinking. He was really going out of his way to do this too, considering I was holding hands with my two kids who clearly had black heritage, indicating that at some point in the not too distant past I had had quite intimate relations with a person of color and just maybe wasn’t completely horrified by black people. And twice even! I could maybe see it if I had only one child – maybe the result of an unfortunate and regrettable mishap, but two kids! Come on. Almost all of this man’s energy was tied up in this strategy of defining itself in a particular way, constructing this false self, leaving no energy available to perceive other possibilities. He was trying to make it all about him – this identity or false self that he had built up and had to continuously prop up and defend at all costs. But the very fact that he was out on the street trying to push it on others almost precisely revealed that deep down he maybe wasn’t so proud of it, in the same way that a diet fanatic might try to push their way of healthy eating on others even though it isn’t really working for them. I think this is where the unconscious part comes in.

    I wonder what had happened to this man that led him to construct a false self of this particular nature? Maybe in the past, he had genuinely been oppressed because of the fact that he was black. Maybe he had experienced some serious, legitimate hardships as a result of it, as undeniably happens. Maybe he had some anger and sadness tied up around those experiences, that he wasn’t willing or able to acknowledge. I think that’s when the false self gets created – the ‘strong’ self that is proud of being black and of one’s black heritage. All those sad, hurt, angry feelings get pushed away, down into hiding, where they are no longer in the realm of conscious awareness. The survival of the false self requires one to devote all of one’s energy into defending it, to make sure the painful emotions stay safely hidden away and can do no more harm. But that of course, is the location of his real self, of which he is not conscious of any more. That is the realm of the middle ground and everything that is concealed within it – sadness, suffering, rage, pain – and that is why he wasn’t able to see that I was just a mom concerned for her kids and not a racist.

  21. Many years ago in high school civics or American History class I argued against the tendency of school texts to whitewash American history. I asserted that a person who has been taught that their country is perfect is going to eventually discover that it is not. (Okay, I was an optimist; some people never seem to get this.) Disillusioned, they are likely to flip to opposite side, as many college radicals at the time were doing, and decide that their country was evil. A more truthful and balanced approach is, I argued, more likely to lead to citizens who can accept both the good and bad of their nation’s history and try to move forward in a sensible way to improve it.

    A humorous version of the “One Drop” took place in my freshman World History class. We were studying WW I and I pointed out some instance in which a different decision of the part of the Germans might have led to their victory. A friend jokingly asserted that I wanted the Germans to win and our little group took it up wholesale, with the result that my yearbook is full of remarks about my being a foreign spy. Should I burn it before I run for President?

  22. Dear JMG, thanks for your reply. The example I used was meant to illustrate that thought – that race is socially constructed – I realized afterwards I didn’t make that clear.

    This might be a dumb question, but why do thoughtstoppers, fallacies, etc actually work on people? I mean, why are people susceptible to them in the first place? Is it simply because, in the mind of someone untrained in reasoning, emotional responses overwhelm rational responses? Or is there something else at work?

    Another question, if I may. Two examples from your posts on the topic of thoughtstoppers so far are ‘“Minds are like parachutes, they function only when open” and “democracy is the worst system of government, except for all of the others”. They appear alike in form. It doesn’t appear coincidental that the Churchill quote seems to me aesthetically more pleasing, and more complex in its implications. It also appears to make an argument. However, I can’t tell if that’s just because I know the latter happens to be from Churchill. But all of the other thoughtstoppers from your original essay about them appear to be much simpler in form and uglier, so perhaps I am being unfair by choosing one of the more ‘sophisticated’ thoughtstoppers to compare the Churchill quote to. But still: Is Churchill’s statement also a thoughtstopper?

    I ask because when you make an argument, reasoned or not, into a memorable, emotional statement (like a slogan) you handicap the ability of the person listening to the argument to reason about it. Should one therefore always avoid using rhetoric in this way, even if the argument being made is correct and well reasoned?

  23. Thank you for a new name for what I think of as the False Dichotomy problem.

    My experience of it as a problem usually arises when someone I’ve often agreed with finds me disagreeing about something, or (just as often) someone I’ve often disagreed with finds me agreeing about something. I have never expected to find another person with whom I agree or disagree 100% of the time, because it is obvious (to me, at least), that if I found such a person, they would have to BE me, and look out of my eyes and be shaped and informed by my experience. However, it seems tolerably common to find people profoundly shocked by unexpected agreement/disagreement just when they thought they found you “pegged.”

    And as a young person, the type of “One Drop Fallacy” I found most aggravating was “if you are not with us, you are against us”. (The agenda – to rush you into signing up for a campaign of action before you are certain about its merits).

    Regarding the compass idea brought up by Mr Nobody, I find it useful. It strikes me that even though people have an idea what “left” and “right” mean, this spectrum reveals nothing about one’s position on a quite different spectrum – primacy of authority vs primacy of freedom. There are people who prefer authority over freedom in both left and right, and likewise, people who prefer freedom over authority in both left and right. In term’s of directionality, I had always thought of this as “top” vs “bottom” (which is where the compass people seem to have placed them), to refer to whether people think social norms and style and energy should flow from the top down or from the bottom up.

    For myself, I can say that I’ve always felt “leftish” on the left/right spectrum and “bottomish” on the top/bottom spectrum (for me, this includes a sense of affinity for telluric forces, by the way).

    In practice, this means that while I often agree with people pursuing leftish causes, I sometimes find myself agreeing with people of a more “right/libertarian” flavour, just a bit, in opposing “top-down state power” as the way to resolve anything.

    Anyway, that’s my two cents on that topic.

  24. I see this play out all day long on Facebook. The meme wars distill any and all debates into an extreme good vs. evil minefield. The political meme has all of your previously mentioned ingredients- hate in the form of psychological projection, false dichotomies with no middle ground(one drop), packaged into a drop the mic. thoughtstopper. The carnage of ended friendships and relationships is staggering.

  25. RE: the “one drop rule”, as someone from the South (JMG and I have a longstanding difference of opinion on KY’s place in the Confederacy), I must admit I was crestfallen when the DNA test revealed I did NOT have “one drop”–I thought for sure it would be there! (In all fairness, I could indeed have an African ancestor, just not have gotten any DNA from them.

  26. Hi JMG,
    in german the one-drop-fallacy is often referred to as black-and-white thinking (Schwarz-Weiß-Denken), meaning not the colour of skin but just the colour: people who fall into this trap just see black and white, no greys, let alone other colours. I think it´s good advice to look out for an agenda being pushed when people promote this kind of thinking. I may not have considered that enough in the past, but it explains a lot, like the way people here often try to put EU sceptics into the far right of the political spectrum, or the way people often get a tantrum when one argues that the war on drugs isn´t actually working and maybe drugs (yes, ALL drugs) should be legalized in a controlled fashion: often one´s accused of being a promoter of lethal drugs.
    Frank from Germany

  27. Carroll Quigley (of ‘Tragedy and Hope’ fame) wrote about similar topics in ‘Evolution of Civilizations’ (1960). He described the process of erasing the middle ground as ‘polarizing the continuum’:

    QUOTE: … If, for example, we set color of skin as the criterion of “race,” and we were to arrange the human beings on the globe in some magical fashion in a long line with the blackest black man at one end and, next to him, the second blackest man, and so on, in ascending order of light reflection from their skin surfaces, until we passed through all the blacks, browns, reds, yellows, and whites to end up with the whitest white man on the globe, possibly an albino Norwegian — if we were to do this, I feel confident there would be no place on that long line where any two adjacent persons would have any difference in skin color sufficient to be distinguished by any normal physical process. We might then decide that men, based on skin color, form a single race. Or, if we insist on having more than one race, we might simply divide the line at its midpoint and settle for two races — the “lights” and the “darks.” But however many races we decided upon, there would be no discernible difference in skin color between any two adjacent persons between whom we drew a boundary line.

    …We might, on the other hand, arrange mankind in a line on the basis of height. In that case we would have several billion variations over a total height difference of no more than seven or eight feet, giving an average difference between any two adjacent persons of no more than one fifty-millionth of an inch, a difference which is, once again, too slight to be discernible by any normal procedures and is, indeed, considerably less than the normal increase and decrease of any one person’s height caused by rest and exercise during a day. Indeed, if we tried to arrange the persons of the world in order by height we would find the daily changes in individual height to be relatively so much greater than the average height differences between individuals that persons would be compelled, from their constantly changing heights, to change their positions in the line by hundreds of thousands and even millions of persons at relatively short intervals. If we were to use such a criterion as height as a measure of race, we could do so only so long as people were locally segregated into groups of obviously different average heights. As soon as people began to move about or mix socially, the classification would break down. And we could never classify racially, on this basis, any isolated individual.

    We deal with continua rationally either by dividing them into arbitrary intervals to which we give names, or by giving names to the two ends of the continuum and using these terms as if the middle ground did not exist at all. This last method is called “polarizing a continuum,” and is frequently done even when the greatest frequency of occurrence is in the middle range. When the telephone rings in the sorority house because someone wants a “blind date,” the sisters at once ask the vital question, “Is he tall or short?” They ask this question even though it is perfectly obvious that the majority of men are neither tall nor short but are nearer the middle range. Such polarization of continua is so common and so familiar that we come, frequently, to accept our categories as real instead of being arbitrary and imaginary, as they usually are. An accident report asks, “Day or night?” although accidents are most frequent when it is neither day or night, but dusk. Many questionnaires polarize continua by asking us to check: “White – Colored?” “Man – Woman?” “Pro – Con?” In English law this is done in the distinctions between “Adult – Juvenile” or “Sane – Insane.” In the social sciences it is done in such contrasts as “monopoly – competition” in economics, “democratic – authoritarian” or “totalitarian – liberal” in politics. We have already done it several times in this book, as in the dichotomy between natural science and social science or between objective and subjective. The familiar polarization of man into spirit and flesh dominated religious ethics for centuries. This practice of slicing continua into parts or even into dual poles and giving names to these artificial categories is necessary if we are to think about the world or to talk about it. But we must always remain alert to the danger of believing that our terms are real or refer to reality except by rough approximation. Only by making such divisions can we deal in a rational way with the many nonrational aspects of the world.

  28. Sorry, I was being unclear again: of course, you didn’t use the Churchill statement I wrote about in my reply just above as an example of a thoughtstopper – you just happened to use it as part of today’s post. But my question about it still stands, I just should have read my reply more carefully before posting it.

  29. The one drop theory of race has always puzzled me. Granting the power of the slightest “taint” of black blood to make a person black rather than white, must mean, if we follow the logic of the belief, that black blood is stronger than white blood, and the slightest amount can negate everything that it means to be white. Apparently, whole generations of the “superior” white race have failed to recognize this. Unfortunately, so have all the so-called “inferior” races which have allowed themselves to be trampled on.

  30. I have seen suggested that as machines start to more indistinguishable from people we can expect to act more like machines- in many ways even in our morality and thinking. A digital age with binary (un)thinking more frequent? Perhaps there is no connection or little———-for now.

  31. I think part of the attraction of the One Drop fallacy is that it is extremely stimulating. This is one of the things I have noticed about ideologues – emotionally they are either filled with anticipatory joy or are morbidly depressed. They are like sports fans, with election results, court judgments, demonstrations etc. being like their team winning or losing. It gives their life a pattern and texture which it would not have if they occupied the middle ground with a sense of magnanimity.

    Which is to say, I increasingly suspect that these kind of extreme positions are not really held sincerely. The pay off in holding them is in the elation felt when the cause is “progressing”, and the frustration felt when it is being thwarted. Contemporary politics is primarily a stimulant, not a means of arbitrating social and economic issues.

  32. John, with regard to your parenthetical note (paragraph 8), I believe that much of the time this phenomenon is usually due, simply and sadly, to a plain old lack of reading comprehension. And what you refer to as the One Drop Fallacy is what I call Binary Thinking. I mentioned this in my comment to your previous post. It is prevalent, nasty and unfortunate and what it portends, to me, is a complete social break-down of the type Orlov refers to in his Five Stages of Collapse. Are we divided? Yes, but perhaps more from each other as individuals rather than as right or left, progressive or conservative. Excellent series of posts! I look forward to your next. And, my copy of Retro Future arrived this week. Right up my alley: I have been choosing simpler more robust and durable technologies for several years now. Thanks again!

  33. I have had good results when hitting this impasse just by asking questions. For instance…

    If the gun control thing pops up, there are usually diametrically opposed views. On the one hand, asking the gun nut if he would be ok with mentally shorted people carrying guns, the reply is usually moderated to some form of “…of course not, but…”

    Asking the anti-gun person something similar, say “…you want to be accosted by an armed thief or rapist and rely on the police to just happen to be in the neighborhood?” The response turns to “…well that is an isolated/ridiculous example…” or something similar.

    At that point, there is a brief crack in the One Drop doorway closing, and you get a shot at inserting something in the middle of the spectrum. What you insert is dependent on which side is being shut down by the illogic.

    People like to talk and have their views validated, and thus many times the One Drop is used as an inclusive identifier with select, pro-position company in the majority. Thus the use of this tiny “logic wedge” to hold the mind open a tad is limited, but seems to work in small groups. In larger groups, the shouting and hyperbole commences immediately – making this wedge pointless. As with most things conversational, context is everything.

    In speaking with my kids and their friends, they seem more willing to look in the middle while their parents inhabit the ends of these spectra. The divide on many things also appears to be the same old rural/urban divide. As a midpoint to this, they came up with the idea that the rural areas should be governed by county laws while cities over 25k population should be governed by city laws, with state doing very little other than taxing for roads and regulating commons.

    I found it interesting that they came up with an alternative in the midst of bottling beer!

  34. I think an older term for people who are “one droppers” is fanatic. I remember my mother sort of sniffing about someone who was rigid and unbending in their views about something and saying “He (she)’s just a fanatic! It seems our society now is ever more full of fanatics, and fanaticism.

  35. When I was younger, I often used the “Slippery Slope Argument”, which at least psychologically seems to work in the same way as the “One Drop Rule” polarization argument. Except when it´s right, of course! 😉

  36. I have, unfortunately, recently had experience with this. We were visiting neighbors of ours who had retired to Oregon and we stayed with them for the week of the eclipse. They consider themselves very liberal and liked us because we were the only democrats in the old neighborhood; we liked them for themselves and not their politics. The first morning, over coffee, we discussed current events and our views of them. Among other topics, I told them I had predicted Trump would win and told them why and that went into a lot of other subjects. That is when things went off the rails. The husband got loud and interrupted me and talked over me (talk show style) constantly as I told him my thoughts and considered opinion. Then he said I didn’t believe any of those things and I was only saying them to agitate him and to take an opposing side for the sheer spite of it and him. He just couldn’t accept that somebody his socio-economic equal could possibly believe what I did and for the reasons I did. I thought we might have to leave but his wife cooled him down and we just avoided discussing anything in the news and went outside to drink coffee while they watched a talk show online. I don’t remember the name of the show but it was anti-Trump (Stephanie somebody); it was like the Goldstein two minutes of hate from 1984 but lasted an hour. I had always regarded these people and sane and balanced and was shocked at what had happened to them and discovered that they had an echo chamber of friends and acquaintances who only refer to “Number 45” when talking about Trump. I had read about thought stoppers on your old blog and was amazed to see how relatively quickly supposed well-educated people revert to them when the course of events, Trump’s election for example, doesn’t go their way. I’m much more guarded in what I express in my circle of friends now, self-censoring as it were, because I have seen some of them end friendships over such silly things as politics and global warming. I’m afraid it is only going to get worse.
    I hope you don’t mind me using your nomenclature per Star’s Reach for my name. I have said since I was a teenager that lineage should follow the mother and not the father as you couldn’t always be sure who the father was, but until IVF and surrogacy, you always knew who the mother was.

  37. Hi John,
    In classical terms, the one-drop fallacy is also the fallacy of confusing contraries with contradictories. Example: Consider a particular apple whose skin is completely red. The statements, “this apple is green” and “this apple is yellow,” are contraries. As we see from the example, both contraries can be wrong. Now consider the statements, “this apple is yellow” and “this apple is not yellow.” These statements are contradictories; in contrast to contraries, one of these statements must be true and the other must be false. To say that the apple is not yellow (true), is different than saying it’s green (false.)

    It’s easier to say what something isn’t, rather than what it is. It’s harder to say “we don’t know what the solution is, all the altenatives we know of are horrible” than to say “alternative A is horrible, alternative B is completely different from A, so A is the way to go.” Hence the temptation to pretend that saying “the apple isn’t yellow” is the same thing as saying it’s red.

  38. One Drop Rule is a good name for it. A few thoughts…

    I imagine that the One Drop Rule relates to shoggothing, no? Anyone who is ideologically impure is conveniently dismissed as one of “those people”, and you can not only despise them, but enjoy despising, and feel good and virtuous about despising, them because they are (obviously!) monsters. I don’t know if it’s just me, but it seems like both sides seem to be increasingly enjoying using a “one drop rule” as a route to “shoggoth” and get their condemnation on (and I believe you have addressed something like this in past posts). Because I have friends and colleagues on both “sides” of our current political standoff, I’m often surprised by how much the Trump-voting gun lover and the Hillary-voting vegan have started to sound just like each other when they talk about each other (they just use different catch phrases). Sometimes I wonder “how is it that I can manage to get along with people who hate “each other” (even though they’ve never met each other) so much? Do they realize that I also consort with their “enemy”?”

    Also, JMG says “At best, you’ll get a discussion, by turns angry or labored, about the virtues of affirmative action programs, which pretty consistently will not include the evidence you’ve asked for.” I have to say, in my experience, you often don’t even get that much of a defense of the accepted solution; you just get an angry, condescending diatribe about how horrible the problem is. (In this case, your “privilege”, and how horrendous slavery was, and how dare you dismiss the suffering of African Americans, or deny how hard it is to be black, blah blah blah.) Nevermind that all you did was ask “…but is *this* a good way to address the *current problems*?” Questioning the effectiveness of the establishment-acceptable remedy is often just falsely equated with denying the existence of any problem, and therefore it obviously isn’t even necessary to defend the accepted solution, because how dare you claim there is no problem?! I have literally gotten physical headaches trying to have these conversations in a rational manner.

    I don’t know if this is the same thing turned on it’s head, but I’ve also been discovering that trying to point out that just because a solution to a problem is wrong, doesn’t mean that the problem doesn’t exist or is what people claim it is. (For example, that while Trump might be the wrong solution to a current problem, there is really a problem, and maybe the problem isn’t what everyone insists it is (racism), but something else.) In that case, pointing out that a problem is real and/or is different from what everyone is saying it is, is falsely equated with endorsing the bad solution at hand.

  39. I won’t comment on Affirmative Action or Capitalism but I’d like to point out that I have a burning desire to talk about them! These are taboo topics in America these days, and yet they badly need to be discussed. I get no release! Next time can you please use other, less tantalizing, examples? 😉

    As far as the one drop fallacy, I personally come across this the most when trying to talk about political candidates. If I point out one specific issue about one side, I get ambushed: “Gotcha! You must be a Trump supporter!” But when I try to say no, no, it’s more nuanced than that, I get slammed the other way: “Aha! I knew you were really a Hillary supporter!” Can’t I be neither?!

    I have children in public elementary school and something that irks me is how during presidential elections the children are taught that there are only two candidates!

    One thing I’ve tried to do to combat this is to teach them about the other candidates every time there is an election. Last year I showed them videos of interviews of all the other candidates on the ballot and explained to them how I decided to vote for Jill Stein and why.

    We’re all taught from a very young age that there are only two canned answers to every question. It’s a tragedy!

    I believe you have provided the antidote in this very post: “The opposite of one bad idea is usually another bad idea.” Now there’s a mantra to repeat!

    By the way, how far back does that saying go, you know, “There are two sides to every story.” Is there a Latin equivalent? I hate that saying!

  40. I’m wondering if your first two examples, JMG, actually illustrate a different phenomenon than the one you go on to describe at the end of the post.

    Let me begin with a personal anecdote from last year, and then return to your examples. Throughout the spring, summer, and fall of 2016, co-workers would occasionally ask me what I thought would happen in the presidential election. I answered quite honestly, based on my own observations and your analysis on the old blog, that it seemed to me more likely than not that Trump would win. At no point did I say that I wanted him to win, nor that I intended to vote for him myself; in fact, I quickly learned the need to explictly disclaim such things. Nevertheless, I would often be met with indignation by those who seemed unable—or unwilling—to distinguish between “would” and “should” (or, between “is” and “ought”), who would go on to angrily ask “how could you possibly want that?” It didn’t matter how many times I tried to clarify that critical distinction; simply to suggest that, as a matter of fact (or probability) Trump would probably win meant (in their minds) that I must be a supporter of Trump.

    I think something similar may be at work in your affirmative action example. Here, simply raising the possibility that, as a matter of fact, a certain policy might not work as advertised becomes conflated with a desire that that policy not work, or with a desire that the ends in question (reducing disparities in educational outcomes) not be achieved at all. We have three different propositions which are being conflated here: (1) “X brings about Y”, (2) “I want X to bring about Y”, and (3) “I want Y to happen.” There is also be a fourth, closely connected to the third: (4) “It is good for Y to happen”/”Y is good.”

    Seen in this light, an astonishing number of people can’t (or won’t) tell the difference between “things might actually be a certain way” and “I want things to be that way”. They can’t (or won’t) distinguish between facts, values, and desires.

    The One Drop Fallacy, as you describe it later in the post, on the other hand, sounds more like an application of False Dilemma at a single level: you either share all my values, or none of them; you either support all my policies or none of them; etc. This, too, is a flawed mode of reasoning, but I think it’s a different flaw from the one I’ve sketched here.

  41. In cognitive behavioural therapy, your one drop fallacy has a very similar parallel known as as “all-or-nothing thinking”, and is one of the unhelpful thinking styles charactaristic of various mental illnesses CBT is supposed to help train one to avoid. It comes natural to teenagers, for example, at least in certain contexts — if little Jonny gets a date with little Suzie, he’s the gods’ gift to women; if she shoots him down, no one will ever love him. Middle ground? What’s that?

    So I’m afraid I must disagree somewhat with your last paragraph — in my experience, this sort of thinking very often does happen ‘by accident’, or at least without any conscious motive. Does that mean it isn’t being used very deliberately? Absolutely not! (To insist so would be committing the fallacy myself). Simply that, sometimes, Hanlon’s razor* might apply.

    *For those who aren’t aware:
    “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity” — not actually Hanlon’s –paraphrased, it’s possibly Heinlein, or Goethe, at a stretch– but the razor applies to this mis-attribution.

