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  • In the Garden of the Amity/Enmity Complex

    Posted on January 13th, 2011 Helian 2 comments

    Behavioral scientists of the old school would call the Amity/Enmity Complex a “just so story.”  In other words, it’s a universal phenomenon, observable in countless instances in both humans and other animals, inexplicable other than as a manifestation of an innate behavioral trait, but something that they find inconvenient for ideological reasons and therefore choose to deny and ignore.  To justify this seemingly irrational denial of the obvious, they demand a standard of proof that such traits exist immeasurably stronger than that they apply to “proved scientific facts,” by which they mean far flimsier hypotheses that happen to have the virtue of  agreeing with a preferred narrative.   

    Briefly put, the Amity/Enmity Complex refers to our innate tendency to categorize others of our species into in-groups and out-groups, favoring the former and hating and despising the latter. As the great anatomist and anthropologist Sir Arthur Keith put it, “Human nature has a dual constitution; to hate as well as to love are parts of it; and conscience may enforce hate as a duty just as it enforces the duty of love. Conscience has a two-fold role in the soldier: it is his duty to save and protect his own people and equally his duty to destroy their enemies… Thus conscience serves both codes of group behavior; it gives sanction to practices of the code of enmity as well as the code of amity.”  Today the Complex is commonly referred to as in-group/out-group behavior, but I see no need to conform to the constantly shifting nuances of jargon in the behavioral sciences.

    China’s Great Cultural Revolution was a great tragedy.  It was also a perfect illustration of the Complex in action.  In 1966 the bored old man who happened to run China at the time decided that the Chinese Communist Party and society at large were permeated by a “bourgeois spirit,” and that what the country needed was more revolutionary spirit.  He decided to shake things up a bit.  What happened next is summed up in Wikipedia as follows:

    On August 8, 1966, the Central Committee of the CPC passed its “Decision Concerning the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution” (also known as “the 16 Points”). This decision defined the GPCR as “a great revolution that touches people to their very souls and constitutes a new stage in the development of the socialist revolution in our country, a deeper and more extensive stage”:

    “Although the bourgeoisie has been overthrown, it is still trying to use the old ideas, culture, customs, and habits of the exploiting classes to corrupt the masses, capture their minds, and endeavor to stage a comeback. The proletariat must do just the opposite: It must meet head-on every challenge of the bourgeoisie in the ideological field and use the new ideas, culture, customs, and habits of the proletariat to change the mental outlook of the whole of society. At present, our objective is to struggle against and crush those persons in authority who are taking the capitalist road, to criticize and repudiate the reactionary bourgeois academic “authorities” and the ideology of the bourgeoisie and all other exploiting classes and to transform education, literature and art, and all other parts of the superstructure that do not correspond to the socialist economic base, so as to facilitate the consolidation and development of the socialist system.”

    The decision thus took the already existing student movement and elevated it to the level of a nationwide mass campaign, calling on not only students but also “the masses of the workers, peasants, soldiers, revolutionary intellectuals, and revolutionary cadres” to carry out the task of “transforming the superstructure” by writing big-character posters and holding “great debates.”

    In the intervening years many eyewitnesses have published vignettes of what happened next including Life and Death in Shanghai by Nien Cheng, Red Scarf Girl by Ji-Li Jiang, and China’s Son by Da Chen.  One of the most interesting is Born Red, a fine piece of writing by Gao Yuan.  It is a case study in how new in-group/out-group relationships emerged in the supposedly “classless” society that was established in the wake of the Communist victory, how easy it was to inflame them against each other, how seemingly insignificant and incomprehensible differences between them were magnified until they assumed earthshaking importance in the minds of the opposing factions, how loyalty to the in-group inspired acts of fearless bravado, “heroism,” and even martyrdom, and, in the end, how all the resulting chaos and mayhem were finally stopped and society returned to “normal.”  In short, the Revolution was an experiment in human psychology on a massive scale, demonstrating the manifestation of an ancient and innate human behavioral trait in a world  far different from the one in which it evolved.

