Archives for posts with tag: identity

Calling an idea a “stereotype” does not refute it. If one believes, for example, that atheists tend to be rich and white, one doesn’t deny the existence of middle-class, impoverished and non-white atheists. Nor does one say that all rich white people are atheists. Nor does one say that all atheists are 2-dimensional figures made from one mold. One simply means that, in one’s own experience and the experience of others, most atheists have fit a certain pattern––in this case, being wealthy and white.

A stereotype is, more often than not, the end product of prolonged pattern recognition. It is a simplified observation. Reality might be more complicated, but the stereotype is true enough to be serviceable and useful in daily life. And one cannot be analyzing reality all the time. If your car breaks down in a rough neighborhood, you will start using stereotypes, whether you like it or not.

It is also simple to prove or disprove many stereotypes. Examine the data as if you were Spock. If a stereotype is blatantly false, it will often be easy to see, through crime rates, illegitimacy rates, achievement rates and so on. If it’s confirmed, it isn’t the end of the world.

For example, it’s long been a stereotype that Irishmen are alchoholics. This stereotype is based on fact, not fancy. There are Irish people who don’t drink, who don’t like to drink or who can drink responsibly. But if you are Irish, you’re at greater risk for developing alcoholism than a Spaniard or Italian. It doesn’t mean you will––but it doesn’t mean you should ignore this risk as if it doesn’t exist.

Stereotype hysteria denies people the vital ability to evaluate strengths and weaknesses given to them and their family. Knowing that you are genetically predisposed to alcoholism, depression, low intelligence, high intelligence or cancer is very important if you are looking to have children. It is far more important than giving people a wishy-washy feeling of everyone being more or less the same.

Adolf Hitler in Afterschool Charisma.

Adolf Hitler in Kumiko Suekane's Afterschool Charisma.

I read the first three volumes of Afterschool Charisma yesterday. Here, in one sentence, is its premise: in the future, scientists clone notable historical figures for as-yet-unknown purposes. When the clones are old enough, they’re sent to a prep school (the setting of this manga). There, they’re pressured to go above and beyond what their originators accomplished. Except there’s one student who isn’t a clone, our protagonist, whose father works for the school’s research branch. Our protagonist’s presence catalyzes much of the action, since he isn’t given the same privileges, or bound by the same obligations, as his peers.

When the story starts, all of the characters are between fourteen and sixteen. In the first few chapters, we meet clones of Napoleon Bonaparte, Queen Elizabeth I of England, Florence Nightingale, Sigmund Freud, Einstein, JFK, Mozart, Ikkyu, Marie Curie and more. Bizarrely, the characters are named after the adult versions of themselves: Marie Curie, for example, was born Maria Skłodowska but changed her name when she married.

Since this post is titled “cloning Hitler,” you’ve figured out that Afterschool Charisma cloned Adolf Hitler too. The Hitler clone is impossibly moe, with a face and smile like a kitten and the demeanor of a dove. The awful crimes of his originator seem to have given him an insight denied his peers. Cast out by them, Hitler accepts this treatment, and the treatment to come, as punishments for his sins. When you think about it, though, they’re not really his; if anyone should be punished, it’s the scientists.

After all, what’s the point in cloning Hitler? Even if the clone isn’t a psychopath, he’s bound to live a miserable life. The whole world would hate him for something he had no control over. People would probably accuse him of having Hitler’s soul reincarnated, or of “coming back to finish the job.” Neo-nazis would worship him as the second coming, literally. Imagine what they’d do to him if he turned out to be a liberal, or a meat-eater? The poor kid would have to live under police protection his entire life, which, God willing, would not be long.

Afterschool Charisma deals with themes of choice vs. fate and nature vs. nurture. This may explain Hitler’s presence in the group: the scientists, in their infinite wisdom, decided to find out if someone with a criminal lunatic’s genes was destined to become a criminal lunatic. That makes sense, except it does not.

What if nature wins out, and Hitler II has just as big a Messiah complex as Hitler I? This time, instead of being a charismatic art school flunky living on society’s fringes, he could, just by making one post on the internet, lead thousands, if not tens of thousands of very dangerous admirers wherever he wished. Even if Hitler II didn’t know his origin, he would still be very dangerous, as someone with an incredible, intuitive sense for swaying masses of people through propaganda and design.

What if nurture wins out? Then you have a person with a normal psyche who looks just like Adolf Hitler. Except genes are more than looks, so he would probably have certain mannerisms, skills and preferences characteristic of Hitler I. And if he knew who he was, Hitler II’s whole life would be a search for what was his and what wasn’t, and what that means anyway. He would have to second guess everything he loved, hated, or felt anything about.