  42. I’ve noticed that, on the public/political stage, the One Drop Fallacy balloon can indeed be punctured – depending on who’s doing the puncturing. Back in the 70’s and 80’s, as I recall, no one could question the Welfare Programs that were in place without immediately being labeled a racist. Not really exaggerating here. A person of leftist persuasion would no more offer a mild challenge to the welfare system than he or she would utter a racial deprecation. Then came Bill Clinton who apparently had enough leftist bona fides to openly challenge the welfare system and indeed change it. There were objections of course, but certainly not the howls of outrage, I believe, that would have accompanied such an act by a republican president. Just as “only Nixon could have gone to China”, only Bill Clinton could have openly challenged the welfare system.

    This of course doesn’t mean that folks of left or right persuasion are suddenly enlightened as to the subtleties of the issue at hand – it may be more a matter of “if that’s what the Party is doing, then I’m for it!”

  43. A quick addendum to my previous post: I think the Dr. Seuss case does illustrate the One Drop Fallacy, as an application of the “all or nothing” mode of False Dilemma, in a way that the other cases do not.

  44. I have to say, you’re guilty of it yourself right here. All fighters of Fascism were Stalinists?

    Some were, undoubtedly, but many were equally critical of how the Soviet system was evolving. See, for example George Orwell’s account of fighting Franco’s Fascists in “Homage to Catalonia”

  45. Yes, Patricia Matthews, thanks for the book recommendation! Going on the to-buy and the to-get-for-the-library lists right now…

  46. Maybe not exactly one drop fallacy but I’ve bumped into a similar phenomena more than once. We would have a discussion with someone that would result in an exchange of articles or books. Later on I would check in with that person to see what they think about what they have read and they would dismiss the whole thing, however well laid out, based on a disagreement with one little point that would not even be relevant to the topic we’ve been conversing about. End of discussion.

    The biggest astonishment happened after talking with one of my colleagues about Christianity – she turned out to be a Christian. She was so happy that I was interested that she brought five rather thick books on the topic for me to read. I was genuinely interested to dig a little bit deeper so I read those books and at least one more. I also attended a Bible study group at work that she was organising and the whole group was very friendly and inviting. After a few very interesting discussions in the group and outside of it with her I was pleasantly surprised at how open minded they all were. We were discussing all sorts of topics related to their faith including some of the most challenging ones and they were all happy to have those conversations. Eventually I suggested her one of the books that wasn’t Christian but that was very inclusive quite often rephrasing an idea in a few languages including the Christian, hoping to have a discussion afterwards. She brought the book back a few weeks later saying that it’s New Age and that she doesn’t buy into the New Age. The book wasn’t New Age and it was criticizing the movement in at least a few places. In the aftermath, I think she just read it to the first sentence that ringed the New Age bell in her head and dismissed the whole book on that basis without even getting to the points that I wanted to discuss with her.

    It is as if some people are only reading the authors who can only be absolutely right on every single point they make. One mistake and you are out!

  47. JMG, this is off topic, but have you seen this site, run by Matthew Christopher?

    The man is interviewed in this podcast:

    His work is about abandoned building across the US, mostly in the Northeast. Interesting and thought provoking photography about the current state of America. Have you ever met him in person or talked with? If not so, I guess you should. I guess some fruitful conversation could take place.

  48. I forgot to say that in my opinion this goes well with Matthew Christophers photoblog as a background score:

    One of the tracks is called Hoffnung am Ende der Welt.

    The movie itself is also pretty a good one, have you seen it? Its well known because of the countless parody videos made of it, Hitler ranting on (put a subject here).

  49. Archdruid,

    Back in college I met one of my best friends, a big guy who grew up on the wrong side of the tracks. He had a reputation of someone not to be messed with. During debates people would often try the “with me or against me” tactic on him, he would fix them with his coldest look and say very plainly “do you really want to draw a line with me on the other side?” His opponents tended to become very reasonable very fast.

    I have a question regarding this series of posts. How do we employ these tools? It seems like most people don’t want to think, just to feel. How can we tell the ones who want to feel apart from the ones who want to think, but are trapped by the bad habits?



  50. Umm, JMG, you’re letting out our big secret here in the South, the one we’re just now coming to terms with: we’re the “colored section” of the country. Yep, when you cross the Ohio or Mason Dixon, signs should say “Welcome to the ‘colored section'”–from Georgia to Texas, KY to Fla. That’s why the rest of the country hates us, and why black people are coming back in record numbers…

  51. One important characteristic of the One Drop Fallacy is that there are positive and negative manifestations. The negative aspect signifies exclusion and the positive aims at inclusion. Because it takes on both poles, it is all the more insidious. I would characterize your examples of White and Black race qualities as negative, in that the aim is to exclude those so identified. Examples of positive ODF are best exemplified by apologists for corruption of all sorts. Universal inclusion instantly obliterates any opposition. Any attempt to point out that corruption is the root problem and needs to be remedied is followed by a conversation ending, “well both sides do it!” Such a response literally short circuits the energy of conversation. When I follow up such a response with, “well, you support corruption then?”, there is usually some backpedalling or blame shifting, or both. The original point of such a conversation is to identify a social problem, and to try to come up with solutions. By short circuiting the process, no solutions can be found. Only retrenchment into an ideological camp or faction is possible. The point of the conversation is focused on who is “Right”, instead of a give and take, leading to a compromise solution, however fleeting or temporary.

    All this leads me to think that people individually, and society as a whole, is most healthy when in a mode of ascension- not self-satisfied grander or “All Knowing”. Wanting to live forever is the dead giveaway- either for society as a whole or megalomaniac leaders individually. The quest for immortality lies behind all these ruses.

    Humility is needed to find a middle ground. Where I would characterize such a middle position as enabling great strength, the ODF obfuscators will only see and exclaim “weakness”.

    The word Tragedy comes to mind.

  52. Liz, they’re closely related. The slippery slope fallacy argues that A leads to B, which leads to C, and so on, so that if you permit A you might as well be permitting Z; the One Drop fallacy is far cruder, and says that any letter that isn’t A must be Z. As for Seuss, hmm! I’ll have to doublecheck my source.

    Greg, I’m not a reggae fan, so didn’t know about the one drop rhythm! Fascinating…

    Dean, exactly. When the One Drop fallacy gets used, you can pretty generally assume that the people who are using it aren’t being honest.

    Clay, a good example. It’s partlcularly funny watching people on the notional left insisting that RT is evilly evil with a side of evil sauce. Wasn’t baiting Russia a conservative habit?

    Nik, where’s the contradiction? The promoters of both kinds of correctness are trying to appeal to the undecided and the vulnerable, and so they insist that the middle ground doesn’t exist, to trick the undecided and the vulnerable into thinking that they have to choose one of the kinds of correctness. The fact that a majority of Americans reject both views doesn’t keep there from being a lot of undecided and vulnerable people.

    Haassmasithiam, thank you for this — a cogent example, and one I didn’t know about.

    James, oh, granted, the opposite of one fallacy is usually another fallacy!

    Drhooves, that’s a good point.

    Mike, hmm! I don’t know of one, but I’d be delighted to find one.

    RPC, pedantically noted. 😉 A good thoughtstarter, by the way!

    C.M. Mayo, thank you.

    Jill, excellent. I’m reminded of the famous quote by Oliver Cromwell: “I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible that you are mistaken.”

    Stefania, that’s entirely possible. It’s always challenging to guess why someone falls into this or any other fallacy, of course.

    Rita, a solid example! Don’t burn the yearbook, though — it’s probably worth more to you than the presidency…

    Jbucks, they work because thinking is a skill that has to be learned, and most people these days have never learned it. As for the Churchill quote, I consider it a thoughtstarter, not a thoughtstopper: I’ve watched it jolt quite a few people into thinking, in some cases for the first time, about why democracy can be good not only despite the fact that it’s imperfect, but because it’s imperfect.

    Scotlyn, yes, it’s a variety of the false dichotomy; I gave it the specific name I did because it has a distinctive structure.

    David, yep. That’s why I’m not on Faceplant.

    Shane, well, we can’t all be lucky. 😉

    Frank, exactly. Europe has some particularly egregious examples of this kind of thinking just now — of course so does the US…

    Dermot, thanks for this! A very sound argument.

    Jbucks, good. As noted above, no, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with framing thoughtstarters in crisp sentences of Churchill’s sort.

    Catana, very good! Exactly; if white people are so fragile that they have to be sheltered from contact with nonwhite people, and a single nonwhite ancestor can overpower any number of white ancestors, then how, exactly, is the “white race” superior?

    Frederick, I’ve been saying for some years now that as people spend more of their time interacting with machines than with people, they act more like machines — that is to say, they behave more mechanically, more unthinkingly, more stupidly.

    Phil K., fascinating! That’s entirely plausible — life in a modern industrial society is so dreary, so much of the time, that artificial stimulants are practically a necessity for many people, and ideologies can serve that function just as well as chemicals. Hmm — I’m going to have to brood over this one for a while.

    Nicholas, you’re welcome and thank you. I grant that reading comprehension is at an all-time low these days, and so is basic literacy, but I suspect there’s much more going on here.

    Oilman2, questions can sometimes work, yes. The thing that interests me is that many people seem to want a less rigidly binary way of looking at the world, and just need to be sure they can have one without being screamed at by some frenzied true believer or other. That’s one of the things this sequence of posts is meant to foster.

    Lydia, true enough!

    Tidlosa, it’s a variant of the same logical fallacy, as mentioned above.

    Kulja, I don’t mind at all! It makes a lot of sense to me, and of course, any homage to one of my novels is guaranteed to make me smile. 😉 I’ve had conversations very like the one you had, and yes, it’s annoying.

    Greg, exactly. I didn’t have space to get into the formal structure of the fallacy in the post, so thanks for filling that in.

    El, exactly. Exactly.. Thank you for getting it.

    Blue Sun, use that mantra! I find that it’s a very effective thoughtstarter. I don’t know who originated the claim that there are two sides to every story, but you’re right, it’s highly problematic; Druids would say that there are three sides to every story, and then make the third side include an infinity of others, but we’re like that. 😉

    Barefootwisdom, excellent! You’ve actually jumped ahead and identified another very important fallacy that also plays a huge role in today’s failures of thinking. I don’t have a crisp name for it yet, but it’s the insistence that “X is true” equals “I want X to be true.” We’ll get to that in detail in a future post.

    Dusk Shine, the One Drop Fallacy is an extreme form of all-or-nothing thinking. While the common or garden variety does indeed happen by accident or simple sloppiness, every time I’ve seen the extreme form deployed, it was being deployed in support of an agenda.

    Will, I’m sorry to say that I think your latter suggestion is more likely to be true. Think of the way that Democrats who denounced George W. Bush’s military adventurism fell all over themselves to fawn on Obama for doing exactly the same things.

    Paul, I see you have problems with basic reading comprehension. Please go back and reread my post, and look for a place where I claimed that all fighters against fascism were Stalinists; you won’t find one.

    Ganesh, that’s the same fallacy, and a good example of it. Thank you!

    Simo, thanks for this!

    Dennis, ah, but we can get it back. All it takes is practice, and a willingness to let go of simplistic beliefs.

    Varun, don’t worry about other people for the time being. Work on your own thinking, and get your own head clear of thougtstoppers, one-drop fallacies, and so on. Then look for people who are doing the same thing, and cooperate with them. The later stages of the process will be discussed further on.

    Shane, er, you’re not the only colored section of the country. Come up to Rhode Island sometime; I’ll take you for a walk here in East Providence, where you’ll find every color of skin from lily-white to dark mahogany brown. You really do need to get out more! 😉

  53. Re: JMG’s reply to Shane

    I think Shane might have been offering his take on your “one drop rule”. The South has plenty of colorful drops of all kinds of political unorthodoxy, from Christianity to ethnonationalism and segregation (black and white churches are still divided, last I heard). So if the rest of the country sees those “drops” as pollution, the way the media paints it, then for people who are already “black,” it’s familiar and more like home. But I think JMG is also right in that regard: the entire country is a much more colorful place than the political establishment makes it out to be.

    These days, I am seeing a common meme on the far right that most countries in the world are monoethnic, while America alone suffers the burden of taking on all ethnicities. They would have a point if they used rather different language: most countries do not have to take on migrants, while America has been assimilating large numbers of migrants for over a century. This is a definite fact with real political consequences, and which requires a serious civic response. The far right uses that fact, which they pretend that liberals deny, and then twists it with ignorance (of the multiethnic reality of the rest of the world in 2017) and racism (pretending that migration before 1960 was not a big deal or a source of tension, because of shared “whiteness”).

    On that note, I have some Japan-related comments to make. The far right meme uses Japan as their number one example. But Japan has never, ever been defined by ethnicity. Even today, when you see some minority of Japanese people angry at Koreans, their desired political response is not something ethnic-based, but rather based on the fact that Koreans in Japan retain Korean citizenship.

    Before 1868, Japan was disunited. Even the language varied widely from place to place and was sometimes mutually unintelligible. The initial unification of the country was based on the shared ideals of the emperor, and later (during the best, most democratic days of the empire) shared commitment to constitutional law, before returning to emperor worship. All of these things can be taught to children in schools; they are not based in race-consciousness. Which makes it interesting, to me, that constitutionalism in America is increasingly becoming associated with the right wing; in 21st century Japan, the Constitution is a left-wing talking point only.

    After 1905 Japan was keeping Korea as a colony, and tried to teach the Koreans the exact same things that Japanese were taught about the divinity of the emperor. They were highly frustrated by Korean resistance, which was backed by a shared Korean belief in ethnic nationalism.

    Even today, Koreans speak about the unity and purity of their race (minjok), which forms a shared bond between South and North Korea and drives the desire for unification, and Japanese people remain generally perplexed by this. Which does not bode well for far right memes.

  54. The one drop fallacy seems like a variant/repackaging of Queer Theory, QT – Because QT insists there is a binary and one is queered over the other, man over woman etc.

    I’ve had Judith Butler shoved in my face a lot. At first her ideas seemed interesting and QT a useful tool for introspection, nothing more. But QT has morphed into this thing social thought stopper that I feel causes a lot of problems. I take particular issue with Queering the world to the point that, “There are no men and no women only parts society forces us to play.” It ignores physical reality so much it’s starting to drive me bonkers. An acquaintance, a big supporter of QT, recently started flying a Soviet Flag…. I just put my face in my palm at that point and gave up trying to explain my issues with QT to him. Stating my problems with the USSR didn’t go any better.

    QT I think has set the feminism movement back a decade or two. Because by asserting there are no men and women, only societal roles, you’ve just destroyed the category of woman. The argument has been that this hurts the transexual group, the one drop fallacy at work. Am I a bigot? I get called that all the time. At this point I call myself a gray progressive and burkean conservatives seem like kindred spirits.

  55. John, the contradiction is that you said the people who have no time for such nonsense, etc., are probably a majority, and then went on to say that the only way to get most people (that is, a majority) to buy into an offensive ideology is to use the ODF, which you just said a majority of people probably don’t buy into.

  56. I am doing The Happy Sanity Dance right now! Along with a few fist pumps to the air, because– YES!

    I’ve long said much the same, though not nearly as articulately. It is such an obvious truth that generally the most good “good” lies between two extremes that I have long been ferociously frustrated that the Black Vs. White “One Drop Fallacy” takes precedence. Discussion after discussion has been waylaid time and again by this insistence upon following a canned idealism full of warm fuzzies and cold pricklies! I am thoroughly heartened by your foray into fallacy.

    Thank you!

  57. Now I’m laughing at myself. I read Phil K’s comment about picking sides of arguments like picking teams in order to feel engaged and get stimulated mentally and realized I’d just done a “YEAH! MY SIDE WON!” reaction (fist pumps and all!) to your post in my previous comment! Choosing sanity feels like a big win to me, ironically enough. Heh!

  58. Just a point to one of the comments. Germany did not technically lose WWI. It ended with an armistice not a peace treaty. Both sides had fought to a standstill and Germany said, “Let’s stop”.

  59. I see this a lot with the issue of abortion. Both sides insist that you are evil, evil, evil if you don’t believe the most extreme form of their position. The more the two sides fight it out, the more extreme they both get. It’s gotten to the point where some pro-lifers insist that abortion should never be legal, not even the termination of an ectopic pregnancy (very, very dangerous for the mother, miniscule chance of the baby surviving in any case) or the morning after pill for a rape victim. On the other hand, some pro-choicers are adamant that abortion must always be legal and easily accessible, up to birth, for any reason at all. A few have gone even beyond that and have started arguing for “post-birth abortion”, which is exactly what it sounds like – infanticide.

    How many people really believe either of those extremes? I’d bet not that many. I think the extremists are the loudest, and a lot of other people keep quiet because they don’t want to be viciously attacked by both sides.

    On the one drop rule … I find it interesting that some extremists online are wanting to bring that back. There are a small number of people actually saying that white people should get DNA tests to make sure they’re really white. I’ve shared before that I might possibly have a small amount of black ancestry. I’ve considered getting a DNA test as part of researching my family history. That could be very interesting. But the extremists make it sound like if you have even a tiny amount of black DNA, you’re black, even if you didn’t realize it before. To call someone like me black based on a DNA test is just as ridiculous as calling a black person white if they have a small amount of white ancestry. I don’t understand that kind of thinking.

    BTW, if I do end up getting tested, I’ll share the results here. It’s around $100, so I have to convince myself it’s worth it just to appease my curiosity. 😀

  60. Shane, why are you disappointed not to have black ancestry? You are who you are. Your ancestors survived to adulthood and had children, which eventually produced you. That happened as it should have. You now have a duty to them, to live your life the best way you can and not to make them ashamed of you. That would be the same no matter what their skin color was.

    Anyway, if reincarnation is true (I suspect it might be, though I’m not certain), then your soul, or essence, or whatever, chose which body you should go into to have whatever circumstances you would need for your growth, learning, development, or however it works. You’re in the body you needed, with the DNA you needed, which isn’t black. I’m in the body I needed, with the DNA I needed, a small portion of which may be black.

    It’s all as it should be. More and more, I’m coming to believe in fate. Not to the point of believing that you can do nothing to change anything in your life, of course. I do accept though that there are things in our lives that are just meant to be. We have to walk the path in front of us the best we can. We may be able to choose which direction to go when we come to a fork in the road, but we can’t just jump over to a totally different road that isn’t connected to where we are now.

    Not that you are trying to jump to a different road, that’s just where my thoughts went from the reincarnation and fate talk. I hope my rambling detour wasn’t too boring!

  61. Austin, be glad you’re not a Swedish academic or politics student then!

    ““You will include Judith Butler in your course.” That was announced to Erik Ringmar, senior lecturer in the Department of Political Science at Lund University, after the September meeting of the department’s board of directors. Not that there’s anything wrong with reading the queer studies feminist Butler. It’s just that the course Ringmar teaches is primarily about the reaction to modernity at the turn of the last century, with a focus on fascism….

    …The department’s goal, set by the board and approved by the academic board, is that the proportion of female authors must never fall below 40 percent of the reading lists. A course like Erik Ringmar’s—”Modern society and its critics“—which focuses on original texts from around the turn of the last century, immediately gets into trouble since fascism in the 1930s wasn’t exactly a bastion of gender equality. So Ringmar’s reading list contained too few female reactionaries for the board to be satisfied. He tried to resolve this by including anarchism as another violent political response to modernity (although it was not really the original idea of the course), and unlike female fascists, their anarchistic counterparts actually wrote a great deal. But even so, the proportion of female authors on the course’s reading list only reached 15 percent.

    It wasn’t good enough, according to the board. Judith Butler had to be included.”

    Postmodernists in power somehow manage to be both horrifying and hilarious at the same time – although it’s harder for their victims to see the funny side of course.

  62. One common fallacy somewhat related to the One Drop fallacy is what I call the Minor Effect/Major Effect Switch Around. This is when one side insists that a problem should be ignored while it is still minor, but is too overwhelming to confront when it becomes major.

    Liberals particularly like to deploy this with regard to immigration. The argument switches from “why are they complaining about immigration when there is hardly any?” to “why are they complaining about immigration when we now depend on it?”

    Right-wingers tend to use it with regard to military interventions – “you don’t need to worry, this is only a limited deployment” becomes “we can’t abandon this now, we’ve invested so much time and effort.”

  63. As a member of political party, I meet this kind of fallacy quite often, and I agree that its primary aim is to marginalize opposition. It is often used instinctively.

    However, situation is more complicated than that. For example, in your example of affirmative action, your question is legitimate, but it may not be understood as such, depending on circumstances. This kind of question is often used by people whose sole purpose is to undermine the questioned idea. If they get honest answer (which would probably admit that nothing is perfect and there are problems), they will later refer to it as a proof that the idea does not work at all. As a result, if you ask such question without establishing sufficient (and that might be pretty high) level of trust first, you get hostile answer.

    Also, I think that your argumentation is somewhat stretched in case of Dr. Seuss. (Now I only react to what you have written, because I have never heard of this person before.) Viewing world in a way consistent with an ideology does not imply knowing subscription to it, much less some respect for its leaders. Especially, in case of fascism, which is nationalist, and so would see nothing wrong on mocking people of other nationalities.

  64. @ JMG

    Dear Sir,

    For whatever reason, a large swath of our contemporaries have developed a kind of reasoning which I can tentatively call the “Magickal Hammer Mind”: the person’s point of view is the hammer, all other POVs are nails, coupled with a flabbergasting dose of magical thinking (the utterance that outcome A is more likely than any other implies summoning outcome A into being).
    If the above doesn’t strike you as too far fetched, do you think that it could be the result of some agenda or, at the very least, the unintended confluence of several agendas?

    Best regards.

    Post scriptum – I am aware that this comment can be construed as an attempt to steer things into the conspiracy theory realm. I have no such expectations whatsoever – the flux of the masses’ psychology is arguably affected by a vast number of factors: I’m just interested in what do you think those may be.

  65. The” one drop fallacy ” is similar to what I call labeling . It is so much easier to jam someone into a category then to accept anything they say is correct. I like to stir up peoples thoughts by arguing both sides of gun control. the most prominent issue these days . Conservatives will say you are not allowed to argue against assault style weapons if you own guns . I can do it all day long. using the ” law of limits” and the” law of balance”. Of course I am labeled a liberal. But I am the only liberal that will defend the 2nd amendment right to bear arms . For some reason this confuses people .I SAY LET THEM THINK ABOUT IT !

  66. ‘the insistence that “X is true” equals “I want X to be true.”’

    Oh yes that one’s incredibly annoying. I think it only affects those who make negative statements that imply a kind of limit on the bright future ahead of us that the listener doesn’t like the sound of. Or worse still, that implies that the listener might actually be contributing, if only by their passivity, to causing the harshness of that future.