    The Amity/Enmity Complex describes the interplay of in-groups and out-groups and, of course, Communism has always had its own idiosyncratic out-group.  It is the bourgeoisie, technically the private owners of the social means of production, but a term that has often been expanded to include peasants with slightly more land or slightly more productive and affluent than their neighbors, workers who were somewhat better off than average, people whose houses were larger than a certain size, or anyone else with some kind of a real or imagined privilege.  So it was that, when the Great Cultural Revolution was launched, it began with the posting of innumerable “dazibao,” or “big character posters,” attacking the “bourgeoisie.”  It couldn’t be just a vague, general bourgeoisie.  Individuals were needed.  The party helped things along with its suggestion that the “criticism” start with “reactionary bourgeois academic authorities.”  Thus, teachers and school administrators were among the first victims of the dazibao smears.  They were associated with a host of evil traits that have been associated with out-groups since the dawn of time.  For example, they were “impure” and “dirty,” by virtue of “bourgeois” parents, grandparents or other associations.  They were the essence of evil by virtue of their opposition to the embodiment of good, in the person of Mao and his “revolutionary line.”  They were guilty by virtue of association with evil incarnate in the person of Chiang Kai Shek and his Guomintang Party.  All these charges were usually baseless slander, but the “revolutionary masses” of students made them stick.  After all, in-groups must have out-groups, even if it’s necessary to invent them out of whole cloth.     

    Eventually, the in-groups began to turn their wrath against each other.  Nothing was easier than to convince themselves that the “others,” too, were “dirty,” “impure,” and “evil” distorters of the pure revolutionary line of Mao, just like the school authorities.  They began to “struggle” against each other.  Starting with dazibao, the means of “struggle” became ever more violent and destructive, escalating to fists, spears and slingshots with crude armor, homemade grenades, and, eventually firearms.  Captured opponents, people who had formerly been friends, schoolmates and neighbors, were beaten, viciously tortured, maimed, and occasionally killed.  The author tells of one young girl who, on the point of being captured by the “enemy,” committed suicide by throwing herself from an upper story window rather than be “defiled” by contact with the out-group.  Anyone who failed to take part in these sanguinary and seemingly senseless battles, or who sought to “desert,” became the target of all the opprobrium traditionally heaped on “traitors.” 

    And so it continued until Mao, finally tiring of the sport or deciding his political goal of consolidating power had been accomplished, called the whole thing off in 1969.  The active phase of the revolution sputtered on for a while, ending for good only with the death of Mao and the arrest of the Gang of Four in 1976.  Their mortal deity having passed from the scene, the contending factions forgot all the reasons for their mutual hatred that had formerly seemed of such earth shattering importance.  Disavowed by the powers that had called them into existence, and having no legitimacy but that conferred by a man who was now dead, the in-groups collapsed, and their members disbanded and went back to their “normal” lives.  In the epilogue, the author, who had emigrated to America in the meantime, recounts how he went back to visit some of his former enemies and torturers.  All acted as if the whole thing had been a bad dream.

    We have all seen it happen over and over and over again, across nations, cultures, tribes and societies of all stripes.  We have seen the incarnations of the Complex in the form of racism, religious bigotry, anti-Semitism, and countless other “isms.” The details change, but the fundamental nature of the behavior is always the same.  Isn’t it time to recognize the fact that our five thousand years of recorded history of the same phenomenon over and over again wasn’t just a coincidence?  If there is any reason for optimism about the Chinese experience, it is that it was neither inevitable that the Complex become active and virulent as it did, nor was it impossible to suppress and control once people with the necessary authority finally realized how destructive it had become.   If that experience is any guide, surely we are intelligent enough to control an innate behavioral trait that exists because it promoted our survival at some point in the distant past, but has now become the most likely source of our potential self-destruction.  We cannot, however, effectively control it until we recognize it for what it is, accept its existence, and stop covering our eyes, stopping up our ears, and shouting “just so story” because the Amity/Enmity Complex doesn’t fit in the “nice” world of our fond imaginations.  It’s time to end the denial.  We’ve graduated far beyond dazibao and slingshots to nuclear weapons.  It has become much too dangerous to refuse to understand ourselves in the name of preserving a world that never was.

  • What Hath God Wrought: Slavery Beyond Political Correctness

    Posted on September 12th, 2010 Helian No comments

    Works of history reflect not only the times they purport to describe, but also the times in which they were written, and the nature of the people who write them. Seen in that light, the authors who wrote during the so-called “Dark Ages” were a great deal more interesting and entertaining than their counterparts today. You’ll have to look long and hard for a contemporary work that has anything to compare with Procopius‘ touching firsthand account of a boy abandoned by his mother in a country swarming with hostile invaders or his vignettes of the wild barbarians serving under his general Belisarius in the so-called “Roman” army, Bede’s wonderful story of Pope Gregory’s encounter with the Angle slave boys, or Gregory of Tours’ chatty, gossipy accounts of the doings of Queens Brunhilda and Fredegund in his “History of the Franks.”  Pick up a typical history today and what you’ll find is a morality play written by some hidebound ideologue who has never heard of confirmation bias, and whose apparent reason for writing is to make sure you can distinguish the “good guys” from the “bad guys.”  Journalists are the worst offenders.  Their shallow bowdlerizations of the lives of the people they write about to make sure they fit neatly in the “saint” or “sinner” slots are painful to read.

