Archive for September 2017


Are there any non-crazy arguments against cultural appropriation?

Of all the crazy ideas to come out of the left, the hysteria over cultural appropriation seems the most “Onion-like”, i.e. most like a parody in the Onion newspaper.  It’s not like rent controls or the minimum wage, where I see their point but respectfully disagree.  It just seems crazy.  Maybe that’s because I am of a generation that grew up celebrating cultural appropriation as the hippest of all lifestyles.  I can’t imagine my life without the music of Dylan, the Stones and Led Zep, all of whom culturally appropriated black music on a massive scale.  Ditto for the global film industry, which involves wholesale cultural appropriation.

When I make that argument to people on the left they roll their eyes and say, “that’s not what we are talking about, the problem is racial insults like the Washington Redskins.” Is that all it is?  I don’t read enough of this nonsense to know.  Tyler Cowen recently linked to (and mostly disagreed with) a post by Maisha Johnson, which supposedly represents a good source for understanding what the fuss is all about.  And that post repeats all the crazy, left wing, anti-capitalist, white people are “privileged” nonsense that one associates with caricatures of the loony left.  It has the complaints about white rock music, white people doing yoga, white people eating burritos, etc., etc.

But in the end even she doesn’t seem to believe what she writes.  In anticipation of the likely “you can’t be serious” response of her readers, she says:

I’m not saying you automatically can’t enjoy Mexican food if you’re not Mexican, or do a yoga-inspired practice if you’re not Indian, or use any other culturally specific practice in the US.

What!?!?!?  She just spent hundreds of words telling us not to do those things.  So which is it:

1. The whole movement is a lie; no one believes it.

2.  She’s serious, but wants to provide an “out” for liberal elitists who have cosmopolitan taste.  So she sprinkles her essay with a few comments here and there on the need to be aware of other cultures, sensitive to their predicament.  In other words, it’s racism when a construction worker buys a burrito for lunch, but not when an English professor dines at a Cambodian restaurant.  After all, the English professor is “aware” of the sad history of how Cambodia has been exploited by the West.

I can’t imagine agreeing with any argument against cultural appropriation, which goes against almost everything I believe in.  Freedom, cosmopolitanism, creativity, individualism, etc.  (British white rock stars didn’t just steal black music; they used it to create something entirely new and exciting, just as black American musicians borrowed from Western culture to create jazz.) But I could at least respect their view, it if were applied evenhandedly—if all types of cultural appropriation were considered inappropriate.  Instead then give a pass wherever a group is thought to suffer from some sort of “power imbalance”.  In other words, it seems like nothing more than the latest iteration of Marxism.

The New York Times has a new editorial in support of cultural appropriation:

It doesn’t help that at the very moment that white supremacists in this country are reviving Nazi-era ideas about the purity of blood, the left is treating culture as something just as immutable. Two can play at this dangerous game. Indeed, the left’s insistence on cultural partition makes nobody happier than Richard Spencer and his fellow travelers on the alt-right, who are expert at mimicking the left’s identity politics to give voice to their twisted ideas of national and racial segregation. Americans should think very carefully before engaging with a politics that bears an eerie similarity to the beliefs of the people that marched on Charlottesville, Va.

The comparison with fascism is an interesting one, but an even better comparison would be China’s Cultural Revolution.  After all, fascism is not particularly anti-elite, whereas both the Chinese Maoists and the American campus Marxists are.  One side of my wife’s family was scorned for their “landlord privilege”, which is the Chinese equivalent of white privilege.  The Maoists were obsessed with tearing down statues.

The campus left may not be fascist, but every time they think up a crazy new idea they push hundreds of thousands more Americans into the arms of the Trumps and Bannons of the world.  I want nothing to do with either group.

PS.  If you look at the right angle, and squint hard enough, you can almost see the business community’s fetish for over-the-top intellectual property rights protections.  I wish Chinese would culturally appropriate much more Hollywood culture, and thumb their nose at the US copyright office.

PPS.  I’m still waiting for an intelligent definition of “currency manipulation”.