    I think that fallacy is almost more than a fallacy though. It’s really the logical endpoint of all of postmodernist philosophy. If there’s no such thing as facts or truth, if language is merely an instrument of power, if even what we perceive is determined by our relationship to power, then the first, and often last, resort in responding to any claim is to ask what the desire, the power motive, or even merely the position in the hierarchy of power, of the speaker is. Any statement about what is true must, according to that ideology, equate to what the speaker wants to be true. And in practice that’s exactly what people influenced by postmodernism do in debates (though most are completely unaware of the origins of that reaction). If only they’d apply their critical theory consistently to all of their own perceptions, follow it down into the rabbit hole of nihilism and leave the rest of us in peace until they find their way back out.

    The ubiquity of that fallacy makes me wary of advising people to look for the agenda behind the One Drop Fallacy or any other fallacy or thoughtstopper though. People are looking for any excuse to get into the above, ad hominems and the genetic fallacy so they’ll misidentify fallacies all over in order to do that.

  67. Ultimately the origin of the one-drop fallacy goes to the root of our thinking. We think in concepts. Either a state of affairs falls under a particular concept or it does not. (Either this is a tree or it is not a tree.) Even when it is not clear whether it falls under that particular concept, we have to make it fall under some concept or group of concepts in order to talk about it at all. That is to say, all talking, i.e. all verbal thought, involves making either-or decisions about whether a particular concept applies or does not apply.

    Even the phrase “black-and-white thinking” makes the situation appear more complex than it is (though it has other advantages). In origin the thinking involved is not “black-and-white” but “black-or-non-black” and we have to decide where the boundary between them lies. That is one way in which calling the decision the “one-drop” rule is particularly appropriate. According to this rule, “one drop” is enough to ensure that the concept “black” applies. So far as the one-drop rule is concerned, white is anything that is not black. (In the reality of race relations, of course, other rules were applied. The one-drop rule was not enough on its own to define whiteness.)

    Concepts always imply values. We give a name to some state of affairs because we have some purpose in doing so, i.e. the state of affairs referred to has a positive or negative value for us (or some combination of the two), since if it had no value we would not bother to name it. The implication is that everything that falls under that concept has that particular value, and anything that does not fall under that concept does not have that value. It is easy to see how this situation can affect people to whom a particular concept is important. If the value is strongly positive, they are likely to regard as hostile or evil anything related that falls outside their definition of that concept, and conversely if the value is negative. They do not have to examine anything closely in order to do this. The basis for it is there in the language.

    This shows why the one-drop fallacy is so common. It is rooted in the most basic element of thinking: the decision whether to apply a concept or not. You have to “stand outside” that sort of thinking in order to see its limitations. You have to see that there are many other concepts that can also be applied to the same situation, not just the one you are currently applying. That involves ‘meta-thinking’ – thinking about thinking. That is inevitably more complex and requires more effort than the basic ability to think at all. And since, as you say, the extreme forms of the one-drop fallacy are generally deployed in support of an agenda, there are reasons why many people prefer not to engage in the extra effort.

  68. I’ll add I’ve always thought Black leaders in government should make certain they’re spending time in their communities making certain Black students are finishing homework. Given US jobs sent offshore, I’ve also thought all Members of Congress should staff their states’ unemployment offices.

  69. Somebody asks why these things work. While they are used as discussion stoppers, I think they also serve a different purpose: they are tribal identifiers. Tribalism is biologically evolved in humans. Modern cosmopolitanism has lessened it somewhat (mostly for the better I think) but it still exists in most of us to some degree, and in some of us to a high degree. When somebody makes a simple and direct and over-simplified declaration, they are identifying their ideological tribe and they want to know if people (other than the one they are accusing of something) are in their tribe. A whole discussion could be had on whether the raging partisanship affecting the US is in part a reestablishment of tribalism due to difficulties that we find ourselves in these days. When times are good and people fee secure about their state in life and for their children, they are much more forgiving of many things. When they are not secure, they want a tribe to protect them.

  70. The world always makes the assumption that the exposure of an error is identical with the discovery of truth — that the error and truth are simply opposite. They are nothing of the sort. What the world turns to, when it is cured on one error, is usually simply another error, and maybe one worse than the first one.

    H.L. Mencken

  71. JMG re: “It’s always challenging to guess why someone falls into this or any other fallacy.”

    I agree it may not be possible for every person to have a crystal ball and know what is in the minds of other people, although I do think it is necessary to at least try to think about the other person’s story. Maybe, as I thought at the time, that guy on the street had been through some rough stuff, quite possibly things that were outside the realm of my experience as a white person, that caused him to be out there that day trying to promote Black History. Even if I don’t know exactly what happened to him, there is likely something real there that is having some kind of hurtful influence on him. I think this is where compassion comes in. Compassion can be a powerful force that holds the door open to the middle ground, like inserting a wedge as Oilman mentioned. If compassion isn’t a part of the interaction, the door to the middle ground slams shut and we are stuck back in binary land. Just think, if I had done the somewhat natural thing and reacted to this guy by getting all indignant and angry, then stormed off in a huff feeling violated, I probably would have written him off as just a crazy angry evilly evil black guy! So in a sense he was trying to draw me into his binary world. He wasn’t apparently able to realize that by trying to promote one thing (Black History), he simultaneously created its opposite (racism). Maybe if I had had a bit more time that day, or possibly felt less shy about doing so, I might have tried to engage him into a conversation about his experiences as a black person and how he felt he had been affected by his heritage.

    I’m not trying to imply that I’m perfectly perfect at doing this, by the way. I do remember that day and the angry feeling rising up in me when he started hurling insults my way. Anger is so fast and sneaky – way faster than the thinking mind, which makes it all quite challenging! Luckily I was able to bite my tongue and just walk away without getting into a fight with a complete stranger on the street. But I do think we can try to watch out for anger trying to show up, as it usually does, as once we realize that the moment we lose compassion, we enter into the binary world in which the person is stuck. Then the middle ground is lost, along with any potential for real thinking or communication.

  72. JMG,
    i have lived outside the South, you know–Los Angeles Co., Calif. isn’t exactly predominately white, you know. Whenever I’ve lived outside the South, I’ve always felt at home and sought out black culture and black experiences. As you said, race is a cultural construct, and that is what I meant by saying that the South is “colored section” of the nation. The South is “culturally colored”–our connection to the Western European protestant work ethic and the “shining city on the hill” is tenuous, at best, which is why we are subject to the same stereotypes leveled at people of color. This cultural identity probably goes a long way towards explaining why the South is such a popular destination for immigrants from Latin America and returning African Americans.
    I’m always worried that people from disparate compartments of my life will find out about the others. I’ve joined the Sons of Confederate veterans and am active in preserving Confederate history, but for reasons both “sides” would find anathema. I feel like it’s only a matter of time (10-20 years, at best) before the Union is broken into more manageable parts, and I feel that Confederate history will take on new meaning once the Union is dissolved, and that the Confederacy will be seen in a different light once the Union is dissolved. For all is warts and flaws, the Confederacy was the most powerful pushback against bourgeois, industrialized capitalism, as noted in I’ll Take My Stand. The Confederates were the only ones willing to go to war to stop the expansion of Yankee industrialized capitalism. Really, with all the complexities of my identity and the contentiousness of people now, I think all but a few friends in Canada would consider me to be a “traitor”, and therefore, all but a few people know everything about me.

  73. @isabelcooper: “An annoying number of people have the opinion that the potential for side effects, or the fact that not every drug works for everyone’s condition, means that medication as a whole is Bad and Wrong and you should just go hang out in a forest to cure your clinical depression.”

    This is a valuable reminder for me, because while I’m aware that such people exist, I don’t hang out on their part of the internet so virtually never have to argue with them. The ones I usually argue with hold the opinion that because turning off the screen and going for walks in the woods, and maybe taking St. John’s wort or fish oil, won’t cure every single person with clinical depression, those things are all Worthless and you should just take pills for life. Or they intimate that if you do not accept whatever drug or procedure they like, you will surely suffer the worst possible consequence of whatever condition it is thought to protect a portion of its users from. Both likewise examples of black-and-white thinking, and often coming from people who are proud of their elite education and allegedly superior intelligence. It’s pathetic how often our culture manages to force even an insanely complex multidimensional subject, such as health, into a “both sides” model in which 95% of those who have any interests or opinions at all feel they must sit at the far ends of a one-dimensional spectrum, bellowing at each other while us poor slobs in the middle catch the flying spittle from both sides.

  74. @Dean Myerson: Good thinking. Add to that defense function the notion that one can conserve more personal energy by rejecting out of hand anyone who does not meet the shibboleth test. Shutting people out is less energy intensive than seeking common ground, thinking through subtle nuances of a problem, or building coalition alliances based on jointly attainable goals. Politics is work; it takes time, effort, meditative reflection or prayer, and cautious use of judgment. People who are sleep-deprived, over-worked, underpaid, hungry, drug-dependent, frightened, media-mashed, or subject to many other social stressors may not choose to engage brain before putting wrath in gear.

  75. One more thing about Matthew Christopher. He has published two books: Abandoned America: The Age of Consequences and Abandoned America: Dismantling The Dream. I found out that James Howard Kunstler wrote preface to former.

    The other thing that just came into my mind is that are you familiar with concept of sauna, JMG? I suppose a traditional wood burning one fits into permacultural practices as well. Its a great place for bathing and relaxing. . It is also hygienic, to the extent that in the old times in Finland women gave birth there.

    Sauna is not so widespread in the US, but some exist, according to Wikipedia “in the Lake Superior Region, specifically the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, especially the Keweenaw Peninsula, and parts of Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Iowa, which are home to large populations of Swedish and particularly Finnish Americans. Duluth, Minnesota, at its peak, had as many as 14 public saunas. Indeed, among Finnish farms in Great Lakes “sauna country”, the cultural geographer Matti Kaups, found that 90% had sauna structures-more even than the farms in Finland.” I also have read that in more ancient times the sauna culture was more widespread in Europe, including southern Europe. Now its mostly limited to Scandinavia, Baltic states and Russia, I mean folk culture, not health spas.

  76. I think Doug Manners almost got it right: one of the roots of this is the habit of thinking in stereotypical categories. I noticed this when I was at the library reading the current Science News, which has a nice article on the problems of defining “species” in biology. A recent review identified 32 different ways of defining “species,” only one of which matches the naive view – and it is, of course, the one that doesn’t work.

    This habit can be broken, but if you want to see the problem in all of its glory outside of politics, the biology and genetics of “species” is one venue.

  77. @ JMG:

    “Exactly; if white people are so fragile that they have to be sheltered from contact with nonwhite people, and a single nonwhite ancestor can overpower any number of white ancestors, then how, exactly, is the “white race” superior?”

    Perhaps a bit OT (and I may expand upon this in the next open post), but this is why I have always regarded “white supremacists” and “white nationalists” as a bunch of losers. All of the “skinheads” I have ever seen have this “inbred” look about them. For instance, take a look at this photo of the late “white nationalist” lawyer Edgar J. Steele. Pardon my bluntness, but how many generations of first-cousin intermarriage did it take to produce this face, with its grey-green eyes and blazing orange hair (perhaps the most recessive genetic traits of all)? For that matter, David Duke has had tons of cosmetic surgery to look more “Aryan.” What does that say?

    Now, (back to the “One Drop Fallacy” which is the subject of this post), anyone who questions the Officially Official narrative about “race” (promulgated by the privileged classes to divide and rule the rest of us) automatically gets accused of being “inbred degenerates” like those I have just mentioned. As many in this comment thread have pointed out, the “One Drop Fallacy” (or the False Dichotomy fallacy) is a cattle prod used by our ruling classes to corral, herd and stampede the “deplorables” into various cages and holding pens, the better that they may shear and skin us.

  78. What Pavel is referring to (“this kind of question is often used by people whose sole purpose is to undermine the questioned idea”) is, I think, what is sometimes referred to as “concern trolling”. While I understand what the phrase means and agree that the phenomenon does happen, I’ve also found that the accusation of “concern trolling” can also be a thought-stopper in its own right. (“Oh, you question whether affirmative action is an effective way to address inequality? You’re just a concern-trolling racist!” Etc.) The particular way it stops thought is by attacking the speaker’s motivation – e.g., you can’t possible be motivated to question affirmative action due to observations that affirmative action doesn’t work as advertised (or by any other benign motivation); you must surely be motivated by racism (or something equally pernicious). The dichotomy is pre-set: good people think X (non-racists support affirmative action), and bad people think otherwise (racists don’t support affirmative action), so if you question the effectiveness of affirmative action, the only possible explanation is that you’re a committed member of the other camp (one drop rule!), and your behavior must be a result of the pernicious motivations of your foul kind. (Stop concern trolling! We know what you’re REALLY about! You just want to maintain your privilege and oppress people!)

    As for the insistence that “X is true” equals “I want X to be true,” that’s one I’m sure we all saw plenty of in 2016. I don’t know what to call it either (“observation equals endorsement”?), but it seems like it may also related to the deliberate misidentification of the other’s motivation. It’s the bizarre assumption that if you’re stating an unpleasant fact or making an unpleasant prediction, you must be motivated only by support for that unpleasant reality/unappealing possibility, because otherwise, you wouldn’t be saying such things; you’d be engaging in more-positive thinking or participating in efforts to ignore the unpleasantness. (E.g., Why would you say “X is true”, when we’ve all tacitly agreed that it isn’t, or at least, that we’re going to ignore it and not have to deal with the unpleasant reality of X being true? You must want X to be true or be trying to make X come true, that’s the only explanation for your behavior!)

    Same thing with the “stop mansplaining” (or “whitesplaining” or “heterosplaining” or whatever) thought-stoppers – what those phrases are saying, at least in part, is that we know that you’re not really just trying to share information for benign reasons, you’re real goal is to silence and oppress women (or whomever) – we know your real motivation!

  79. Oh, if you really want to get both “sides” riled up and positively apoplectic, show ’em JMG’s old ADR post about the end of white privilege. 😉

  80. “…the people who yelled the loudest about the evils of fascism at that time—the anti-fascist activists that today’s Antifa groups lionize, in fact—were supporters of Stalin’s regime in Russia, which killed around three times as many people as the Nazis did,”

    What am I missing here John? Signing up for the International Brigade, and putting you life on the line on the Catalonian barricades is a pretty loud shout. Yet the likes of Orwell, and for that matter, Laurie Lee, were anything but un-nuanced.

  81. JMG
    Could be related to the ‘package deal’? Rationality, science, technology, progress: challenge any which one and it is a challenge to all of them and you can’t have one without the others. Prosperity, stock exchange & banks might be another. Pesticides, modern farming, food security, year-round low-cost food. I won’t go on. There is some real evidence buried in these packages but its the overall attitude that seems to matter. They seem to me more than thought-stoppers, but do they make it as ‘one drop fallacy’?

    Phil H

  82. It might be worth making an extra comment here. I’m not attempting to troll. I’m not interested in winning an argument. I feel that on this specific issue, a small part of the whole post, there is an issue worth raising. That’s not to say I disagree with your entire post. I actually agree with most of it. So It’s nit-picking. Yet it has a value, If you’re open to criticism, you won’t just dismiss it.This is a post to you, personally. I don’t expect you to pass it into publication. If you do, well, good for you, but I raised the issue for a precise reason.

    Your blog is a receptacle for your prejudices. Of course it is. Mine is. Everybody’s is. You have an axe to grind. A position to defend. You’re not necessarily subject to the tribal prejudices of people who identify themselves as in any political or party political camp. Yet you have an investment in your ideas. It’s going to be easier to dismiss my comments as a reading deficit than to accept that I may have a valid point. It is to your credit that you published my original post, and in keeping with the ethos posted about courteous comments being posted, even if they disagree with you.

  83. Avery, the funny thing about that far-right talking point is that most countries in the world are polyethnic, and I can’t think of a single really large country that’s not robustly polyethnic. India? China? Russia? Brazil? Argentina? South Africa? Australia? I could go on.The American far right in particular lives in a fantasy land made possible only by the stunningly bad state of public education in the United States; they probably have no idea, for example, that there’s more than one ethnic group in India, and that feeds the notion that the US is something unusual.

    Austin, I haven’t followed Queer Theory — there are too many elaborate theories in the social justice scene for anybody to keep track of unless they have no other life — but it sounds to me as though QT is another good demonstration of my argument that the opposite of one bad idea is another bad idea. Is rigid gender essentialism a bad thing? Of course. Is going to the opposite extreme equally bad? The answer follows as the night the day…

    Nik, the fact that they haven’t succeeded doesn’t mean that they aren’t trying to succeed, or that they’re dealing with the fact that they’re not succeeding. You might as well argue that there’s a contradiction between the fact that Hillary Clinton tried to become president and the fact that she failed.

    Larissa, I admit I’d like to see what the Happy Sanity Dance looks like! I get the point about choosing sides, but given the amount of giddy unreality in circulation these days, a bit of exuberance is probably not out of place. 😉

    Jill, normally, you know, when one side says “Uncle,” the other side is held to have won. I think that applies here as well.

    Housewife, a solid example. I’m old enough to recall the days before Roe vs. Wade when, in Washington state, abortion was legal under a wide range of conditions, and pro- and anti-abortion politicians negotiated compromises (which included such things as improved access to health care for pregnant women who wanted to keep the baby) rather than screaming at one another.

    Phil, that’s another good one — I’d call it the Camel’s Nose Gambit.

    Pavel, I think you’ve missed the point of both examples.

    Armenio, the unintended confluence of several agendas, I think. On the one hand, here in the US the public schools have become a massive source of popular ignorance, due to (a) educational theories that put the convenience of teachers ahead of the needs of students (the prevalence of whole-language approaches to reading, in place of phonics, being the classic example); (b) a culture of quantitative testing that has driven the abandonment of education and its replacement with mindless memorization; and (c) ongoing wealth transfers that have gutted the budget for classrooms while administrators get ever-larger salaries. On the other, the aftermath of our national nervous breakdown in the 1980s, when most Americans turned their backs on their own descendants and gave up on the future, has made a great many people extremely leery of thinking — it’s much easier to wallow in emotion, that way you don’t have to worry about reflecting on what your actions are doing to the world your own children will have to live with! It’s a sorry mess, all things considered.

    Robert, that’s a closely related fallacy, and yes, it’s hugely common these days. I like to mention to people that I’m a moderate Burkean conservative who’s strongly in favor of the right to same-sex marriage, and watch their brains melt… 😉

    Dot, true enough! The reason I advise my readers to pay attention to agendas is that anyone who can put up with the subjects we discuss here is probably going to be able to avoid the trap you’ve sketched out.

    Doug, be careful about that word “we”! Thinking in concepts is far from universal. Many people think in sensory images instead, and the difference between a concept and a sensory image has major influences on learning style, among other things. What’s more, “thinking in concepts” includes a range of different cognitive styles, only some of which give those concepts hard boundaries of the kind you’ve sketched out. It’s at least as common for people who think in concepts to treat those as centers of meaning that fade out toward a poorly defined periphery — I habitually think this way, for example; I use examples rather than definitions to anchor my concepts, and so recognize instinctively that between “tree” and “shrub,” say, is a continuum through which any line of division is arbitrary.

    Liz, you’re welcome. Delighted to hear it!

    Jenxyz, I tend to want members of Congress to go to unemployment offices regularly as clients, but maybe that’s just me. 😉

    Stephen, thank you.

    Dean, that’s an important point; thank you.

    Alexander, a good quote from the old grouch of Baltimore!

    Stefania, oh, granted. As a person with Aspergers syndrome, I tend to be unusually picky about that issue, is all.

    Shane, I haven’t spent much time in Los Angeles, so can’t really judge; I’ve simply noticed that a fair number of your comments about the northern states, and particularly about New England, betray certain stereotypes founded on very inaccurate data, and it amuses me to point that out to you. 😉

    Simo, good heavens, yes. The part of the country where I grew up, the western half of Washington state, was heavily settled by Scandinavian immigrants, and it wasn’t at all rare to find saunas in people’s homes; most of the hippie farms I encountered, including the one where I lived for a while, had wood-fired saunas. Just now it’s cold and damp here in Providence, and the thought of going into a sauna, roasting in dry heat for a while, and then throwing water over the hot rocks and wallowing in the steam is highly pleasant!

    John, good. It’s precisely when you get into the kind of categorical thinking that requires strict definition that you fall most drastically into the One Drop Fallacy.

    Michael. remember that you’ve been taught by your culture to regard certain types of facial structure or physical appearance as signs of loser status. There’s a huge amount of ethnic bigotry directed by white Americans toward other white Americans on the basis of certain physical markers that differentiate, say, the Atlantic coastal middle classes from the inland southern poor; ordinary genetic drift in populations that don’t interbreed much generate those markers, and the privileged inevitably mock people who have them….

    El, excellent! Thank you for this; you’re quite correct that the fallacies you’ve identified and that of the “x is true= I want x” fallacy are rooted in claims about motivation. Since unstated motivations really do influence discussions of this sort fairly often, that’s an easy fallacy to fall into. Hmm — much grist for the mill.

    Shane, which post did you have in mind? I like to rile people up on occasion, so figured I’d ask. 😉

    Paul, that is to say, you were able to come up with one exception to my deliberately broad generalization. That means, of course, that since you’ve found one drop of inaccuracy in my comment, then my comment must be completely wrong, since whatever isn’t universally true must be universally false. Wait, this is reminding me of something…

    Phil H., good! The Package Deal fallacy is actually another fallacy, related to the One Drop Fallacy but not quite the same. It gets a lot of use precisely where you’ve spotted it, too.

  84. Paul, the flaw in your argument isn’t the result of a reading deficit, it’s a fine example of exactly the logical fallacy I wanted to discuss in this post. Since you’re willing to abide by this blog’s courtesy policy — and thank you for that, btw — I’ll take a moment to give a more detailed response.

    You can always find an exception to every generalization — for example, the fact that some of the people who went to Spain to fight against Franco weren’t supporters of Stalin’s regime. The fact remains that in Europe in the 1930s, opposition to fascism was in large part dominated by apologists for Stalin’s regime, on the one hand, and groups that were part of the Third International and took marching orders from Moscow on the other. That fact can be studied in any good general history of the period, and it doesn’t go away just because you can point to an exception here and there. It’s precisely the mistaken notion that the exception disproves the rule — that one drop of non-Stalinism in the anti-Fascist scene in 1930s Europe erases all the Stalinism there — that I’m criticizing in this post, and so it’s a source of wry amusement to me that you fell into it here.