    College professors with their relentless political correctness come in a close second.  Victor Davis Hanson just penned a vignette of the tribe that seems a tad overcritical, but probably gets their abject fear at being considered “illiberal” and politically heretical by their colleagues about right.   However, unlike journalists, most of them have a deeper knowledge of the subjects they write about than one finds in a typical newspaper article.  As a result, they can occasionally be very useful as “sources of the sources.”  Take, for example, Daniel Walker Howe’s “What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848.”  In it one finds the usual heroes and villains, all chosen according to the most up-to-date political standards.  However, Howe has a deep knowledge of the intellectual, literary and religious trends of the period he writes about, and mentions a great many of the people who played a significant role in shaping those trends at the time, but are mostly forgotten today.  Since most of them wrote well before the 1922 copyright threshold, it’s not necessary to rely on Howe’s ideologically filtered picture to learn who they were and what made them tick.  You can let them tell their own story, because much of what they wrote can be found among the invaluable collection at Google Books. 

    Consider, for example the issue of slavery.  Opposition to the South’s “peculiar institution” was crystalizing during the period Howe describes, and he mentions a number of people, mostly forgotten today, who had witnessed the reality of slavery firsthand, and wrote about what they had seen.  They included Fanny Kemble, a British actress who married a southern gentleman while visiting the United States.  When he subsequently inherited a plantation in Georgia with many slaves, she insisted on accompanying him there, and wrote an account of her experiences.  On one occasion she asked a young woman about her reasons for running away:

    She told it very simply, and it was most pathetic. She had not finished her task one day, when she said she felt ill, and unable to do so, and had been severely flogged by Driver Bran, in whose ” gang” she then was. The next day, in spite of this encouragement to labor, she had again been unable to complete her appointed work; and Bran having told her that he’d tie her up and flog her if she did not get it done, she had left the field and run into the swamp. ” Tie you up, Louisa!” said I; ” what is that ?” She then described to me that they were fastened up by their wrists to a beam or a branch of a tree, their feet barely touching the ground, so as to allow them no purchase for resistance or evasion of the lash, their clothes turned over their heads, and their backs scored with a leather thong, either by the driver himself, or, if he pleases to inflict their punishment by deputy, any of the men he may choose to summon to the office; it might be father, brother, husband, or lover, if the overseer so ordered it.

    Accounts of beatings like this, a daily occurrence on large plantations, are pervasive in the source material of the time, the descriptions have much in common, and it’s clear they weren’t all made up by abolitionist demagogues.  It is unlikely the slaves could have been driven to work without them.  Kemble’s book also has several interesting descriptions of the demoralizing effect that slavery had on the white population.  For example:

    On our drive we passed occasionally a tattered man or woman, whose yellow mud complexion, straight features, and singularly sinister countenance bespoke an entirely different race from the negro population in the midst of which they lived. These are the so-called pine-landers of Georgia, I suppose the most degraded race of human beings claiming an Anglo-Saxon origin that can be found on the face of the earth—filthy, lazy, ignorant, brutal, proud, penniless savages, without one of the nobler attributes which have been found occasionally allied to the vices of savage nature. They own no slaves, for they are almost without exception abjectly poor; they will not work, for that, as they conceive, would reduce them to an equality with the abhorred negroes; they squat, and steal, and starve, on the outskirts of this lowest of all civilized societies, and their countenances bear witness to the squalor of their condition and the utter degradation of their natures. To the crime of slavery, though they have no profitable part or lot in itj they are fiercely accessory, because it is the barrier that divides the black and white races, at the foot of which they lie wallowing in unspeakable degradation, but immensely proud of the base freedom which still separates them from the lash-driven tillers of tho soil.