  85. JMG – what a fantastic idea – I don’t begrudge politicians their salaries – but making them stand in line at the unemployment office to collect them would be a great policy.

    Smart politicians of the near future will run on policies like that.

    It’s worth noting that ethnic categories in the United States are simple – as you point out, like most children with one mostly-African parent and one mostly-European parent, Obama is considered to be a ‘black’ person, but in Brazil, for instance, he would fit into one of thirty or so popularly understood ethnic categories which capture that country’s incredibly diverse mixture of ethnic groups, or people who are a combination of two or more of them.

    Of course, I can’t help but notice that the people who love to point out that there’s no such thing as a white person know exactly what a white person is when it comes to applying affirmative action policies, for instance. And of course, if we say that there is such a thing as an African person or an Arabic person or an Indian, Chinese, Latino, Native American person, and so on, then there is such a thing as a European person – the point is, the sooner we get past the peak of racist politics we are on the upwards slope towards – the better.

    Another vote for saunas – saunas in one form or another are a tradition from Norway to Turkey, to say nothing of the various North American sweat lodge traditions. I’m sure there’s something related in Asia, too.

  86. JMG,
    I believe it was the series of posts that included the Hatred That Dare Not Speak its Name about the face of modern day prejudice in America–how it’s okay to discuss any -ism save classism and class prejudice. One of the posts in that series went into detail about the end of white privilege. As part of it, you were discussing about how most of the up and coming powers are not white (India, China, etc.) and how the white Western/Western diaspora powers are in terminal decline and no longer powerful, and destined to become poor. Ring any bells?

  87. lol Most of the elaborate theories in the SJ movement stem from QT, or at the very least QT seems to have become the standard bearer. The only reason I know anything about it is because it seems that knowing the buzzwords of the SJ movement is essential in the dating world today. One reason young people today don’t have lives….. I don’t know what we have but it’s not a life. If you destroy all boundaries how can you define a relationship?/Have a relationship. There is something to be said for fluid gooey things mushing together but that doesn’t cut in the long run. Some substance is required. Anyone burst our laughing? I’m not trying to be funny that’s my succinct analysis of how things are.

  88. JMG, out of curiosity, if one were to perform a hermetic ritual to strengthen your ability to resist the negative influences of other people’s shoddy thinking what planetary or sephirotic power would you use?

  89. @Dewey: Exactly. I think most people who’ve dealt with mental illness for a while recognize that not everyone needs medication all the time, but some people do need it some of the time, and every case is individual.

    Example: my father’s side of the family, myself included, does not have a functioning serotonin receptor between us. Dad took Prozac for a while in the nineties, and then either a lifestyle shift or just age* has meant he’s never felt the need to do so again. I managed my own issues okay for a while with meditation and so forth, and then got to a point where I needed SSRIs. An aunt and an uncle really should be on something, indefinitely, because…damn.

    And so much of it does depend on where you’re hanging out, social-media-wise. Similarly with abortion: I don’t doubt the people GH describes are out there, but what I’ve seen from even radically pro-choice folks like me is “well, late-term abortions are generally either a result of various other factors that we can fix without intrusion or are the most humane way of coping with nonviable/already dead fetuses, so…” Or gun control, as people have mentioned here.

    Another place where I see a lot of one-drop thinking is in the discussion around body image, fitness, and attraction. One side freaks out if you point out that there are many medical and circumstantial reasons people are overweight and it’s not a character flaw, or the result of one, and that mocking people’s bodies does not actually encourage them to get in shape. The other throws a fit if you personally decide that *you* want to slim down, especially for appearance-related reasons, or if you mention disliking the way certain parts of your body look.

    (And do not get me started on the Food X is The Devil vs. All Food Intolerances Are Just Trendy Fakes people, because I hate everyone on both sides and I’m already cranky due to earlier acts of dentistry.) (Stupid nerve pulp.)

    * I don’t know why; we almost never talk about these things, as they come perilously close to admitting we have emotions.

  90. Also re: Stalinism: you even get the Stalin apologists today. The name most commonly used is “tankies,” and they’re the side of the left where even the most radical of my proudly-SJW crowd Nopetopuses away.

  91. @Shane W: “For all is warts and flaws, the Confederacy was the most powerful pushback against bourgeois, industrialized capitalism, as noted in I’ll Take My Stand.“ Yes, but were it not for the bourgeois, industrialized textile mills of New England, the entire cotton plantation economy would never have come to be. It was the owners of those plantations who drove the Southern states to secession, not the sturdy yeoman farmers.
    My understanding is that I’ll Take My Stand is a paean to to a bucolic agricultural paradise. My own (secondhand) understanding of the South is a little more Yoknapatawpha County.

    JMG, A perfect example of a one drop reaction comes when I bring up my doubts about the NIST Final Report on the Collapse of World Trade Center 7. All of a sudden I’m out there with Art Bell where the busses don’t run.

  92. @JMG:
    “Michael. remember that you’ve been taught by your culture to regard certain types of facial structure or physical appearance as signs of loser status.”

    Fair enough criticism, that.

    I tend to be a bit sensitive to issues of degeneracy or deterioration of family stock, because I am acutely aware of hereditary taints on my father’s side of my family, which have affected me, and which I fear may also be affecting my nephew as well.

    Now, I am a typical American “mutt” in that I have some Amerindian blood in me (from my father’s side), and on my mother’s side of the family, it’s pretty much “Heinz 57” as you would put it. So, if anything, my heritage is more a matter of miscegenation than of inbreeding. That is another reason why I have found so much of the past and present rhetoric around “race” to be so pointless, tiresome and ridiculous.

  93. @ Paul and John Michael:

    Actually, the International Brigades in the Spanish Civil War were recruited, organized and directed by the Comintern (Communist International), which was directly controlled by the Stalinist government in the USSR. This is a well documented historical fact that can be found in a number of different sources.

    Indeed, George Orwell and a number of other foreign volunteers who fought in the Spanish Civil War pointed out afterwards that over time, the Republicans became more and more dominated by the Spanish Communist Party, which was in turn run by hard-line Stalinists wholly subservient to Moscow. During the later stages of the war, the Republicans were little more than sock puppets for the Communists and were just as bad as the fascists when it came to political repression, arbitrary arrests, prison camps, torture, mass executions and other human rights abuses.

    Orwell in particular went over as a sincere leftist who wanted to fight fascism and came away convinced the people he was fighting for were no better than the Falangists, an experience that helped inspire his novels “Animal Farm” and “1984”. He concluded that the radical left is every bit as dangerous as the far right, a conclusion I wholeheartedly agree with.

  94. Always-stimulating Archdruid, I was quite amused by one of the comments of Shane, where he reported disappointment that his genetic test showed no trace of African ancestry. My wife and I recently did genetic tests (from a company whose name begins with a number) and unexpectedly, to my bemusement, I found that I test out as ~1% West African and a smaller fraction East African. Previously familiar with the Southern “One Drop” notion, I realized that from that viewpoint and in those prior times I would be classified as black! Maybe that was part of the motivation for a direct ancestor of mine, recently widowed, to move herself and her NINE children from Virginia to the edge of the frontier (Kentucky) in the late 1700s, perhaps for fewer questions about the makeup of her brood…

    This raises a question: where does the existence of such tests put us in these times? Will people use them to further the divisiveness afoot right now? Could someone such as me start claiming to be an oppressed minority? Hah, I have been treated as such, but not “racially” (whatever that means) but rather because of where I sit in the behavioral arena (an Aspie.) It does make me wonder where all this identity stuff is going, if spitting in a tube and having your DNA measured can suddenly place you in a category where you “obviously” don’t fit in lots of people’s eyes, perhaps even yours. I’d like to think that such revelations could further the discussion and make people rethink their binary one-drop fixations, but somehow I’m not optimistic about that.

    Best regards!

  95. @Mister Nobody and JMG

    The Political Compass reminded me of this graphic someone showed me recently:

    It maps news media onto the dimensions of liberal-conservative (horizontal) and factualness (vertical). The result looks something like a normal curve. The more factual media are clustered together in the middle of the liberal-conservative dimension but spread wider approaching the less factual end with few in the middle ground.

    The huge polarization of the news media at the non-factual end relates I think to the use of the one drop fallacy. The media that are most extreme and most condemn/reject the opposite politics are the least factual.

  96. @ JMG

    Thank you very much for your thorough remarks, implied distress notwithstanding (even if in your answer @ Dennis Roe some optimism was conveyed: «Subtlety gets educated out of us early on…» «… ah, but we can get it back.» Unsure if the revolution is going to be live streamed over the web, but expecting a hard landing.)

    Kind regards.

  97. “X is true” because “I want X to be true” is the fallacy of (believing in) fantasy. I can imagine it, therefore it is inevitable – our Star Trek future comes to mind. Fantasies are very enticing, particularly when the real world isn’t.

  98. A lot of comments about race here, which was a handy way of categorizing humans a long time ago. But as one of those who, for all intents and purposes, is white – but from a genetic POV is not – race is just a very silly thing to me. It’s a handy way to lump people into a broad category that simply doesn’t really exist .

    You can go to Argentina, or go to South Africa and people look the same as in Middle America. Modern transportation during the Oil Age has done more than any other thing to spread genes across the planet. As JMG alluded to, it’s doubtful one could find a person with 90% of a certain genetic race marker any longer. Well, maybe Inuits, but even they are no longer isolated.

    I do think that having a “Human Race Day”, where each person had to display their racial makeup on a t-shirt or ball cap, would be quite the holiday…

  99. Hi. Following Dean Meyerson’s apt comment on Nov 16, I can almost guarantee that all the rhetorical devices, logical fallacies and flat-out lies you could discuss here, including this one and the ones with Latin names, in practice boil down to variations on the statement “such-and-such is my tribe” and the question “are you in my tribe?” They are shibboleths. People have been using shibboleths for a long time. The most dangerous aspect of the situation is that in this day and age, the so-called tribes are symbolic abstractions; they will not — and in large measure cannot — actually provide the genuine human comfort, protection, and purpose that people once got from real tribes. Pity the nation when the people start figuring that out, and joining real tribes.

  100. Justin, it’s precisely the absurdity of insisting that ethnic identity and ethnic pride are good — unless your ethnicity comes from Europe, in which case it’s evil — that makes the social justice community the most important ally the Alt-Right has.

    Shane, I’ll have to go back and look at the last year or so of Archdruid Reports and see if I can find something along those lines. It doesn’t ring any bells.

    Austin, okay, we’re definitely into the political phase of the political-spiritual pendulum in pop culture I’ve mentioned. Thirty-five years ago, at least in the circles I ran in, you had to be able to spout the currently fashionable pop spirituality jargon in order to get a date.

    J.L. Mc12, you wouldn’t. You’d start by doing the Lesser Ritual of the Pentagram and the Middle Pillar exercise daily, and work up from there to doing the Watchtower Ritual — the book to use is Israel Regardie’s Ceremonial Magic — once a day. You get independence of thought and action by achieving balance among the contending forces, not by invoking any one of them.

    Isabel, “tankies” — hah! I like that. At least they’re being honest about favoring tyranny and mass murder; too many other extremists prefer to soft-pedal that, at least until they’re in power.

    Peter, doesn’t surprise me at all. I find both the official version and all the alternative versions of what happened there on that day very, very hard to believe, for what it’s worth.

    Michael, fair enough. We’re almost all mutts here in this country; I also have some Native American ancestry — one of my great-great-grandfathers was a Lakota who was hanged as a horse thief in Billings, Montana, in (I think) 1890 — and a mess of other ancestry, more Scots than anything else but that’s not saying much; and the better part of my upbringing took place in a multicultural household presided over by my dad’s second wife, who’s Japanese-American. That may help explain my eyeroll when the racial-purity brigade starts yapping about whiteness this and whiteness that.

    Erik, thanks for this — I didn’t happen to know that, though in the context of the period it’s not surprising at all.

    Bryan, I hope to Hannah that those tests help a significant fraction of us, wherever we fit on the diffuse spectrum of human skin color and ethnic origin, to get over the moronic fantasy of racial purity, remember that purebred animals turn stupid and sterile, grasp the fact that we’re all members of the same species, and get to the point at which we can celebrate and enjoy our own ethnic ancestries, whatever those happen to be, without seeing any need to put down anyone else’s. I’m not holding my breath, but that’s my hope.

    Truethomas, I have to say I have serious doubts about a graphic that claims that the mainstream media (the ones at the center) are more accurate than the competition!

    Armenio, not only will the revolution not be livestreamed, it won’t be visible. The changes that have to happen are internal to each of us.

  101. Daniel, that’s one form of the fallacy. Another is “you say that X (a bad thing) is true, therefore you want it to be true!” I used to field that all the time when I did a lot of talking about peak oil; I’d say “industrial civilization is ending,” and people would assume this meant that I wanted it to end.

    Oilman2, not Inuits, either. They’ve had plenty of intermarriage with Europeans, Canadians, and other First Nations for centuries now — and they weren’t ethnically homogeneous to begin with, having emerged from a combination of older Nearctic cultures.

    Shark, it’s exactly the failure of these modern pseudotribes to give the benefits people got from actual tribes that, to my mind, makes them vulnerable to sudden collapse, More on this as we proceed!

  102. To my mind “you say that X (a bad thing) is true, therefore you want it to be true!” is the same fantasy mechanism, projected onto the other.

    If one is working from the implicit assumption that the world is just how one desires it to be (or that it will inevitably become so), then the obvious conclusion from that perspective is that the other inevitably desires their statement be true as well (regardless of actual motivation).

  103. Eh, bah gum (rolling eyes) once you enter upon that Slippery Slope kind of argument, well, er, you’re on a slippery slope… to an empty universe.

    “Independent Scotland? Then why not independent Yorkshire? Independent parishes, even? Slippery slope, you know.”

    Answer: Scotland isn’t Yorkshire.

    Slippery Sloper: “Ah, but the principle….”

    Answer: I wasn’t advocating a principle. I was supporting a particularity. Our continuum has particularities as well as generalities. If you suppress the former in favour of the latter, well, you’re on a… guess what.

    Thus fallacies swallow their own tails.

  104. JMG, regarding your reply to Armenio (if I may)-
    I agree with your basic contention that the American public school system has become a vast morass that doesn’t serve students well. I’d like to offer a few thoughts on one of the explanatory factors you identified.
    You mention:
    (a) educational theories that put the convenience of educators ahead of the needs of students: Sure, this happens. Teachers, like other humans, seek out shortcuts to simplify their work when the tasks they are charged with are overwhelmingly complex. Sometimes these shortcuts aren’t beneficial to the people they are supposed to serve.

    But I don’t think Whole Language reading instruction actually falls into this category. Please note, I am in no way intending to open a battle in the whole language vs. phonics Reading Wars here. In fact, these wars are a prime example of binary thinking and your maxim that the opposite of a bad idea is another bad idea. Whole Language extremists who insist that only the faintest of attention, in passing, should be given to sound-spelling patterns, are actually almost never found in real classrooms, nor are their comic-book nemeses, those dragons who insist on mindless memorization of dozens of phonics rules before the poor kiddies actually get their hands on a real book with a story or some fascinating facts inside. Real teachers, as opposed to ivory-tower theorists who need to make a splash in the literature to get tenure, realize that the actual process of learning to read is far more fascinating and complex than either extreme end of the phonics-whole language screaming match.

    English has dozens of phonics rules, all of which are sometimes useful, but limited. A well-known study found that a computer programmed to apply the rules perfectly could only make out about half the words in a typical text. And many of the most commonly used English words are not easy to sound out. Does this mean that learning the most common and useful phonics rules, along with their common exceptions, isn’t worthwhile? Of course not! I’ve never met a teacher (and I’ve worked with hundreds) who thinks withholding the keys from students is useful.

    Of course, if some phonics instruction is good, that should be all we do, right? Some brainiacs- that is to say, some theorists who got to influence policy- thought it was smart to restrict kids to reading texts that contained only words they had already mastered the rules to decode, resulting in curricula of staggeringly awful, stilted “little readers” that tended to convince every first grader who encountered them that reading was a horrible, meaningless chore. The Whole Language movement began as a reaction to over-reliance on phonics instruction, with the controversial ideas that kids can handle recognizing some words by sight, that sometimes we understand things in big chunks and based on context rather by breaking them down into little chunks which we then apply memorized rules to, and that people are more motivated to learn to read if they are given real, messy, complex, fascinating books rather than contrived workbook exercises. Then, of course, dogmatists got ahold of the ideas, the practical, contextualized phonics instruction most teachers used got thrown out with the theoretical bath water, and teachers were once again pressured to use materials and approaches that didn’t make sense because somebody on the state board (usually with a political axe to grind) thought it was a smart way to go. All Whole Language (TM)! All the time! Of course this requires all new textbooks, and teacher retraining, which coincidentally make lots of money for parasitical industries (which, relevant to your point (c), is actually where a lot of the money goes, not [only] to administration salaries). (Oh, and, of course, to the testing companies, per your point (b), but that’s a whole ‘nother bucket of sludge.)

    So my point emphatically is not that Whole Language is the correct dogma to follow in teaching reading. It’s that: a. Neither phonics alone, nor Whole Language Extreme, is the whole enchilada, and b. Teachers generally don’t swing to one extreme or another because it’s convenient, but because they’re being pushed by people with clipboards and the power to review.

    Whew! Feels good to get that off my chest. 😉

    –Heather in CA

  105. JMG, thank you. By the way I have noticed that there appear to be slight variations in the standard golden dawn rituals. E.G. in the cross of light described in your book circles of power you say you have to imagine standing upon the world, but many other books such as the secrets of high magic by Francis Melville this is omitted.

  106. On the notion that “I think X is going to happen” means “I [secretly] want X to happen”: this is deeply rooted in the history of American religiosity and spirituality, and can be traced back at least as far as the decades around 1800. It picked up considerable strength in the last quarter of the 19th century, when the redoubtable Mary Baker Eddy founded the new religion called Christian Science, building on Swedenborgian and Transcendentalist foundations,

    Eddy was in some respects a very subtle and radical thinker, but also one who was not at all bothered by the many logical contradictions within her own thought and writings. Because of these contradictions, most academic historians of American thought still balk at taking Eddy more seriously than, say, Jim Jones of the Peoples’ Temple. She was, however, a sheer genius at the art of drawing to herself vast numbers of loyal true believers, using them to serve her own needs, and establishing on a solid legal basis two institutions that could support her for the rest of her life and perpetuate her thought.

    Despite the various internal contradictions in her thinking, Eddy had one powerful leading idea. She postulated that the world of matter, space and time was nothing more than a gigantic, pernicious, ancient shared illusion, that it was not a hard and fast thing at all, but utterly plastic to properly focused will and thought — even a single person’s will and thought, if only that person could will and think strongly enough. As she put it in one of her most basic texts, “There is no life, truth, intelligence nor substance in matter. … Spirit is immortal Truth, matter is mortal error. Spirit is the real and eternal; matter is the unreal and termporal. …”

    Matter is unreal …! Mind over matter! No one could have devised an idea more likely than Eddy’s to appeal to American anti-intellectualism, anti-establishmentism, to people who feel scorned and despised by the recognized authorities in science and government.

    Eddy quite seriously held and taught that, for example, any woman could become pregnant and bear a child by thought alone (without any sexual activity of any sort); that anyone could overcome any disease and defeat even death itself; that a person could maim and even kill another person by thought alone — if only that person had learned how to focus thought and will with sufficient power. To become ill, to die, to suffer poverty or want, to starve, to grieve a loved one’s death — all such things were simply proof that you had not sufficiently understood and applied Eddy’s teaching — in short, that you had failed an important test in your life. Our host once rightly characterized this doctrine as “magic with the serial numbers filed off.”

    From Eddy’s thinking developed not just Christian Science, but the entire spectrum of New-Thought religions (Divine Science, Unity, etc.), and all their New-Age heirs, all the way down to Shakti Gawain and Starhawk. (Among these heirs — significantly! — was the well known minister, Norman Vincent Peale, author of _The Power of Positive Thinking_. Young Donald Trump attended Peale’s church as a boy with his family, growing up in New York City.)

    To people who were influenced to any degree by this mind-set, any prediction you might make about the future can feel like an exertion of your power, an act of magic (if you will), aimed at bringing that future to pass — especially if you’re predicting something those people fear might happen.

  107. JMG, I’m sure they would be able to, but since the worst offenders enthusiastically nod along to these posts without much trace of self-awareness, I’ll believe it when I see it.

    Erik the Red,

    Orwell was among the Trotskyists, not the International Brigades. Stalinists and Trotskyists hate each other for obvious reasons (although they’ll work together against a common enemy within groups like Antifa). Orwell’s observations are still spot on though – opposing fascism in the name of Trotskyism is really not an improvement over doing it in support of Stalinism. Trots today still blame all the horrors of communism on Leninists/Stalinists. They get away with that only because Trotsky didn’t live long enough to produce the horrors himself.

  108. @El
    I agree with you. What I wanted to say was, that approach of JMG only works in a friendly environment of mutual trust. In a hostile environment, friend-or-foe identification takes precedence over any rational discourse.

  109. ‘Race’ is always a diverting topic, if one is amused by lunacy (otherwise, so depressing.)

    Basque nationalism, as a party and ideology, was founded in the late 19th century by an utter imbecile called Sabino Arana, who wished to safeguard the ‘purity’ of the race, and who was upset by so many immigrants from other parts of Spain settling there to work in new industries (many Basque went South during the Reconquista, so in a way many were returning home….)

    When he died, his widow remarried – to a Spanish policemen, so he failed to convince his nearest and dearest.

    An interesting fact is that many members of ETA, the separatist radical-Left terror group, were in fact not of ‘pure’ descent, but often mixed, with an awful lot of non-Basque surnames.

    But it was to their Basque identity that they clung, constructing their lives around it: quite a random choice really. I tend to think of children clutching fiercely onto a comfort toy…..

  110. @petervanerp,
    maybe you should read I’ll Take My Stand so you can get a better understanding of it, and maybe you should spend significant time in the rural South so that your understanding is not secondhand…

  111. @Bryan,
    well, there you go. Gotta check the “negro” box on the census form now on. Oops, wait a minute, Obama got rid of that. LOL I was living w/a Puerto Rican roommate @ the time of the last census, and we got the ethnicity part, but then we had to move on to race, and my roommate was like “I’m Latino”, and I’m like, “no, that’s the LAST question, now you’ve got to pick a race”
    JMG, others,
    one “X is true/you want X to be true” I encounter here in the US, as an apatriotic individual, is regarding our civil religion, Americanism. This seems to be true of both sides, but, in some ways, more true of the left. Everyone “believes” in America, or at least feels they SHOULD “believe” in America. And most people believe that the problems that plague us are because people don’t have enough “faith” in America. I don’t “believe” in America anymore than I “believe” in the tooth fairy, but if I express that view, somehow I’m evil incarnate, but my view is that “believing” in America is irrelevant to all the mistakes we’ve made over the last 30-40 years since 1980, and that no amount of “believing” in America will save us from the consequences of those mistakes (particularly since we’re CONTINUING to make those same mistakes). Therefore, I feel the US will fail in 10-20 years whether I “believe” in it or not.

  112. This “race” stuff is in play at all scales. A former girlfriend and I finally gave up on our relationship when we both realized she’d never respect a man who wasn’t Latvian. And, on a lighter note, when given the choice I describe my race as “mixed” because legend has it that in my otherwise pure Czech ancestry (hah!) is a French soldier who deserted Napoleon’s army on the way back from Moscow.

  113. JMG: Good point. I myself often think in pre-conceptual “feelings” rather than in concepts or sensory images. Indeed, even that is inaccurate. If I am watching myself, I become aware of a thought forming in my mind. It then crystallises into concepts, but the thought exists before the concepts, even though at that stage I have no means of saying or even knowing what the thought is about. Of course, when I am not watching myself (which is most of the time) things could work quite differently, but I have no means of knowing that.

    It was therefore a misformulation on my part to claim that concepts lie at the root of all thinking. Nevertheless, no matter how we come by our ideas, as soon as we try to turn those ideas into language (and this is a conversation about what people *say*) we have to use concepts and we have to make either-or decisions about whether to use a particular concept or not. That is a “hard edge”, no matter what form the thought may have taken beforehand. Moreover, what proponents of one-drop schemas are defending or attacking are explicit verbal concepts, not mental images or examples. Indeed, where such people are concerned, I suspect that once a thought has “hardened” into verbal concepts, it stays that way, since it is constantly being reinforced.

    So regardless of how a particular thought originated, in order to enter the public arena it has to take the form of verbal concepts. Everything else I wrote follows from that.

  114. One thing I’ve noted a number of times, here and elsewhere, is this: because this statistic (or whatever) isn’t measuring what I think it ought to be measuring, it’s useless.

    This came up with the chart Truethomas posted a reference to. The papers at the top do a lot of original reporting – they just don’t report on things many of us think are important.

  115. Daniel, of course — same underlying structure, different expression. We’re going to see a lot of that as we continue talking about the barriers to thinking.

    Robert, spoken like a true Burkean! The universe does not present us with principles, only particularities — which may be why so many of our principles sprout tentacles and slither off into unhallowed dimensions the moment we rely on them.

    Heather, fair enough. My take is of course biased by my own experience. What I saw growing up was a version of whole-language theory that very effectively prevented children from making sense of any written word they hadn’t been taught to read — they had no idea how to even attempt to sound it out and relate it to a spoken word they knew — which served to keep all the children in a class reading at exactly the same level, and thus was highly convenient for the teachers. I got a pragmatic version of phonics via my parents, and so was reading Dr. Seuss at the age of two and a half, and had a sixth grade reading level when I entered first grade — largely because I knew how to sound out words, on the one hand, and use a simple dictionary on the other. It’s also the case that every passionate lifelong reader with whom I’ve ever discussed learning to read got taught some version of phonics — not the extreme rule-bound version, but the kind that focuses on teaching you to sound out a written word so you have a shot at figuring out which spoken word it represents.

    I certainly didn’t mean to imply that the teachers were uniquely at fault, by the way. My father, my biological mother, and my stepmother were all public school teachers, I have a fair idea of the way they were maltreated by the education industry — and by all accounts it’s gotten much, much worse since then.

    J.L.Mc12, yep. I deliberately vary the instructions for magical practices from one book to another, so that people who get into occult fundamentalism — which I’m sorry to say does exist — can’t insist that what I teach is the One True Way. In occultism, as in the rest of life, there ain’t no such thing as One True Way.

    Robert, an excellent point. I wonder how many of the rationalist atheists, on the one hand, or fundamentalist Christians on the other, who use that kind of reasoning at me — I get such utterances very often from both these groups — would welcome being told that they’re channeling Mary Baker Eddy… 😉

    Dot, so noted!

    Xabier, I’m reminded of a droll comment by Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke, I think it was, in one of his books on the neo-Nazi scene. He noted that every single neo-Nazi leader he encountered insisted that some other neo-Nazi leader had nonwhite ancestors, had Jewish ancestors, and/or was gay. In the great majority of cases, he went on to say, those claims turned out to be quite correct. Jung wrote extensively on that in his essays on projecting the shadow: it’s the things we can’t stand in ourselves that we obsess about in other people.

    Shane, I find the notion of “believing in America” as fascinating as it is bizarre. I believe in America — in fact, I’ve seen it, so I know it exists; that doesn’t provide me with any reason to insist that it can somehow make every mistake of every previous failed empire and still dodge the necessary consequences. I do consider myself patriotic, but patriotism as I understand it has nothing to do with the sort of jingoistic fantasies of national divinity that pass under that label these days; I love my country the way I love the people and places I care about, with a full recognition of their flaws and foibles.

    RPC, exactly. It really is a matter of arbitrary social definition.

    Doug, watch how you’re jumping from “concept” to “concept with strict definition” as though the two are the same. One of the points I tried to make is that they’re not the same at all, and most people, most of the time, use concepts freely without defining them, being able to define them, or using a tacit definition that could be extracted from their utterances without serious Procrustean surgery. That was my point, you know…

    John, a good point, and another bit of rhetoric much used these days.

  116. JMG, about that post. I was on the farm in Meade Co. when it came out, so I’m thinking it was prob. May or June of last yr., possibly July.

  117. In other words:
    – Can one appreciate the work and yet despise the creator? (Especially if he is a living contemporary.) How do I, the righteous mind one, deal with these ethical intricacies?
    (One possible case, albeit an easy one, because he is no longer between us: Ezra Pound. Disclaimer: I do not despise Ezra Pound.)

    Kind regards.

  118. JMG,
    about “believing in America”–I pretty much chalk it up to drinking the Kool Aid regarding Cold War propaganda. It seems to be very pernicious amongst the older generations (Silent & Boomer) who came of age when the US was at its height of power and the Cold War was at its height (duck & cover drills & fallout shelters, anyone?) It’s still there amongst some members of younger generations, b/c the Cold War has never ended, but the gap between US omnipotence and the reality of modern day life in America is just too much for younger generations to swallow the Kool Aid the way their elders did.But you really can’t discuss the end of America without a lot of angst and stress amongst the older generations.

  119. What a delicious thought, JMG! I would like to be like a fly on the wall when someone taxed one of those athiests or fundamentalists with being an unwitting follower of Mary Baker Eddy. I am sure there would be spectacular fireworks.

    By the way, the last formal witchcraft trial (that I know of) in the United States involved two of Eddy’s followers as plaintiff and defendant in a courtroom in Ipswich, Mass., in 1878, and Eddy herself took the trouble to attend it. Here’s a link: “The past is not dead, it is not even past,” as F Scott Fitzgerald wrote.

  120. Reading this I was struck by the idea that Le Guin’s “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas” ( might be considered a metaphor/allegory of the “one drop” fallacy along the lines you speak of, or at least an interesting counterpoint to what you are talking about here. Rhetorically, the story is compelling and harbors emotional power in the way that moral arguments do as contrasted with a more empirical approach. We’ve had some conversations on this story before in your blog, so I wonder if this idea strikes your fancy or if perhaps it is a distraction from what you’re trying to accomplish here?

    I guess it does reinforce the notion that you say, “the opposite of one bad idea is usually another bad idea,” in the sense that the available options (walk away, grin and bear it, start a revolution) all pretty much suck.

  121. JMG: >Truethomas, I have to say I have serious doubts about a graphic that claims that the mainstream media (the ones at the center) are more accurate than the competition!

    John Roth: >One thing I’ve noted a number of times, here and elsewhere, is this: because this statistic (or whatever) isn’t measuring what I think it ought to be measuring, it’s useless.

    >This came up with the chart Truethomas posted a reference to. The papers at the top do a lot of original reporting – they just don’t report on things many of us think are important.

    I felt this too: the media at the top, the more neutral, “factual”, mainstream media, are not the ones I typically turn to. Neither are the ones on the right (conservative). I mostly read/view the ones on the middle left, neither too “factual” or too “nonfactual”. I put “factual” in quotes because which facts you choose to report on can bias your output as much as inventing facts (and sticking to actual facts vs. inventions makes for a more credible source) and mainstream media tend to ignore many facts that I consider quite interesting.

    But aside from all that, I think this particular chartist (, while imperfect like all of us, does make a conscientious effort to remain neutral and unbiased, and I can’t ask for much more. And, like John Roth implied, despite its deficiencies and those of the media it charts, I find the chart itself and the pattern it shows quite interesting. And the only reason I posted it is that I think the pattern it shows illustrates the topics being discussed here, having to do with polarization, “tribalism” (a much misused term), and thus the basis of the one drop fallacy.

  122. Racists from the south of US would mark Russian writer Aleksandr Sergeyevich Pushkin as a “black author” because his grandfather was black. Would not that be an absurdity? And Pushkin’s grandmother that married a black African man was of aristocratic origin. I wonder what would southern racists think about that? Obviously, in the 18th century Russia racial purity was not taken seriously.

  123. Seaweed Shark: >They are shibboleths. People have been using shibboleths for a long time. The most dangerous aspect of the situation is that in this day and age, the so-called tribes are symbolic abstractions; they will not — and in large measure cannot — actually provide the genuine human comfort, protection, and purpose that people once got from real tribes. Pity the nation when the people start figuring that out, and joining real tribes.

    Thank you Shark for getting me to look up “shibboleth” and adding it to my vocabulary! Out of curiosity, what do you expect will happen to nations when people “start figuring that out” and why do you pity them?

    JMG: >Shark, it’s exactly the failure of these modern pseudotribes to give the benefits people got from actual tribes that, to my mind, makes them vulnerable to sudden collapse, More on this as we proceed!

    Pseudo-tribes – I use that word too, glad to see someone else using it, and much looking forward to future articles related to the subject.

    “Tribalism” is nearly always used in a way that disparages actual tribes (and actual hunter-gatherers) when what the users are talking about unknowingly are pseudo-tribes – “symbolic abstractions; they will not — and in large measure cannot — actually provide the genuine human comfort, protection, and purpose that people once got from real tribes.” Exactly. I’d much prefer people used “pseudo-tribalism”, acknowledging the difference.

  124. @ John & @ Heather

    re the education system

    As another data point re your comment, John, about your (step-)parents’ experiences in the educational system, my mother was an educator (grade school teacher and librarian) for over three decades. A few years ago, she finally retired. I recall a conversation last year where she told me of her joys of teaching and how the system (across multiple states) slowly squeezed it out of her. By the time she retired, it was more like releasing a burden than anything else, which was sad given how much she loved working with children.

  125. @ Seaweed Shark…

    Tribes provide community, provide help, provide society and are traditionally bound by shared experiences and often rituals.

    Looking around, there isn’t a religion that replaces that, at least not from where I sit. Religions are more about money and social membership – ask for help, and it rarely comes in any form other than monetary. The “shared experiences” usually arise from helping others in the tribe with communal and family issues. The only communal sharing I see looking around is paying taxes.

    I tried volunteering to help older citizens do repair work, like replace water heater or fix mowers or plugged drains. I was sent a cease and desist order by the city.

    The only remotely common thing I hear men talking about is usually football, baseball or basketball. That leaves me out, since I did my 12 years of football and walked away hurt but wiser. It seems more and more people are using “social media”, but that is very anonymous and abstract in the extreme. No physical touching even allowed, and if you think that is not important to a mammal, you must be reptilian.

    So, looking around, it’s hard to visualize where future tribalism will come from, until everyone is equally impoverished and struggling. I see absolutely no shared rituals allowed in America today – so where and what bonds can be forged in a vacuum such as this country has become?

    IMO, it will take shared struggle for something that matters highly to people for tribalism to be reborn. Virtual tribes? About as rewarding as getting a “like” for a comment you make on a blog. It’s definitely part of what has been gutted from society in these last few centuries.

  126. JMG: Ah! In that case you have completely misunderstood my point. I am well aware that “a concept” does not mean the same thing as “a concept with a strict definition” and I do not see that any such equivalence in meaning is implied by what I wrote. What I was trying to express did not depend on whether the definition was strict, floppy, changing each time the concept was used, changing with each different user, or completely indefinite (within the indefinite limits of family resemblance that govern how we choose the concepts we use). All that was required was that, in any given case, a choice is made whether to use that concept. That is, at that time, a binary choice. You either use the concept or you do not. There is no way in between those options.

    The choice of that concept implies certain vague or precise values related to the vague or precise meaning that you at that time attach to that concept, regardless of what that meaning happens to be. That is why you chose to use that concept. (Choice implies values.) What, for you in that moment, does not fall under that concept does not, for you, have those values. (If it had those values it would fall under the concept.) If, in that moment, you attach a high value to what falls under that concept, you are primed to attach the opposite value to what does not fall under that concept. This is by no means logically necessary; however, it is psychologically compelling – you are given a nudge in that direction, as it were – so you need a certain degree of alertness to avoid doing it. This is what makes the situation relevant to the “one drop” fallacy. You are holding fast to your concept, so everything that does not fall under that concept becomes a potential opponent to it.

    I repeat expressions like “vague or precise” and “in that moment” above in order to emphasise that such features are basically irrelevant to the essence of what I am trying to say. In reality, of course, there are consistencies in the use of words between people. That is why words are useful. There are also consistencies in the use of words used by the same person through time. Because of this, the psychological pressure to polarise values is increased. Each similar use reinforces the similar values held by the people who use the concept. And likewise, each use reinforces the potential opposite value attributed to what is excluded by that concept. This fact is specifically used by political groups in their group songs and chants and memorised slogans. These all tend to polarise values.

    Again, do not misunderstand me. I wrote “polarise values”. I did not write “polarise people”. Whether polarising people is also involved will depend on the meaning of the concepts concerned. And the polarisation of values is between the value of what falls under the concept and the value of what does not fall under the concept, not any other polarisation.

  127. JMG
    Things never being quite what they seem!

    Regarding Christian Science (thanks to Robert Mathiesen for his memorable account, especially of the preceding strands of theology). I only knew one CS family and that was when I was in senior school circa 1958 near London, UK. An enlightened teacher of religious education arranged a series of after-school talks for older pupils from ‘clergymen’ of a range of faiths and denominations, one being the leader of the local Christian Science congregation to which my friend belonged. This man had been a very young infantry officer in the battle for Normandy, and was giving his talk only about a dozen years after being in the front line. He was by far the most impressive, though personally modest and humorous, speaker in the series. I (we) found his theology and assumptions mystifying, if not batty, but his tale of army service utterly convincing. He had gained a reputation of not losing a man, and while reaching all his objectives, remarkably, as far as he could see, not killing anybody. He put this down to paying careful attention to his faith.

    I developed a theory that his SC faith released him from what might have been a lot of ‘baggage’ in his own thinking, motivation and behaviour, and led him to pay all-encompassing attention – both consciously and intuitively – to the reality he was in.

    In later years I came across other people in very ordinary contexts, including a close colleague, whose account of how they did their work seemed very deficient but whose actual outcomes were very reliable. In the case of my colleague it was not a batty ‘theology’, more a matter of his attempted ‘scientific’ account not making sense (‘had to be wrong’). It was a bit unnerving at times as I was responsible and I remember having to explain him to a biochemist from a biotech company we were collaborating with, but he did not let us down. JMG recently quoted: ‘by their fruits ye shall know them’. Hmm … I’ll not argue about the theology, some states of mind and approaches seem conducive for genuine magic?

    Phil H

  128. JMG,

    I too was taught to read very early. From the time I could sit up on her lap, she would read her morning paper with me there, and sound out words for/with me until I could sound out words and sentences and discover their meaning for myself. We had all kinds of books, and many reading-together sessions. I learned to speak and read English nearly simultaneously. What a treasure she gave me.

    I remember her telling me that when I began school, the teachers there scolded her for teaching me to read so young, that she shouldn’t have done that. I always wondered why that was. Your comment about making more work for them if their students were not all close to the same level when being taught the grade-appropriate curriculum they were given to teach.

  129. This extreme binary thinking that aggressively excludes any middle ground or alternate views is also pushing those who are moderate or looking at things from a 3rd view out of the system. Surely many people are caught up in the battle of extremes, as we see them all around us, but it is not everyone. I know many who think this is hogwash, but there is nowhere for us to stand within this system anymore. The elites who are promoting these approaches are essentially ejecting the moderate base from participating in the system.

    As it continues people will become further disenfranchised, and stop bothering with institutions that they cannot participate in without adopting extreme views they don’t share. They’ll begin to make other arrangements to avoid uncomfortable confrontations. Ultimately the systems, institutions (and the nation) will lose the support of very people they need to survive.

    In a way it reminds me of the media corporations who went all in for Clinton with obvious “fake news”, only to be left belatedly realizing they’d damaged their base business in their arrogance. Then they needed to organize a campaign to accuse others of what they’d done, which failed. Or the millionaire kneeling protest that’s ruining the NFL (much to my delight). How much hubris does it take to destroy the source of one’s prosperity in an attempt to eliminate any and all competing views?

    What I wonder is this: what is driving this now in the process of collapse? Are we dividing into camps to battle for what’s left, as it’s obvious there’s not enough to go around now – a process of defining tribes?

  130. I wonder if we Americans need to revive the art of plain speaking. Nowadays it seems like if you express a preference for A you have offended everyone who would rather have B–because it sounds like you think I am dumb, they wail. I love that phrase ‘it sounds like’. American novels from anytime before about 1970 depict a very plain spoken population indeed. Phillip Marlowe handed out insults right and left without have to stop and soothe people’s hurt feelings. Even compliments can get you in trouble. Tell someone at the church potluck that the cake was delicious and why, you must be meaning to say that the cakes from the last few years were not also delicious.

    About the Spanish Civil War, is it possible that maybe many Spaniards, who were still devout Catholics at that time, I believe, did not take to a pack of educated atheists who had the means for leisure and travel, telling them what kind of govt. they should have? Just asking, I don’t know enough about the Civil War to say.

  131. JMG et al,
    I fear that the one-drop fallacy and the increasing polarization associated with it are symptoms of the beginning of civil war. Are we witnessing the awakening of an archetype?

    I’d also like to observe that awareness of the one-drop fallacy can help you pick your advisors–
    They say, “Never ask a barber if you need a haircut.” But if you find a barber who tells you, “You don’t need a haircut today” that’s the barber to keep! Or a pharmacist that recommends non-drug treatments, etc…

  132. If I were to claim that the German National Socialists were able to come to power because the German people believed that they were Germany’s best defense against Communism, that Communists were secretly (and not-so-secretly) trying to tear down Germany (and France) from within, and that Communism was in fact an evil way to govern a country, the ODF would tag me as a neo-Nazi, right? (Perhaps I need to explicitly deny that charge, so I do.)

    OF COURSE the Communists were anti-Fascist, because the Fascists derived their popularity from being anti-Communist. Anticipating a “but the Communists were defending people from the Fascists” rebuttal, I’ll just point out that the Bolsheviks came to power decades before the Fascists did.

    The older I get, the more I appreciate history, even the Wikipedia kind.

  133. Certainly there were peasant farmers who fought to eliminate Anarchism and Communism in the Spanish Civil War: both -rightly – seen as a threat both to their religious faith, and to their smallholdings (their other religion).

    Throughout Europe in the 1930’s, everyone took the triumph of Socialism and Communism to mean the nationalising of all land and goods, and physical elimination of the former owners, and this naturally led them to see the Nazis and other more traditional ‘right’ groups as their salvation and bulwark.

    Few today appreciate the violence of the Left-Right street battles in many European cities. The Left were often the very best recruiting officers for the various conservative groups.

    More comically, there was a battle in at least one rural area in Spain between truckloads of Anarchists from the nearby city and peasant farmers, who were resisting the claim by the townies that all their hams were ‘the property of the people’, and who had come to seize them. Monty Python anyone?

  134. Nestorian, that must have been part of it. Many Syrians really didn’t appreciate rich kid fanatics from Saudi and Morocco jetting in to tell them how they knew better how they should live. But many ordinary, poor, working class Spaniards supported some faction or other of the left as well (just as many ordinary Syrians supported one or other group of violent theocrats) and they had good reason to, including against the church. The Church in Spain enmeshed itself in wealth and politics so the hierarchy was far from an entirely innocent victim. Of course for the true fanatics who lead these things, religion itself, along with national, ethnic or cultural identities, were and are barriers to the unity of the global proletariat, so the flaws of the Spanish church were merely convenient propaganda for what was a more fundamental opposition to any identity that might compete with the ‘objective’ one of class.

    But another big one was that the Spanish had had 20 years by that point to watch Russia since 1917 and then had to take sides on that in their own country. The Irish Catholic church encouraged Irish catholics to go over there and fight for Franco. They’re demonized and mocked for that now, but if you were a religious person who’d paid attention to reports from Russia by 1937 you might well have dropped your standards for who you’d support to oppose them by then also.

    Lathechuck, but then communism, in turn, had been a reaction to the real harms caused by the industrial revolution, colonialism, decades of free trade and globalization, just as we have now. And it in turn couldn’t have emerged in its modern form without the rationalist revolution of the Enlightenment and its immanentizing the eschaton utopian tendencies so the Bolsheviks didn’t really start it either. Maybe the tendency to try to find the original root of the cycle of swings from one extreme to the other is just the search for original sin in secular drag.

  135. JMG,
    Have you been following the “It’s Okay to be White” debacle? A grand example of a trap laid for the one drop fallacy. I first heard about it on our state-run media (the CBC) — someone had posted ‘hate speech’ at the University of Alberta. What was this hateful material? An single sheet of letter paper, with the phrase “It’s okay to be white” in a modern sans-serif font. Just that. Nothing more. Not “it’s better to be white” or even “it’s good to be white” — just “okay”, as in “there is nothing wrong with that”. So the University and the media were both, implicitly, declaring that there very much IS something wrong with being white, that it is absolutely not okay. If it was, why would that sentiment be the verboten ‘hate’? I later found out that this has occurred at universities across North America, and media outlets all over have reacted the same way.

    It’s NOT okay to be white in the US and Canada.