    Kemble’s work was published in Great Britain in 1863, and did much to discourage British intervention on behalf of the Confederacy.  Theodore Weld was co-author of a compendium entitled, “American Slavery As It Is: Testimony of a Thousand WitnessesIt includes numerous similar eyewitness accounts.  For example:

    There was a slave on the plantation named Ben, a waiting man. I occupied a room in the same hut, and had frequent conversations with him. Ben was a kind-hearted man, and, I believe, a Christian ; he would always ask a blessing before he sat down to eat, and was in the constant practice of praying morning and night.— One day when I was at the hut, Ben was sent for to go to the house. Ben sighed deeply and went. He soon returned with a girl about seventeen years of age, whom one of Mr. Swan’s daughters had ordered him to flog. He brought her into the room where I was, and told her to stand there while he went into the next room : I heard him groan again as he went. While there I heard his voice, and he was engaged in prayer. After a few minutes he returned with a large cowhide, and stood before the girl, without saying a word. I concluded he wished me to leave the hut, which I did ; and immediately after I heard the girl scream. At every blow she would shriek, ” Do, Ben ! oh do, Ben!” This is a common expression of the slaves to the person whipping them : ” Do, Massa !” or, ” Do, Missus!”

    After she had gone, I asked Ben what she was whipped for : he told me she had done something to displease her young missus ; and in boxing her ears, and otherwise beating her, she had scratched her finger by a pin in the girl’s dress, for which she sent her to be flogged. I asked him if he stripped her before flogging; he said, yes ; he did not like to do this, but was obliged to: he said he was once ordered to whip a woman, which he did without stripping her : on her return to the house, her mistress examined her back; and not seeing any marks, he was sent for, and asked why he had not whipped her : he replied that he had; she said she saw no marks, and asked him if he had made her pull her clothes off; he said, No. She then told him, that when he whipped any more of the women, he must make them strip off their clothes, as well as the men, and flog them on their bare backs, or he should be flogged himself.

    Ben often appeared very gloomy and sad: I have frequently heard him, when in his room, mourning over his condition, and exclaim, ” Poor African slave ! Poor African slave!” Whipping was so common an occurrence on this plantation, that it would be too great a repetition to state the many and severe floggings I have seen inflicted on the slaves. They were flogged for not performing their tasks, for being careless, slow, or not in time, for going to the fire to warm, &c. &c.; and it often seemed as if occasions were sought as an excuse for punishing them.

    Samuel Gridley Howe was famous as an educator of the blind and mentally disturbed. One of his letters describes slavery at its “best,” in the Charleston Slave Depository:

    The only clean, well organized and thoroughly administered institutions which I have seen in the South are the Slave Depositories, if I may so call them. That in Charleston is a large, airy building, with ample court-yard and well ventilated rooms. Every part is kept scrupulously clean; everything is well adapted to its purpose; every officer is active and energetic; its tread-mill and its whipping post are the ne plus ultra of their kind. Into this place are brought for safe keeping and for board the gangs of slaves which are to be sold in the market. To it also a master may send his slaves to be boarded merely, or to be conf1ned and whipped, or punished by solitary confinement. They pay 18 cents per day for board and the privilege of the tread-mill,and 25 cents extra for each whipping. The gangs for sale and the mere boarders are not punished however, nor even confined, except at night. On the contrary, they are incited to walk about in the courtyards ; they are well fed, they lodge in large, airy, clean rooms, and are daily promenaded in clean clothes to take the air, even out into the country. ” They are happy,” says the slave-holder, and he says but the truth; they are happier, urges he, than the free blacks of the North or than the negro in Africa — and it may be too true; but in this he speaks his own condemnation and shows the brutalizing effects of a system which can make a human being content in such utter degradation.

    It seems to me that firsthand accounts like this are a great deal more effective in explaining what slavery was and why a great war was fought to end it than any book of history written a century and a half later could ever be.  Of course, slavery and the fight against it wasn’t the only thing going on in the period Howe describes.  Read his book, and you will turn up any number of thinkers who can tell you a great deal more about the times they lived in and the things that mattered to them then any modern history.  Thanks to the Internet, you can find many of their works on line, and let them tell their own story.

  • The Novel Crime of being “Overwhelmingly White”

    Posted on August 29th, 2010 Helian No comments

    Insty notes the increasingly blatant racist narrative in the mainstream media.

    UPDATE: More of the “If you don’t agree with me and you have white skin you’re a racist” narrative from the NYT.

    UPDATE 2:  Another interesting take on “Teaparty racism.”  (hattip Erik at Non Pasaran, who recently penned another thoughtful article on the “birther” controversy.)