    Or at least, that’s how our self-styled betters are reacting. Why? The One Drop Fallacy is at work : if your social justice is built around white guilt, rejecting the guilt with a simple, neutral, reassuring “it’s okay” is one drop of white pride. And one drop ruins all. Anyone who says “It’s okay to be white” must be a secret Nazi who wants to gas all “POC” and “LGBTQs” (even the white ones, presumably). Hence you get nonsensical statements along the lines of ‘No one has ever implied it’s not okay to be white, so we have to take a stand against this hateful, divisive rhetoric’, blah blah about white fragility, backlash against Holy Progress, etc.

    As it turns out, the whole thing is a bit of rhetorical judo: /pol/ knew that the powers-that-be would react in this way, and set about to create a trap that would make them look as ridiculous as possible. Mission, I think, accomplished. Sure looks ridiculous to me. I’m just unhappy that it was done in a way that strengthens the white identity movement, rather than striking against the whole noxious (hateful, divisive) mess that is identity politics.

    (On a personal note, I find this reaction quite worrying, as I have worked with teenagers in the past, some of whom were mentally ill and absolutely crippled by white guilt. One was self-harming and suicidal, fixated on white guilt. [Thanks, Tumblr!] And the one thing that that kid needed to hear is now, apparently, verboten.)

  136. @Seaweed Shark,

    Isn’t the lack of real tribes at the core of the alienation and emptiness of modern life? We were made to live in close-knit groups of mutually supporting individuals, not as the lonely atoms we are now. I’m very much not alone in thinking that this is large part of our ongoing epidemic of mental illness and addiction.

    The nation, as a collective body of atomized individuals, might suffer from the formation of true tribal groups, but I suspect it will be a huge boon to most people.

    (Ironic, to hear me say that, when I lambasted identity politics as noxious, hateful and divisive in my last comment to JMG? Ah, but those identities are the ultimate in false tribes– true tribes are local, built in place. Abstract connections to a nation-wide or world-wide community of race/ethicity/gender/sexual orientation/preferred toast orientation are a strong acid that eats away at true community bonds between people of different identities.)

  137. I marvel that the student body did not taake the opportunity for graffiti. To wit:
    It’s okay to be green. It’s not easy, but it is okay.
    It’s okay to be blue.
    It’s okay to be red.
    It’s okay to be purple.
    It’s not okay to be orange. See your doctor.
    Unless you are Irish: then it’s okay to be orange. (Exceptions may apply)
    It’s okay to be yellow.
    It’s okay to be brown.
    It’s okay to be mood indigo. Otherwise, see your doctor.
    It’s okay to be beige, but why not see your decorator? Live a little!
    It’s okay to be gglockmorsh (That’s a color somewhere out near Aldebaran. Trust me.)
    It’s okay to be pink striped with plaidish Swiss dots, but you really need to see your doctor.
    Or your decorator.
    It’s okay to be Chanel. Black & white together, uummm, boo-yaa!
    Anybody feel like a cup of cafe au lait? I do.
    Ruther have a bagel. It’s okay to be bagel-friendly, even if it is sort of beige.
    Hey! who took my box of crayons? Give’em back you…you…MURALISTS!!!!

  138. @Michael Martin

    ad Skindheads – that’s what I’ve always seen in them, poor creatures. In know that until the mid 90s “Skindheads” and their violence was a thing in Europe, and to me this was the last surge of an uprising of dissatisfaction among the native working class. Demographics have changed rapidly and thoroughly, I can tell; now you have other “deplorables” like turkish “grey wolves”, effectively nothing but dismal turkish youths, the deplorables of their kind.

    But yes, there are differences; they do not or barely speak my language, they live in their parallel society that my likes only see from the outside and hardly ever get a glimpse into. I’ve seen that however when the state commanded me to to do my service driving with the ambulance and picking up the sickly, drug addled, broken and such 10 years ago.

    The state of course is holding our multi-ethnic society together and now with the refugee and general migration wave I see police cars and private security services are holding our fractured society together like a bundle with a rope. The modern economy is holding inter-political and ethnic clashes down, and keeps them outside of the broader public conscience as much as possible..

    Skinhead murders made it to the newspapers back in the day and gained public attention, now murders and brawls between ethnicities and ideologies are a side note in the newspaper.

    In a fractured society like ours where many people just live side by side but not with each other, what happens within one community often stays in that very same community.

    But there are notable differences I see in between various kinds of extremism – in German Bavaria, there was a very small community of a crazy christian sect which beat their children and raised them in isolation under medieval conditions. This kind of sect however, has no international networks available, no lobby, no think thanks, not rogue states with a big population on their side. Finally the state services stepped in and it was never heard of again.

    To conclude to what I have written to you and why:

    I think the Nazi Skinheads pull an emotional trigger by taking reference to an event in Western and global history that has become a living mythology for us. Other than that they are simply “deplorables”, and found a way to get attention.

    The “left” or nowadays also “liberal” pundits blow them up disproportionately into a strong, vital dangerous political movement that could quickly gain momentum, while they completely ignore many other similar movements and groups who simply escape their notice because of language and cultural barriers that do not permit any better insight.

    The “islamist” rascal of today only becomes obvious when invoking the intention of the modern Western middle class public. Everything else is in the shadows.

    Besides another observation of mine: many African small time criminals are pretty easy going people when you socialize with them and don’t get into the way of their business. These types strike me as notably apolitical, probably coming from African cities where tribal identities have already dissolved. However, Gambians, Nigerians, Somalians, form their own groups, have their own turfs, sometimes fight each other…

  139. p.s. to Dusk Shine: I doubt just telling someone who has a severe depressive obsession that they are okay would be of any use. That kind of condition usually requires medication and sustained therapy to overcome. In my experience, anyway. I worked on a locked ward for teens and children with depression and obsession, administering psychometrics. Some obsessions have a cruel hold on the mind, but mere talk does little or nothing–it is a brain chemistry condition.

  140. here is a well thought out article on the current sexsposure of the cads du jour.
    I think that some of MY past actions would not be thought kind, or generous. I am not the same man I was 30, or even 10 years ago.
    As the Eagles sang,” I know my life, would look alright, if they played it on the silver screen.” Or would it, were I a celebrity of some kind, in today’s world?

  141. Despite my best intention to stay away from this topic, well … here goes. Two examples of what JMG has pointed out come to mind. First, to ask a perfectly reasonable question such as “how much influence does the state of Israel exert over US foreign and domestic policy” immediately brands one as antisemitic. Leaving that, I move on to my second example There is a distinction in economics that has been deliberately blurred through most of the 20th century and beyond. Classical economists such as Adam Smith had no problem with the distinction between earned income and unearned (“rentier”) income, but that distinction has been discarded and effaced by mainstream “neoclassical” or “neoliberal” economists because, “in practice it may be difficult to distinguish between the two.” So a useful, reasonable question and a useful distinction are deliberately rejected. We become stupider and stupider.

  142. It doesn’t seem to me so much about thinking as it is about integrity. Thinking will put most people into a place they do not wish to profess, so it’s easiest to lie to themselves. And those who lie best to themselves are the most convincing – even to themselves.

  143. Art of (courteous) plain speaking. I have always liked the Duke of Wellington’s:

    ‘I greatly regret to have to inform you, Sir, that in my opinion you have lost your reason.’

    One would, of course, end up using it nearly all the time….

  144. I found out about the “one drop fallacy” a couple of times where I questioned whether the theory of evolution still needed work because there was too much in the fossil record that needed explaining. Note that I never questioned the reality of evolution, just the theory that explained it. I was stridently denounced. “Creationist” was the least of it. I suggested that maybe there’s bio-molecular mechanisms at work in organisms at the cellular level that are not yet guessed at. I was told I was suggesting teleological explanations. Well, no I wasn’t. The vitriol unleashed was amazing.

    Maybe this next example is more than “one drop” but I’ve also questioned in different settings whether climate science is as “settled” as advertised and whether maybe, just MAYBE, our spewing of carbon into the atmosphere forestalled or eliminated the next round of glaciation. Boy oh boy, fury, disbelief, how could I be so stupid. I was now a Climate Change Denier. A Tea Partier.

    Never mind that we’ve had successive rounds of glacial advance and recession over the last two million years. Never mind that the causes of this advance and recession appear to be not well understood. I mean, if you don’t understand the Big Kahuna of climate change, how much of climate science is really “settled”? Never mind that if we were on the cusp of another round of glaciation it might prove calamitous as a much more frigid world could wipe-out the prairie breadbaskets of the world.

    Maybe a warming climate, even if it’s anthropomorphic, is the lesser evil? Nope, no questions allowed – at least aloud. I learned that if I didn’t keep doubts to myself I was a stooge of the oil companies.

    Blind emotion as you say. There’s comfort in consensus. Academics are never wrong, elite consensus is never wrong and millions of people can’t be wrong. Right? Besides, it’s a tribal thing. Espousing certain views marks you as a member, like a tattoo or head-dress.

  145. Hello, JMG. To Doug you said: “What’s more, “thinking in concepts” includes a range of different cognitive styles, only some of which give those concepts hard boundaries of the kind you’ve sketched out. It’s at least as common for people who think in concepts to treat those as centers of meaning that fade out toward a poorly defined periphery” – a very interesting description which filled my own thoughts as I worked in the garden yesterday and today.

    In the process of mulling on this, it occurred to me that this distinction is true of polities as well. Whereas “hard boundaries” are certainly features (some hotly disputed) of every polity currently known as a “country” today, these are by no means the way people, or even civilisations, have always arranged themselves. Today, a person is either inside or outside the “hard boundary”. There is no fuzzy edge. That there have also been “centers of [polity members] that fade out toward a poorly defined periphery” in the past, such as Greek city states, for example, is making me thoughtful. Borders and who should be allowed to/prevented from crossing them, and where they should be drawn is contentious enough. Imagine if we started to articulate the thought that borders (“hard boundaries”) themselves may turn out to be features of industrial civilisation unlikely to remain feasible into the future?

  146. Oilman2 – Unless you’re in a large city I’m sure you won’t want to name it precisely, but yeesh, what kind of hellhole do you live in where the city thinks it can prohibit people from fixing things for elderly neighbors? Unless there’s more to it than that, these are the kind of city fathers whom I like to say will make a valuable contribution to their neighbors’ survival after things fall apart: 2000 calories per pound. (Just kidding, JMG! Mostly.)

  147. Dear Ivan Lukic, American Social Justice Spokespersons have already claimed Pushkin as “one of us”, along with a host of other iconic figures from Western Civ. What is most interesting to me about these lists is not who is included but who gets left out. The great emperor Septimus Severus, for example, is not mentioned, even though he was African. During the last centuries of the Roman Empire, many of its great men were from the African littoral, the poet Claudian, even St. Augustine himself, along with quite a few other Church fathers–none of whom make the cut in the lists I have seen.

    One of the more entertaining brou hahas which shows up on the internet from time to time is when someone brings up the topic of African Influence on The Greeks–which Greeks is never specified. It is like a prize fight with the supporters of Bernal in one corner proclaiming with all the aplomb as if they had just discovered gravity things which have been known for centuries and which are thoroughly discussed such hoary tomes as the Cambridge Ancient History. In the other corner are the supporters of poor dear Mary what-ever-her-name-is, a professor at Barnard who was disrespected by some mouthy girls from Harlem claiming that Cleopatra–again, which of the eight or so ladies of the Ptolemy dynasty who rejoiced in that name seems not to have been specified–was black. Poor dear Mary, rather than assign a paper on the genealogy of the Ptolemy family with special attention to how a foreign dynasty strives to establish legitimacy by intermarriage with indigenous elites, choose to pour her hurt feelings into a BOOK, which of course one MUST HAVE READ and about which one must have an opinion. One could point out, in partial support of the Harlem girls, that in her coinage, the last Cleopatra, wife of Marcus Antonius, was at pains to have herself depicted in traditional Egyptian garb and pose. OTOH, I fail to understand why it is thought I or anyone might become emotionally distressed about the possibility of Egyptian influence on a pack of homoerotic slave traders who kept their women confined to quarters.

  148. Dot-

    Thank you for pointing out that the rise of Communism had its own cause, in the reaction to industrial modernization. From my vague knowledge of Karl Marx’s critique of capitalism, he hits on a lot of valid points. However, it’s one thing to recognize a problem (or a complex of problems), and it’s another thing entirely to propose a feasible solution to those problems… especially when the “problem” is actually a predicament.

  149. @Dewey: I’d say fertilizer first: cannibalism is a bad idea from a health perspective, from what I hear. Or at least avoid the spinal column and brain, and make sure to cook everything else thoroughly. 😛

  150. Lathechuck, sure – there’s little room to disagree with Marx’s critique of early industrial capitalist society – but that doesn’t mean that Marx’s solutions were a good idea. It’s worth remembering that Marx inherited his money and never wanted to actually meet the proletariat when other thinkers like Engels encouraged Marx to go on a speaking tour of factories.

  151. Regarding the “it’s okay to be white” poster campaign – we should be honest, most of the people behind it are bona fide white nationalists – on the other hand, of course it’s okay to be white. I think that if the posterers also posted identical posters saying “It’s okay to be black” and so on, and still got the same reaction from the press they would have proved their point better.

  152. Lathechuck, yes absolutely. But it’s a little known fact that Marx isn’t the founder of the left. He’s the bible only for the orthodox end of the left – the ones that have stuck with class as the only legitimate division between people rather than adopting intersectionalism. The anarchists in particular trace their origins before him.

    @DuskShine, while I basically agree that humans are best adapted to social organization in tribe-like structures, the process of getting there from here is the catch. LaborCase describes what it looks like right now as it’s happening in Europe and it’s not a boon to anyone’s mental health – except maybe the male warband/tribe members themselves. It’s not noticeably any less noxious, divisive and hateful than mainstream, not-yet-tribal, society. If your community happens to be out of the path of the mass migrations, tribe formation may be less violent and settled tribal life might be possible through the Dark Age.

  153. I know I’m reaching a bit here, but I wonder if the “One Drop” fallacy has grown out of the modern worship of boarders and divisions. On this side of the boarder is a thing, and on that side of the boarder is a different thing, and the two can’t be blended in any rational way. Yet nature doesn’t work like that, making gradual transitions from one form to another, one ecosystem to another, one culture to another. Anything that appears to be a boarder melts away upon close examination. Boarders are human constructions, mainly used so that some humans can claim dominance over the other humans who live within the boarder, while those on the other side of the boarder are proclaimed enemies or, at least, potential enemies. Boarders reinforce dominance and fear, something the One Drop fallacy does as well.

  154. @gkb,
    I agree completely. I didn’t mean to imply that the exact phrase “It’s okay to be white” is all the kid needed — rather, that that overall message would need to be internalized at least somewhat. A long course of therapy, assisted by medication, is how one would do that. That becomes more difficult, I should think, if social cues are reinforcing the patient’s neurosis, and they can call you a bigot/racist/etc — and can cite school policy in doing so! In general, the more reinforcement a neurosis gets from social cues/environment, I think the more difficult it will be to combat.

    Good point!
    I’m not in the way of any migrations at the moment, and don’t expect to be (we are, in fact, experiencing net out-migration from this area), so my perspective is a bit skewed. Where it’s done with warbands, it is going to be ugly. Warbands aren’t the only seed around which new tribal groupings can form, are they?
    Having to fall back on local resources, in a land with poor soil and a harsh climate, could, I think, be struggle enough to weld the people who are living here into a People living here. What I am hoping for is some sort of Welsh-like fusion between the local Native American groups and the two (Francophone and Anglophone) Canadian groupings, accomplished peacefully. It’s probably a pipe dream, considering the resentment in place. Then again, I always figured the Celtic hill-tribes must have hated Rome…

  155. Tim, borders are human constructions in the same way that humans ourselves are and are therefore just as much part of nature. And if you think the border between one chimp troop’s territory and another’s, the cliff edge and thin air is a gradual transition….

    Modern people are no more, or less, worshippers of borders, division or dominance, either between physical places, people or categories, than premodern people. Postmodernists – whose ideology you’re repeating – are the ones obsessed with the idea that limitation must be motivated by a desire to dominate other humans. Since limitation really is the source of creative power, like Marx on capitalism they have a point. But their ‘discovery’ of the fuzziness of borders between human social constructs and subsequent reduction of human motivation to primate power struggles is nothing new. It’s the barbarism of reflection and nihilism running riot like it does at this stage in the cycle of decline.

    DuskShine, no I’m sure ethnic dissolution and genesis happens with varying degrees of violence on a spectrum. Hopefully in your context environmental pressures as you describe can play the role of external force that the invading Saxons did for the groups who became the Britons. I don’t know what the historical pattern is for areas that avoid the Volkerwanderungen. Ireland wasn’t touched by them after the fall of Rome. As far as I know, Irish tribes simply continued to do their thing as before, warring with each other, making peace, trading, warring again etc. But then Ireland hadn’t been conquered by Rome to begin with so there was no transition between being within the civilization and being outside of it – and that might be a crucial difference. In your place, everyone but the natives are where they are in the first place because of their membership of the civilization that’s falling.

  156. Simo: re: energy efficiency of sauna… It takes vastly less fuel to heat the air in a small room, than to heat the water in a large tub, even just enough for one person to bathe in. And it’s much easier to sanitize a small, empty room than a large tub of warm water. It was foolish of me, but I once spent a few minutes in a sauna that was literally boiling hot, and thus very clean. The thermostat was apparently broken, and the thermometer read 100C. (70C is a good temperature for a sauna, but I think one needs to be at least One Drop Finnish (ODF) to appreciate that.)

  157. Hi John Michael,

    The flight to extremes is just strange. And the more extreme the views are, the more absurd they sound. On a positive note, I quite enjoy absurdist humour, but I can never quite work out whether the people who are talking up such absurd rubbish and notions are trying to be funny in the first place? Possibly not! ;-)!

    In a strange coincidence, I’m writing about this fallacy later tonight. Every time I mention that I drink stored rainwater, people inevitably ask me if I use a filter. And they’re horrified when they discover that I don’t use a filter. There is an implicit belief that their municipal water supply which possibly contains fluoride and chlorine must be healthier for humans than water without those chemicals. It is like an all or nothing belief. Now I’m not discussing the historical and current reasons why those chemicals are added to the water supply in the first place, because there are good reasons for that. It is just that people fear that the chemicals are necessary and that shows me that they have a deep distrust for nature. And I reckon people have forgotten that they are part of nature! Just sayin…

    I’m enjoying your new blog format!



  158. Shane, so noted.

    Armenio, those don’t seem intricate to me at all. A writer is one thing; a book is another. I can find a book hopelessly dull and still find the writer a pleasant person; in exactly the same way, I can find a book worth reading and its author a disgusting human being. To argue otherwise is like insisting that because a book has a blue cover, its author must have blue skin.

    Shane, I see it as a classic example of the way that — despite what Doug Manners has been arguing here — people often use words without any reference to the concepts to which those words are connected, at least in the minds of the persnickety. People who say “I believe in America” are expressing an emotional state, not referencing any coherent conceptual structure at all, and trying to discuss the matter with them in in conceptual terms guarantees misunderstanding.

    Robert, I don’t know whether I can offer you fly-on-the-wall seating for the encounter or not, but I think I may just discuss that parallel sometime soon and watch the yelling start… 😉

    Bruce, good. I tend to see “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas” more as a reflection of the moral collapse of the American left since 1980 — its capitulation to the notion that your only choices are to wallow in the benefits of the status quo, on the one hand, and leave it on the other; its tacit admission that change isn’t really an option it wants to think about. Still, your analysis also works.

    Truethomas, so noted.

    Ivan, bingo. The French author Alexandre Dumas is another example of a major Western cultural figure with an African grandparent. Both men were first-rate authors who contributed immensely to the literature of their respective languages; I’m not at all sure how the racists deal with that.

    Truethomas, to my mind, actual tribes can only exist when they grow out of generations of lived experience and shared history. Any attempt to create a tribe or tribelike group out of whole cloth guarantees pseudotribalism, and usually a cascade of predictable problems as well.

    David, my father’s experience was much the same. He loved working with kids, and was very good at it; by the time he retired he was glad to get out of what had become a dysfunctional bureaucratic nightmare.

    Doug, in that case, I still don’t understand what you’re saying, because your conclusion — that the one drop fallacy is hardwired into human thinking — doesn’t follow from the argument you’ve presented. If a concept is vague and indeterminate, its applicability to a given case doesn’t stand or fall on the presence of a single counterexample, and people can and do quite readily brush off single counterexamples, or even whole rafts of them. Furthermore, if people are using words to express an emotional state rather than any conceptual content at all — Shane’s example of “I believe in America!” comes to mind here — that utterance can calmly coexist with a gallimaufry of screeching contradictions. Try explaining to someone who “believes in America” the reasons why the United States is headed for an ugly future and see whether the contradiction between the facts and their belief has any effect on the continuation of the belief; I promise you you’ll be in for an interesting time.

    What’s more, the one drop fallacy didn’t use to be anything like as common as it’s become in recent years. As little as two or three decades ago, attempts to apply that fallacy routinely got shot down in public debate. Go back a little further and the middle ground was respected and extremism distrusted. If, as you’ve claimed, the one drop fallacy is hardwired into human thought, how would that have happened?

    Phil H, I’ve noted here and elsewhere that your expectations, though they’re far from omnipotent, have an important impact on the way you experience the world. Christian Science makes use of that, and so do various less unbalanced approaches to the same set of insights — and yes, they do get good results from time to time.

    Bonnie, I also got a lot of reading lap time in my very early childhood. (Yes, I figured it was your mother.) A note to parents reading this: read to your children as much as you can, and do it so they can see the book and follow along; move your finger from letter to letter as you tell the story, and as they get familiar with the alphabet, encourage them to do the finger-moving — and you’ll likely end up with a lifelong reader and an annoyance to officious educational bureaucrats.

    Twilight, I think what’s going on with the frantic polarizing right now is something rather simpler. Both sides of the binary are being pushed at top volume by members of the privileged classes, in an effort to keep those less privileged — working class white people, on the one hand, and the nonwhite underclass on the other — at each other’s throats, so they don’t notice who actually benefits from their quarrels. The fact that it’s being done at top volume, in turn, suggests to me that the privileged are losing the game, and they’re desperate to stop poor white people and poor nonwhite people from realizing that they have far more in common with each other than either has with the privileged…

    Nastarana, good! I’d like to see plain speaking and formal courtesy both come back into use. There’s no contradiction between them; it’s possible to call someone a moron or a scoundrel in the most polite way imaginable.

    E. Goldstein, that’s been my worry for years now.

    Lathechuck, exactly. That’s why the one drop fallacy is so popular among Marxists, who have good reason to try to get people not to notice that the opposite of fascism is generally even worse.

    Xabier, exactly. The same logic displayed in the battle of the hams drove the adoption of Marxism by large parts of the hippie counterculture here in the 1960s; the underlying logic was that the hippies would get to sit around and smoke weed, the squares would get to work forty-hour weeks, and both would share equally in the product of everyone’s labor. What exactly the squares got out of this arrangement was very carefully left unmentioned…

    Dusk Shine, indeed I have. It was a brilliant move on the part of the Alt-Right, as they got exactly the response from the politically correct they wanted, and thus took another major step toward convincing millions of young white people that the politically correct are a bunch of bigots and hypocrites, who are perfectly fine with hate speech and prejudice as long as it’s directed toward their approved targets. If the Ctrl-Right had the brains the gods gave geese, they could have responded to that deftly by having flyers put up everywhere saying IT’S OKAY TO BE (fill in your ethnic designation of choice here), and turning the Alt-Right gambit into an affirmation of egalitarian principles…but that isn’t the kind of thing that occurs to the politically correct these days.

    Gkb, exactly. That would have chopped the legs out from under the Alt-Right’s gambit, and turned the whole thing into a joke.

    Hapi, thanks for the link.

    Phutatorius, good. Notice that in both cases it’s not too hard to figure out who benefits from erasing those distinctions. The same is true of every other example of the one drop fallacy I can think of, a detail which makes that fallacy a good teaching moment.

    Oracle, but it’s a lot easier to avoid integrity if you never have to think about the mismatch between your supposed ideals and your actual behavior. Thus the value of learning how to think!

    Xabier, a fine example. Thank you!

    Roger, no question, the role of ideology as identity markers in a society in chaos is not a small thing.

    Scotlyn, excellent! Not much more than a century ago, nobody needed a passport to travel from one country to another; not much more than five centuries ago, nations as we now known them didn’t exist at all, and the only reason you knew that you’d traveled from the domain of one monarch to the domain of the other was that the local gentry held their lands in feudal tenure from a different set of barons. Historically speaking, borders are a very occasional and temporary thing.

    Delestie, you’re welcome. Now let’s work together on changing that!

    Justin, nah, they knew exactly what they were doing, and got exactly the effect they were after. It’s the other side that would have been better off putting up more posters with other ethnic labels in place of “white,” and coopting the message in a way that neutralized it.

    Tim, actually, it’s not true that hard borders only exist as human cultural constructs. Quantum mechanics — which you’re using every time you turn on a piece of electronics — works because electrons have specific activation states with hard divisions between them; another hard border, the one between “alive” and “dead,” is one we all have to deal with! The problem with the one drop fallacy isn’t that hard boundaries don’t exist, it’s that they aren’t universal, and while there are some things that have them, most human political and social contexts don’t.

    Simo, thanks for this.

  159. You know there is a saying that the meek (which means the ordinary people) will inherit the earth. We certainly have the numbers and if we could learn to play nicely together we would have the power and probably end up in the same mess we are in now. Some would create a top they could rise to and stand on the others. Sad really when it could be so good.

  160. JMG – fair enough – although my estimation of the CTRL-left is so low that a postering campaign featuring “It’s okay to be X” posters, where even a globally proportional number of those posters said “It’s okay to be white” would have provoked the same histrionic response from the usual suspects. In Canada we have a major immigration debate – if you consider long-term visas, every year, our population grows by 3%, entirely from immigration. Recently, a Canadian of Indian origins wrote an article questioning our immigration policy and was attacked by all the usual suspects. It was implied that he was a sort of uncle tom in the employ of the presumably white supremacist owners of a relatively progressive publication. The one drop rule is in effect, even though the Canadian middle class would greatly benefit from a massive reduction in immigration, most of those people happen to be white, and so there is no distinction from a policy that benefits mostly white people and Nazism.

    @Jill N,

    Most modern versions of the Bible have some translation issues. For instance, the Bible regularly makes reference to corn, which of course wouldn’t have been known to the societies from which the Old and New Testaments emerged. Corn, in the biblical context, means “kernel”, which makes much more sense. Likewise, the Greek word which is translated as “meek” in most versions of the Bible, doesn’t mean quite what it means in the modern context. In the original Greek, “meek” means “someone who is ready to use his sword but chooses not to”. Like Nietzsche said, don’t mistake clawlessness for virtue.

  161. JMG: >Truethomas, to my mind, actual tribes can only exist when they grow out of generations of lived experience and shared history. Any attempt to create a tribe or tribelike group out of whole cloth guarantees pseudotribalism, and usually a cascade of predictable problems as well.

    I’m not sure what you mean by “actual tribe” and “pseudo-tribe”. There are modern examples of tribes or at least tribelike groups, but you may mean something close in form to a hunter-gatherer group while I mean something less strict. Let me try to explain and if you wish you can explain your meaning.

    As I understand it, tribing is inherent in human nature. A tribe is a particular dynamic/chaotic feedback pattern (strange attractor) favored by human instinct and abilities. True human tribes will naturally form whenever circumstances allow them and fairly quickly, though I’d agree that time is required to build up knowledge and traditions, mature and stabilize, and that may take a long time, possibly generations of lived, shared experience and history. And trying to force a group into a tribal pattern is likely to fail, definitely if the shaping force extends after the formation. And a favorable environment that is artificial will eventually fail, but that doesn’t mean the contained tribe(s) are not real while they last.

    In basic form, a tribe is egalitarian and limited to at most about 150 people (Dunbar’s number) because above that number people can not know, trust and keep track of each other well enough to synergize as an effective group and to actively defuse dominance behavior and hierarchy. There is no chief, and no charismatic leader, no coercion, no pecking order, because the group does not allow it. Significant group decisions are made cooperatively as a group, and not by individuals. Though it may sound inefficient or too good to be true, it is not ideal based, rather it is a highly practical, effective, human organization, with real advantages over similarly sized groups organized around a status hierarchy. A true tribe succeeds and persists because of those advantages. It generally fails when it cannot control its environment or when overwhelmed by much larger, non-tribal groups.

    To me a pseudo-tribe is a large amorphous group of people that self-identify with it or whatever it represents. Members are mostly strangers to each other – they feel like they are part of something larger but get few other benefits. They are sort of like a school of fish, though herded/manipulated by people who know how.

    Pseudotribalism is just what people usually mean by “tribalism” – big groups hating each other – but emphasizing that it is about pseudotribes not real tribes.

    I’m interested in hearing your thoughts and how they may differ from the above.

  162. All public space in USA today seems to be infested with “argumentum ad hominem”. Fortunately there are blogs like this where a decent “quodlibet” is still possible.

    Also, for the USA readers, I’d like to mention an excellent writer that deserves attention and deals with the racial issues in truly artistic way. That writer is William Styron and particular novel is “The Confessions of Nat Turner”. Some of his books are translated and published in Serbia.

  163. Re early reading: I too was one of those troublesome kids who was a fluent reader long before school age. The funny thing is that no one deliberately taught me to read. Reading interesting materials with caring people, in an environment that was full of reading opportunities, with on-demand sharing of the alphabetic code, did it for me. That IS essentially the whole-language philosophy, (the stripped-down version, anyways), before it got warped by the theoretical pundits on the one hand and the packaged curriculum pushers on the other. That ideal environment for learning to read is difficult to replicate in a classroom, however, with a high student-to-teacher ratio and various other institutional handicaps. I admire the folks who do that difficult work each day.

    JMG, hearing about the scholastic abuse you describe literally makes me feel ill. I wouldn’t describe it so much as whole language theory run amok as just plain terrible teaching. I’m so sorry it happened to you and so very glad you transcended it.

    I too am a former teacher who felt squashed out of “the system”. I still feel guilty about the kids, and the struggling colleagues, I left behind. I still am passionate about teaching and manage to “get my fix” homeschooling my own kids and working with various youth organizations. I think many of us who might not have ever chosen teaching as a profession will be nonetheless engaged in the work of teaching during the decline, both provide the basics to the kids around us as the formal educational system fully collapses, and in order to pass on those technologies and practices we hope to preserve through the dark ages, to apprentices and so on. The thing about teaching, though, is that it’s not as easy as many people seem to assume it is. A lot of people appear to think that, since they’ve been to school themselves, they know how teaching works, a train of thought analogous to believing that since you have ridden a bus, you would know how to drive one. As anyone who deliberately engages in the “change in consciousness in accordance with will” business will attest, though, teaching can be a damned tricky endeavor, especially if it’s being done well. JMG, since you clearly are skilled at motivating people to learn and providing them with the tools and coaching they need along the way, I would be eager to hear your thoughts on the magical aspects of teaching. I’m also patiently awaiting your posts on the education system in an era of decline. (Though people have been decrying the decline in education in America for a hundred years, it seems to really be picking up these days!)

    Thanks for the patient and careful teaching you do.

    –Heather in CA

  164. Just one more comment on teaching, this time in relation to Christian Science: one of the best teachers I ever had, my high school choir and theater director, was a Christian Scientist. She managed not only to teach the skills to make state-competition-level musicians and actors out of, well, hick town high schoolers; she inspired us, instilled self-discipline, and taught both humility and healthy pride. Can you imagine? I don’t know what her religious beliefs might have contributed to her teaching. The only way we knew that she was Christian Scientist was that she had a truly enormous, disfiguring mole on her face. I can’t imagine who would have asked her about it, but somehow it was just known in the community that that was the reason she didn’t have it removed. Possibly that example contributed to her effectiveness in teaching dedication to beliefs, self-respect, and humility. I never knew any of the background behind Christian Science. Because of that one teacher’s example, my response to hearing about the odd foundations of the religion is to think, Hmm, how interesting; I wonder how she made sense of that? Rather similar, in fact, to the way I had to keep an open mind about Druidry once JMG had me hooked by his clear thinking about other matters…
    –Heather in CA

  165. Oilman2 – If you want to rattle around the neighborhood doing Good for your neighbors, I’m actually not surprised that someone took offense and complained to your local authorities. I’ve gone out on a snowy day and offered to dig out my neighbors’ driveways, and (unless they already know me) they decline. I suppose that they expect me to ask for money, sooner or later, and don’t even want to negotiate. I have fixed a faucet or two, but only for people who know me from church. The problem, I think, is that in every prior experience people have with each other, they expect a transaction, and if you offer them a gift, it’s just too good to be true. “What’s the catch? How can you do this? Maybe you just want to slip inside my defenses, and rob or hurt me.” You need to establish trust first. If you want to provide free transportation for your neighbors, I suppose one way to do it would be to sign up with Uber or Lyft, and let them pay for a few rides, get to know you, and then offer a “frequent rider discount”.
    Eventually, the discount could be 100%, but I don’t think that would work. There’s also a matter of pride/dignity that opposes accepting gifts. People still desire transactions. One of the features of a church (or lodge, I suppose) is that it blurs the transactionality of charity. Over the course of years, those who can, support the institution when they can, and those who can’t support the institution (or no longer can), have either earned the right to draw on institutional resources, or have hope that some day they will be able to repay what they “owe”. But this is all informal, because the church asserts that it is its duty to provide charity without accounting for its repayment. (Supporting “the poor” is also promoted by Jewish and Muslim ethics, I believe.)
    There may be “mega-churches” where people simply gather for a mass spectator experience, but in my little church, some of us cut the grass, prepare meals, sing in the choir, serve as officers, tend the HVAC system, teach the children, weed the flower beds, visit the sick, etc., etc., so it offers many opportunities to develop shared experiences and to build a tribal identity. Maybe you just haven’t found the right church yet.

  166. I saw this very nice example of binary thinking and the “back to caves” fallacy. A host for the ESPN sports network said that people who boycott his network would be reading books by candlelight and are beyond hope or prayer. (

    “If you truly wanna boycott the NFL and you wanna boycott ESPN, the notion that some guy sitting out there, or gal, and they decide, ‘you know what, I’m gonna cut my entire cable package because ESPN gave an award on a made-up show in July because there’s no sports, to a woman who used to be a man, so I’m now not gonna have any cable TV at all and I’m gonna sit around at night and read books by candlelight like olden times because of that,’ that’s not happening. And if you did that, then you’re so dumb that I can’t even pray for you because you’re beyond hope. If that was your reaction to this, was to deny yourself the ability to watch television, I mean that just hasn’t happened and didn’t happen, so I boycott them.”

  167. Jill, I’ll defer to those who have a better knowledge of New Testament Greek than I do, but I don’t think that the word translated “meek” in the King James Version means “the common people.” My understanding is that, like the other categories referenced in that passage, it refers to a moral condition, not a sociopolitical one.

    Justin, of course. Think about who benefits from mass immigration, and you know who’s pushing this example of the one drop fallacy.

    Truethomas, I’ve encountered right around a dozen groups that claimed to be new tribes, starting in the backwash of the Sixties, proceeding through the Fire In The John men’s-movement era, and winding up in the early peak oil scene. All of them were basically a bunch of comfortably middle-class people playing at tribehood, not that different all things considered from Marie-Antoinette and her courtiers pretending to be shepherds and shepherdesses, and most of them promptly dissolved either when they hit actual adversity or when they stopped being fashionable. Maybe that’s a nonrepresentative sample, but as a result I remain highly skeptical of current chatter about tribes.

    Ivan, Styron is a first-rate writer — I’m delighted to hear that he’s popular in Serbia!

    Heather, thank you for your patience! Teaching is immensely difficult work, and also immensely important work; in a sane society teachers would be paid on a par with physicians. Those who know how to do it, if they’re able to make the transition to the realities of an age of decline, will be extremely valuable people to have around in the future ahead of us.

    Karl, that’s a good one. Thank you!

  168. Doug (offlist), if you’re going to flounce, please just flounce. The reference above the comment box to “repeated attempts to hammer on a point already addressed” has additional force when the person so hammering has just announced that he’s stomping off in a huff.

  169. @xabier: The Battle of the Hams was conceptually preceded by the Parisian demands for farmers to supply the city with food during the Revolution ca. 1789. The farmers failed to comply. A similar attitude was on display in the commune founded by Louisa May Alcott’s father and others. The men expected to sit around discussing philosophy while the women did all the gardening, dairy work, baking, water hauling, washing, etc. The commune did not last long.

  170. @Iathechuck: Agreed. The “, what are they going to want in exchange eventually?” impulse is strong, and strong for a good reason. Even if the person doing you a favor doesn’t have a nefarious motive per se, once they’ve done you a good turn, you feel more obligated to stand around and listen if they’re the kind of person who talks at their neighbors for an hour at a time, or invite them over, or whatever, and if you’re an introvert…naaah. Easier to just pay for it, where everything’s up front and giving someone money removes the feeling that you should make small talk.

    )…yes, there are reasons I do well in urban New England. :P)

    I’ve found this to be particularly true as a single woman when I’m dealing with men of any description–for various reasons, I don’t fear physical assault, but if a guy I don’t know well offers to do me a favor, uuuuuugh, he’s probably gonna want to chitchat and lead up to asking me out*, and there’s no tactful way to circumvent this with “hey, I wish you luck, but you’re not my type and I just want to read” and I’d pay at least ten bucks to avoid that situation–but it’s also come up with roommates. Your leftovers do look tasty, Janice, but if I eat them, I’m going to feel like I have to make conversation every time we run into each other in the kitchen, and I’d rather chew off my own arm.

    in re: reading: I started early enough that I honestly don’t remember the process of learning, one way or another. I *do* remember “oral reading” in late-elementary/early-middle school, and it was a minor circle of the Inferno. Reading myself wasn’t bad, but sitting there trying to follow along while other kids read really slowly killed me. Eventually, being a…forthright…child, I approached the teachers, pointed out that I’d read the entire book already, said they could test me on it if they wanted, and I would spend that class period reading something else.**

    *There are plenty of guys who have no interest in me, for any number of reasons, but I can’t read minds and I’m not interested in playing the odds with strangers or distant acquaintances.
    ** I also told the PE teacher that I could stand around during volley/basket/whateverball and do nothing, or I could walk laps and get exercise: her choice. She gave in too. I sometimes look back on my youth and think I should send everyone involved a fruit basket.

  171. Ever notice how often this One-Drop Fallacy is used in retail advertising? Consider the cosmetics industry: implicit in its advertising rhetoric is the idea that “since you didn’t win the latest beauty pagent, you are therefore gorgonically ugly and must use _____(advertise product or service here)______ in order to be seen in public again.”

    It’s not just cosmetics either. Now that it’s been illustrated clearly in this essay, I can clearly see this breed of nonsense showing up in ads for clothing, fitness programs, medications, appliances, automobiles, you name it – even, ironically, in ads for education programs! And, silly us, we fall for it!

  172. @JMG: Off topic, hence disposable post if you prefer. Re: Marie Antoinette and the Little Village at Versailles. It was my understanding that the Queen was attempting to *reduce* the stilted artificiality and costly display of Court life: the brocades, elaborate hairdresses, jewels, parades, etc. in favor of a simpler, cheaper, more natural style of dress and less formality in human relations. She made a game of it as a ploy to wean her daily companions off the teat of power politics and get some air, sunshine, and fresh milk into her children at the same time. I think that comes from her letters to her mother, but I can’t cite you any references. This is a recently introduced reinterpretation (or correction)of the historical records that I came by second- or third-hand. However, if this *is* being generally accepted, I thought you would want to know, being a historian yourself. Or not, if you prefer to continue using the vulgar POV as a handy metaphor. Pedantry and precision are so closely related: practically twins.

  173. @ Dewey…

    My city is very typical suburban one. No cars can be left in non-working condition for more than 24 hours visible from the road; no trailers allowed to be parked overnight on the street; grass height cannot exceed 6″; curbs must be trimmed closely and regularly; no unregistered vehicles of any kind may be placed on the property; no trash cans allowed within sight of the street; homes must be painted and exterior trim in good condition; blah-blah-blabbedy-blah-blah.

    This only occurred when the suburban sprawl engulfed our city, and when the city council was expanded to accommodate recently annexed areas. Ten years ago, it was a sleepy little city outside of a metro area, with none of these rules. I moved here due to the lack of this type of micro-management and tyranny. I fought it in court several times, but my lawyer son only has time for so much pro-bono for me. I no longer enjoy living here, and have been building a farm 85 miles away in a very poor county where the closest interstate highway is an hour away.

    It could be worse – it could be an HOA run place, where you have zero say when the local ‘elites’ decide on new rules and regs.

    @ Lathechuck …

    I am not much on churches in general, especially in the local area. Most have memberships in excess of 1000, some 5,000. They are more social clubs than churches, and most no longer teach from gospel scripture. My views are not acceptable within most Christian religions anyway. I was doing the entire help thing via word of mouth. It took about a year for the city to come down on me, and it was very much personal. Apparently, my buying and replacing a water heater for an octogenarian angered the guy who quoted her $1500 to replace it. C’est la vie…

    I live in an englobed city within a metropolitan area. I have collapsed with 40 acres elsewhere, and spend roughly half my time there. I retain this place, as my wife loves her work and cannot do the same when we eventually exit for good. I voted and still vote with my feet and wallet. Heck, I even get groceries near my farm and bring them here – to help the smaller local economy there. And I only buy from local or state businesses, even if Amazon or Walmart sells for less. I do what I can to change things for the better, but like everyone, I have my limits.

  174. The most mordantly funny depiction of racism I’ve read is “the soldier in white” in Catch 22. He’s a GI who is totally encased in plaster, connected to a drip and incapable of communication because of his serious injuries. Yet the patient in the bed next to him hates him because he’s black.

  175. Isabel, I had similar experiences in elementary school, and should probably talk to the same fruit basket company…

    Steve, excellent! You get this evening’s gold star partly for catching a very common use of the fallacy under discussion, but also for the adverb “gorgonically,” which is a thing of beauty. (I’m reminded of an Ogden Nash poem in which all three of the Gorgon sisters got into writing long French novels. Medusa, who was inordinately proud of her own work, told the others, “you think you’re both the big cheeses, but I am the Gorgon Zola…”)

    Gkb, hmm! Interesting. I’ll look into that as time permits.

    Phil, true enough. Heller was a helluva good writer.

  176. @ Lathechuck & Isabelcooper…

    If somebody offers to help you, what is it about your own make-ups that assume they will want you to return the favor? I chased cows off the road just yesterday, and penned them back up where they had pushed a fence over. I got some wire and retied the fence for the guy too, so they didn’t just mosey back out. I don’t know the guy, never seen the guy, but I do believe in karma – so if I have cows or horses and they bust out, I hope someone gets them before they get killed or lost.

    Further, what’s so horribly awful about accepting help? If it isn’t something chronically sought after, what’s the real reason for reluctance to accept help? Pride? Shame? What exactly?

    How does that work out for folks when they are 86 and have trouble walking and lifting or something similar? How does it work out for a lone woman when she has a break down on the highway and there is no cell service? What if you are just flat broke?

    It is these common courtesies (favors is a whole other thing, and they are usually solicited in the first place) that make life better, especially when (insert bad thing here) happens. At least that is how I see things.

  177. John,

    In your response to Twilight, you mentioned that our elites are possibly losing the battle to keep the white and non-white lower orders divided. Are you really seeing examples of this? This would be at least be something positive in this flustercluck, although probably not for us twenty percenters. I guess what I see is the elite being total rattled by Trump’s victory and just mindlessly pulling racism levers as hard as they can to regain some sense of control. The result will be an unpleasant and unnecessary explosion of ugly racial tension in this country. I would like to be wrong on this.

  178. @JMG
    True, weak emulations of tribes exist (perhaps your lodge is one or my church.) So I think do more vital tribes, inside some corporations, the military, some small businesses, some churches. What interests me is what are the systems dynamics of the tribe, under what conditions does it thrive and why, and what are the civilizational dynamic conditions that suppress tribes. Also how does the lack of tribes feed into the overall vicious cycle of exponential growth. I should try to draw a system diagram.

  179. Oilman (if I may), you’re looking at one of the major differences between regions here. I’ve lived in both — western Maryland is Appalachian enough to have a Southern attitude toward offering help, Seattle is very much on the Northern end of things — and there really is a huge gap in the way people on your side of the line treat offers of help and the way that people on the other side of the line do.

    John, I’m thinking of the poor neighborhoods in Cumberland, where on a summer evening you would never pass a porch where everyone on it had the same skin color. The enforced division between pink Americans and brown Americans (I find these labels far more accurate than “white” and “black”) is healing from the bottom up, as usually happens in the decline of a civilization. Have you noticed how many of the people who are yelling about the evilly evil evilness of nonwhite people, on the one hand, and white people on the other, come from a middle or upper middle class background? The Alt-Right, like the social justice scene, is almost entirely an affectation of the privileged…

    Truethomas, actually, my lodge is closer to an actual tribe than any of the groups I’ve encountered that call themselves tribes. In my experience, the more loudly a group claims that title, the weaker an emulation (or imitation, or parody) of a tribe that group inevitably turns out to be.

  180. JMG,

    Though the One Drop Fallacy dates from the Civil War era, would you agree that the poor thinking exhibited by many today is far worse? The education system is certainly a culprit, and I believe there’s plenty of propaganda/agendas at work to add fuel to the mix, but I believe the latest Industrial Revolution and Peak Energy are also contributing factors. With the rise of urban areas, an increase in government intrusion, and enough wealth to support lifestyles that were less dependent on others, at least directly dependent, many of us have never had to compromise, much less learned the skill of negotiation. Finding a middle ground was never required. We’ve had the luxury of experiencing life without paying the price for being wrong, or even aware that we’re in the wrong.

    If that premise is true, then the revolution required to correct thinking skills may be inclusive partial self-correction, as we continue down the slope of decline.

  181. Democracy itself, that much-maligned and much-misunderstood system, is a midpoint—it occupies the unsteady point of balance between anarchy, on the one side, and tyranny on the other.

    Not sure I agree with this. It is clear that ‘democracy’ is a relative term, and that different states in different times show different degrees of democratic credentials. I was part of a political party over the past year, and much of the discussion that went on concerned ‘democratising the party’, i.e. restructuring the organisation to better represent its members’ views at the leadership level.

    Anarchist writing is full of references to ‘democratising’ society’s institutions, most obviously private businesses which by and large are structured as small scale tyrannies. Is it not true that the more we democratise the organisations that fuction in our world, the more we head toward a state of rules but not rulers (i.e. anarchy) ?

    Maybe the kind of representative democracy that most people think of when the word is used (i.e. elective polyarchy) can be regarded as a midpoint between anarchy and tyranny, but democracy proper implies rule by the people, which taken to the extreme is the same definition as anarchy.

  182. John,

    Thank you for reminding me that its usually what is happening at the bottom of society that is where the future lies. The concern I expressed is for the short term. I hope that the people in those Cumberland neighborhoods, throughout the south and elsewhere in this country where the elite no longer have much interest have formed strong enough tribes, to borrow a term from another comment thread, to withstand with minimal damage the stupid racial storm that is being brewed by clueless elites.

    The words “May it be so.” keep coming to mind.

  183. JMG: are you white? If it is a choice, then why choose to be “white”? I find that these kind of conversations about blood quantum tend to turn on identity claims and rarely some phenotypic association between “race” and skin color. So if one claims to be white, they presume to speak about the experiences and on behalf of other “whites” whether or not they have the authority to do so. That’s why I don’t really follow this argument about the one drop rule. If it is not legally enshrined, as it is for our indigenous persons in this country, how do you know whether you are white or not? Social convention? Skin color? Culture? Other people telling you that you are?
    I think that what may seem to be arbitrary to you is really a preference and a choice. It does come down to a binary, a fallacy, but it isn’t illogical. After all, haven’t you chosen?

  184. @ JMG…

    I find that both fascinating and problematic. My next door neighbors are from Syracuse, and they do not fit that mold. I asked about it over coffee a few minutes ago, and she told me, “Nah – that’s not the way it works where we were – more the way it works in The City.”

    So while you have seen this as a regional thing, my neighbor views it as more of an urban/rural thing in the north.

    Nevertheless, I hope Isabel or Lathechuck will answer my questions, as I am curious about this wide difference in expectations I see with respect to acceptance of help.

  185. @oilman: What JMG says, but also cynicism and/or experience, depending on your perspective. I like your take on things, especially the karma and general community work aspect of it, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with accepting help at all–but if it’s a face-to-face thing with strangers, it is a point of contact.(Similarly, while I theoretically don’t mind returning favors, with strangers you can never tell what that favor will be.) And while I have encountered, and appreciate, people who just help without expecting even chit-chat in return…it’s rare. For me it comes down again to playing the odds.

    Basically: I’m glad for a community safety net and everyone helping out when and where they can. But I also think that nobody ever went broke betting on people being somewhere between annoying to horrible, so I’d like to keep everything as impersonal as possible.

    All that said, it sounds like your situation wasn’t that so much as obnoxious territorialism on the part of the guy who’d have been charging, and the city weirdly supporting him in that, so I’m squarely on your side in that particular matter as well.

  186. Since reading is the topic, and large parts of my childhood were spent in “book shielding” mode, here is another data point. My babyhood occurred round about 1961/62, during which time my parents invested in a “system” for teaching babies to read. (I was their first, and they were both nervous and anxious to do right by me). I do not know what it was called or much of its dynamics, but we have photographs of me sitting in rooms where everything is “named” with a large written label (red letters on white). I vaguely recall the really long word “REFRIGERATOR” being one of these. In any case, thankfully, they also did the usual – read stories to me constantly. When I was 10 and had 3 younger sisters, my father began a nightly serial reading of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. In any case, like others here, I do not recall learning to read. I do recall an incident, instigated by me, in which I consciously “unlearned” to read. That is to say, on being faced with a terribly easy lesson in my first grade class, I consciously did all the answers wrong, so as to give my teacher something to do. (Possibly, this was my 6-year-old way of offering a proverbial fruit basket). I think I overdid the wrongness, though, because the incident led to a terrible (to me) investigatory process, in which my “real” reading skills were revealed, and my personal popularity plummetted.

  187. Lathechuck, Isabel, and Oilman2 – I think you’re talking across a rural vs urban/suburban divide when it comes to what one group sees as debts that will have to be repaid, and the other sees as neighborly deeds. The difference is, that “neighbors” in the city and the suburbs are often merely people who live next door, and whose interaction with the others on the block may be minimal and superficial. Their core social group may be scattered all over town, or even simply on the internet.

    Heaven knows, I’ve lived in the same house for 20 years, and have many neighbors who leave for work, come home, turn on the TV, and stay holed up until time to go to work again. Only the fact that I take walks in the neighborhood (and have very friendly next door neighbors on one side) has given me any contact with the whatsoever!

    Pat in Albuquerque.

  188. Just a note: I will be out of town Wednesday at weird o’clock am through Sunday evening . Garden Housewife, I’ll try to get those recipes to you on the Open Post Monday, or Tuesday at the very latest. Meanwhile, I’m still trying to figure out the diversity patterns of Gainesville, FL. (My daughter’s one-house-per-mile ‘neighborhood’ in the woods outside of town really doesn’t count; it’s totally Exurbia in Affluenzastan.)

  189. Dear LatheChuck and Isabel Cooper, I suggest there is a far more cynical explanation for a city govt. coming down on someone helping his neighbors than that the neighbors didn’t appreciate the help. In my experience, and I have lived in a lot of small communities, these kinds of complaints nearly always have their origin with someone who thinks he or she is losing or about to loose money because of do it yourselfers helping his or her potential customers for free. And, yes politically incorrect though it may be to say as much, the complainers often do include, but of course are not limited to, immigrant owned businesses. Business owners of all kinds find it to be to their advantage to forge mutually beneficial associations with Mayors, City Council members and even city and county employees, which can consist of everything from campaign contributions to favorable deals for homes and autos to sports tickets…you get the picture. In return, business owners, both local and out of area, can depend on favorable hearings from officials when they feel their interests are threatened. It can then be left to flack catching city and county employees to do the dirty work. Unfortunately, individual helpers, like individual front yard vege gardeners, are far more vulnerable than are, for example, church groups. I have known of church sponsored groups of men who do help with repairs for willing senior citizens and others; usually the pastor–keep in mind that it is part of a pastor’s (and even more so of a bishop’s) job to maintain cordial relationships with community leaders–will already have already cleared the way with local authorities, and reassured the relevant businesses that efforts will only be directed to those who cannot afford to pay for repairs.

    I don’t say this is good or bad, I say it is the way the world works and we need to understand it and figure out ways to deal with it.

  190. Oilman2, Lathechuck, and IsabelCooper

    Hello, I wonder if the distinction crafted by David Graeber would be any help here. When he wrote his tome “Debt, the First 5,000 Years,” one of the dommon fallacies in his sights was the idea (central to Economics 101), that humans are no more than rational calculating machines. In order to address his topic, he sketched out three different dynamics in which exchanges may be organised by people.

    What makes his analysis really interesting (to me), is his point that all three are continually at play, we all “know” how to work all three, even though different societies will give more emphasis to one or another. On the other hand, the constant co-existence of these three is also capable of generating endless misunderstandings, as people dispute which KIND of exchange is involved in THIS case or that.

    See what ye think.

    Type 1: Communistic – these exchanges can always be described as “from each according to ability, to each according to need”. They are, of course, found in families, but often also in workplaces, and even among strangers. Workplace example – if two people are fixing a pipe and one says “hand me that wrench” it would be odd indeed if the second said “what will you give me for it?” Strangers example – if EITHER the need is very small – say a light, or directions, or very large – say someone is drowning or in the path of a bus, we’re mostly inclined to do what is needed, or receive what is needed and not even consider reciprocity (or payback). Needless to say, this dynamic can be seen everywhere, despite our fears about “communism”. Graeber points out, for the record, that the horrific, deadly regimes we know as “communist” did not call themselves “communist,” but “socialist”. His use of the word is therefore restricted to the actual dynamic described above.

    Type 2: Reciprocal – these are equal exchanges, carried out between at least notional equals. (Marcel Mauss, in “The Gift” would have done a lot of the heavy theoretical lifting here). There are two common dynamics at work in reciprocal exchange. One is the basic principle that if one receives one must give something of equal value. The second is that so long as what is received has NOT been returned, a relationship (based on “unfinished business”) will exist between the two parties. For some people, in some situations – as eloquently described by Isabel – the most comfort is achieved by repaying any debt incurred immediately, and putting paid to any possible continuation of the relationship. And certainly, most shops operate this way – pick your goods, pay your money, walk away as strangers. But for other people, fostering the relationship itself is what is desired, and this can be achieved by a continual exchange of gifts, but with the proviso that every repayment is either “too much” (putting the unfinished business in the other’s court) or “too little” (keeping the unfinished business in their own). This dynamic forms a solid basis for many enduring friendships and relationships, but of course, the giving of favours can also be cannily used by “godfather” types to consolidate power.

    Type 3: Hierarchical/Customary — these are the kind of customary exchanges that might occur between UNequals, such as, for example a subject and a feudal lord. The unequal stations of the partners to the exchange takes reciprocation out of the question, and replaces it with custom. This dynamic is not as common as it used to be, but can still be found in situations of notional INequality. For example, the boss in my company buys a restaurant dinner for all the staff at Christmas. Everyone comes and eats, and no one expects to repay it by inviting him for a meal at some other time (even though we could probably afford to). On the contrary, once he has done it, it immediately becomes “customary” and the general expection is that he will do it again next year. The same principle applies the other way, of course. All goods or services an inferior offers to a superior immediately become “customary” and must continue to be regularly rendered into the future. Graeber tells the story of some medieval monks who, when giving the king a gift of a few barrels of their best fermented beverage, had to get him to sign that he understood this was definitely a “once off” gesture, and was in no way to be regarded as a new “custom”.

    In any case, if the three of ye examine your discussion so far, ye may find that one is discussing a Type 2 dynamic in addressing a comment about a Type 1 dynamic, or somesuch. On the other hand, once the three dynamics of exchange are laid out, almost everyone can immediately name examples of each. OR examples of where each has “gone wrong” because it was intended as one type of dynamic, but understood as a different one. Personally, I have found this schema quite useful when navigating the different expectations that can develop between myself and others, especially around gifts and favours.

    I hope this helps.

  191. Dear JMG,

    One Drop Fallacy is a fitting description. It reminds me: “All things are poison, for there is nothing without poisonous qualities. It is only dosage that makes a thing poison or remedy.” or “Allah loveth not those given to excess.”
    As you also said the opposite of a bad idea/fallacy is another bad idea/fallacy. At the opposite end of the One Drop Fallacy, lies the Golden Mean Fallacy.
    May I ask, how could we dodge the Golden mean fallacy in your “Thing called Freedom” essay with the “don’t get into same sex relationship if you don’t like it and if you don’t like business that don’t cater to same-sex couples go elsewhere.” comment?
    Best regards


  192. JMG,
    Canadians have Americans, both North & South, beat when it comes to social trust and social reciprocity. They’re a good 20 years “behind” the states (in a good way) in offering help, knowing your neighbours, inviting people over for dinner, etc.–and it’s true across the board, in urban, diverse, heavily gay neighbourhoods as well as rural areas.

  193. Oilman2: some times, when I am caught in the act of committing charity, I use the following alibi: “I’m just trying to repay to society some of what I’ve received over many past years, from people who I can not repay. If you feel that you owe me something, pay it forward to someone who needs it more than I do.” Or, “everybody around here contributes something, and this contribution is not so significant in context”. So, as Isabel and I have described, people expect some kind of balance between what they get, and what they give, but the getting and giving don’t need to be strictly bilateral: give to the pool when you can, and take from the pool when you must.

    I’m not surprized that the churches you see in your area have upwards of 1000 members, because those big organizations will probably be the most visible. My church calls it a good Sunday if we have 50, so it’s a lot easier to develop personal relationships. As for the fine points of theology, we don’t have a litmus test for participation, and there’s more diversity of thought than you might expect. As our regional leader once explained to me: “the doctrines of the church are the statements that we’ve agreed to teach; you’re not required to believe them.” Logically speaking, if we only welcomed those who already agreed with us, there would be no spreading of the Good News (only recycling of it). Any tribe, though, must have some ritual for distinguishing those who are inside, and those who are outside, even if it welcomes outsiders to become insiders. In a neighborhood, it might be the owners vs. renters. My ham radio club has annual dues to be paid, even though we’ll talk to anyone who answers a “CQ”. My church has a somewhat more involved ritual for affirming membership, but such affirmations are a step along the way to developing trust, despite the various ways in which we differ by at least One Drop.

  194. @JMG
    I’m glad to hear it. I don’t personally know of any groups that identify as tribes – the connotation seems too “primitive” for most people to embrace. Yet some groups have tribe-like form without intending to. Some groups might be better off if they embraced it. My UU church for example, like many, still tries to maintain the form of a traditional church with a hired minister and large old building to maintain, which is a substantial financial and volunteer burden for a small congregation to carry.

  195. Following on Oilman’s earlier comment about opening wedges, I’m wondering if that’s not basically what you (JMG) were up to in the past when you were tossing out the idea (paraphrasing) that leaving a bowl of milk on the back stoop was a useful tradition/superstition, even if it was just to attract cats (that kill mice and rats in an agrarian setting); or that a calendar of folk practices based on the moon and signs was, if nothing else, a great way to keep up with a long-term and complicated gardening schedule.

    I don’t think for a second that this is what you believe. But for a recovering scientific materialist like me – who could see only empirical evidence on the one hand, and superstitious hocus pocus on the other – it went a good ways toward drawing me into further inspection. Well done, sir.

    (And btw, regarding this topic, my story about nature spirits got even more interesting yesterday. But another thing I’ve learned from you is the value of patience and timing! ;))

  196. @ Scotlyn…

    My thinking is that each of those 3 subsets or explanations is grossly inadequate, but for me trying to help old(er) people, single Moms and those down on their luck, the 3rd one feels right. I have more knowledge or strength or whatever than they do, so I simply give to those ‘beneath me’. Not in beneath in social standing, but in some type of wherewithal. One could view it as the 2nd option, as I have wherewithal (of whatever type) and they do not. So that deconstruction just doesn’t feel adequate to what I feel when examining who to help or how I feel afterwards.

    @ Lathechuck –

    That pool you speak of is really very shallow in my experience. Most of the people I have helped do not even possess any rudimentary tools – maybe a screwdriver or two and some pliers. I lost count of how many washers and driers I installed – because people just had no idea how to do it and the instructions assumed they knew things they simply did not. Many cannot turn their water or gas valves off at the street (saw that during hurricane Ike) and my guess is that 95% of them are terrified of electricity. After Ike hit, my Syracuse neighbor and I walked the entire city, flipping off main breakers where it was needed. Most people have no idea what to do in the event of electrical messes, or most other utility issues.

    One of the surest ways to see me smile is when watching how unhandy people swing a hammer – it never fails to make my grin pop out.

    In actuality, the shallow nature of the “pool” may be part of what makes people fearful of accepting charity of the type I try to spread about. I have had people feed me while working and offer me this or that for helping them, but I never felt I should take any physical thing, as that would feel transactional, and that was opposite my intent. Sharing a meal felt normal, but the lady trying to give me a turkey did not. That may appear contradictory, but it didn’t feel that way. And I am human – feelings are there all day long, good or ill.

    Christian churches cannot abide reincarnation, not even discussion of it – hence my truancy! Your church sounds more like an exception to the norm I have experienced – glad you found a home.

    @ Patricia Matthews –

    Your opinion seconds my Syracuse neighbors – it’s more of an urban vs rural thing. Perhaps that devolves from people having to lend a hand more in the country, as the repairman (fireman, policeman, any man…) is twice as expensive and/or takes 3x as long to get there. Proximity to help would seem to dictate rural people needing a hand more than urban. For elderly and single moms in the country, this is very true.

    In the country, everybody knows who is down on their luck, and who is “playing” as if they were – it doesn’t take long for that word to spread, whereas in the city, the word is never spread at all – too many people for it to be of import or discussion. When people are “gaming” charity, it is easy to escape notice in the city – lots of charitable suckers and the local “grapevine” of gossip is nearly dead in the cities nowadays – few people gab across the fence or sit on the porch and talk. In the country, local gossip is a daily thing, still very much alive.

    @ JMG –

    “…other side of the line…” – as in Mason Dixon? Rural/Urban? Which line were you referring to, as I do need that reference…

  197. @JMG Great article (again), and yet the question is always ‘ok… now what?’. There are a myriad of other writers espousing on similar topics from different angles of approach (yet none so logical and well thought out as yourself) and the market is full of thought leadership for lack of a better term. Bear with me here… As to say that none other than you has captured the true essence if you will, of what drives the perpetual degenerate rot (as I believe you have put it) forward other than modern comforts, automation and industrialization as a whole. We who have not had the luxury of enjoying all the cash and prizes of such a system for as long, thus granting the ability to establish oneself in a manner that is more congruent to that of natural design, albeit awkwardly, with a more favorable debt to income ratio (as applied to cost to living, wages, net gain to net drain, total contribution to society vs what is received etc.). And being that there is a generation of folks who find themselves in an endless cypher of meaningless comforts, constantly being asked to conform to the next line to be itemized on a balance sheet while the mantle of skills that once was at the bedrock of this nation (not to mention the ancillary character traits imbued with an intense desire for self sufficiency, self reliance etc.) is incinerated to make way for more automated systems, how then can this generation who finds this system so foreign change things? You’ve mentioned joining Mason’s lodges before (if I recall correctly), but is this really enough and or the best start? Isn’t there a spiritual movement needed here, grounded in the absolute belief that what mother nature has made (humanity, and the instincts for self preservation and reproduction as the best of ones self, however refined) is what should be prioritized to the extent that a new environment of incentives is established, thus spawning power and value hierarchies which in turn prioritize a more sustainable, fulfilling and happy(!) path? Could this not come into fruition via writing as one angle (needless to say an anchoring text would be required), but also others? And what others? How to start a movement which has the desired outcomes this new generation (and it is truly a ‘new’ generation with screens for parents, entertainers for leaders, a 30% childhood obesity rate, decreased literacy rates, etc. etc. ) yearns for? On the ground type solutions and the organization and disciple to execute there, an ancillary primer to the anchoring text perhaps? – Thank you

  198. The idea that the opposite of one bad idea is another bad idea definitely exists with the one drop rule. The casta system enforced by the colonial rulers of Latin America had over a hundred racial categories, each with different rules applying to them. It didn’t make colonialism, racism and slavery any better, just really confusing. Casta actually sounds disturbingly similar to modern identity politics.

    I think a lot of the reluctance to support partial solutions to social problems is because of people’s unfortunate habit of pulling the ladder up behind them. When men got the vote they didn’t dedicate themselves to ensuring women got the vote as quickly as possible. A lot of people with HIV lived in fear of a vaccine being developed because they thought any progress in treatment and towards a cure would stop because everyone else could be protected and those already infected would be left to rot.

  199. @Patricia Matthews: Absolutely, yes. The communities I feel part of are things like my gaming group and friends from college (scattered across Boston/New England and now, in some cases, on the West Coast), my pagan circle (mostly localiiiish, by which I mean Providence), some people from blogs (wherever), and my immediate family (PA and CA). Within those groups, I’m glad to offer and accept favors, though with some divergence regarding specific people, and always with the WASP refreshment dance re: acceptance, except in truly desperate circumstances. Someone has medical bills, needs a hand moving, has to crash somewhere for a while, or whatever? We’re pretty much there–and it’s assumed that we enjoy each other’s company (and know each other well enough to say “hey, I really want to finish this book” at the appropriate times) well enough that the relationship-obligation isn’t a problem.

    Neighbors, and even previously-unfamiliar roommates back in the days when I had ’em…not really. We let each other in if we’ve forgotten our keys, say hi if we meet each other in the yard or the hallway, and if someone was passing a hat for expenses or obviously struggling with furniture moving, we’d probably offer a hand, but that’s as far as it goes. For one thing, I don’t know that we’d have anything in common beyond physical proximity–and that changes a lot–and for another, the times when we run into each other are always the times we’re doing other stuff, whereas communities-of-intent involve being social when we plan to be social, for the most part. Even if the guy across the hall *was* into everything I was, I don’t want to constantly have to stop and chat with him when I’ve spent all day at work and am longing to get into my apartment with tea and a book.

    So yeah. 🙂 I don’t know if this is a rural/urban thing (might well be, but I’ve spent my adult life in cities, so I’m not sure either way) or a generational one (more divergent interests, less expectation that the people nearby will be the people nearby forever) or what, but yeah.

    @Scotlyn: Good breakdown, and yeah! I think I’d say that I’m extremely comfortable with a communistic system, and much, much less so with a reciprocal one among people I don’t know well, unless the reciprocation is, as you say, a straightforward transaction. My ideal-and-likely-impossible world is probably a weird combination of Nordic-style socialism and Victorian England, where everyone has their needs efficiently taken care of by an impersonal bureaucracy to which everyone also contributes, but nobody speaks to anyone else without an introduction. 😛

  200. @Oilman2 (if not too late to comment here)
    “My thinking is that each of those 3 subsets or explanations is grossly inadequate” By all means do put any inadequacy down to my summary. Graeber did write a tome, after all… 🙂

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