For example, if Hitler II found that he loved Wagner, he would ask himself, “Do I really love this? Or are my genes––his genes––making me love this? Where does my free will begin? What insight does my love of Wagner have on the mind of that person?” Imagine doing that every moment of every day of your life, from the time you find out that you’re Hitler’s clone until the instant you die.

A very moe Hitler. From Afterschool Charisma.

A very moe Hitler.

As for sex––talk about a nightmare. The romantic prospects of a mass murderer’s clone are not exactly sterling. Suppose Hitler II finds that he’s not attracted to Jewish women, or that he’s really attracted to them. Either way, he has a whole mess of questions without answers, on whether Hitler I shared that predilection, how did it (if shared) affect I’s later behavior and, perhaps most important of all, if it’s really appropriate (or even legal!) for Hitler II to chat up a Jewish girl. Plus, if his identity’s made public, he’ll probably have a long line of neo-Nazi groupies who want to salute the Führer in their own special ways.

We haven’t even touched on the most disturbing part, which is that Hitler II would have to learn about Hitler I at some point. It might be in school, it might be in college, it might be on the History Channel late one night, it might be a book in the library that he picks up just on a whim. And there, staring out of every photograph or film, would be his own face, now screaming, now staring over marching stormtroopers, now smiling kindly at a little girl. His own smile, a smile he uses, a smile he understands better than anyone else alive. Seeing these expressions, he could sense the emotions going through Hitler I’s brain in a way no one else could––because those emotions, in some sense, are his. To add terror to terror, Hitler I did not exactly age well, so a young Hitler II would live his youth knowing just how ugly he was going to become, and as he aged, he’d look more and more like the tyrant whose picture glowers from every textbook.

And it’s not just his face. Suppose Hitler II, aware or unaware of his heritage, read a book on WWII, a biography of Hitler, a history of the holocaust or anything that described Hitler I’s personality in any depth. He would recognize so many little details and quirks of his own personality. Imagine reading a memo about a meeting with Hitler to discuss the death camps, and recognizing some habit of the Führer’s as your own. You know the sandwich scene in Happiness, where you find yourself empathizing with a pedophile? Take that moment and multiply it times ten to the power of ten thousand and you’re still not close.

I look forward to futher volumes of the manga, especially to see why these clones exist. What could possibly come out of cloning someone like that? Nature-Hitler could use his power for unspeakable evil, if he wasn’t assasinated first; Nurture-Hitler would probably have a nervous breakdown and commit suicide. Either way, his presence seems a net loss for humanity, however moe he may be.

Purple Mustache

This essay discusses “Spirit Day,” a day of remembrance for sexually atypical victims of bullying. The first Spirit Day was October 20 of this year (2010).

This essay was originally published, in an abbreviated form, elsewhere. It is republished here in full.

Six gay teenagers committed suicide in the past few months. Most were victims of bullying. This distresses a large number of people, including many who never met the suicides. A teenager decided to make October 20th “Spirit Day” to honor homo-/bi-/transsexual victims of bullying. Many people joined the cause, from Dan Savage to Cyndi Lauper; Tumblr’s staff re-skinned their website in purple to fit the theme.

Every article I’ve read about Spirit Day makes liberal use of vague stock phrases, e.g. “bear witness,” “raise awareness,” “faith leader,” “tolerance” and so on. Alarm bells ring in my head when I hear these phrases, because I know they mean nothing––or, more accurately, that they mean very different things to every person. Words hold histories within them, histories stretching back through civilizations into the beginnings of consciousness and pre-verbal thought. They illuminate or obfuscate, depending on how you use them. When you use them in stale and timeworn ways they cease to mean anything.

Stale and timeworn language simultaneously hides and expresses lazy thought. Anyone who has written a term paper on short notice will know what I mean. These phrases save considerable time; instead of coming up with a novel idea, or a novel expression of a timeless one, you simply let the language do the work for you, and before you know it you have seven pages of “raise awareness” and “take a stand” and “actionable gestures” and “people of faith.”

Why, then, the unfocused language? I think it comes from an indefinite purpose. For some, Spirit Day is about mourning the deaths of those six teenagers, for others, it’s a day against bullying in general, to others, it’s against bullying based on sexual orientation, or  it’s to “raise awareness” of a problem, or it’s a day to teach tolerance.

I do not support bullying. But I do not see how it could be eliminated from every high school in America, while maintaining any sort of ethical code. Suppose we dispense with ethics; even a Heathers-style plot would probably not work in real life. And bullying is not the only endemic social problem schools have to face. E.M. Forster expressed this, quite well, in The Longest Journey:

“There’s very little bullying here,” said Agnes.

“There was very little bullying at my school. There was simply the atmosphere of unkindness, which no discipline can dispel. It’s not what people do to you, but what they mean, that hurts.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Physical pain doesn’t hurt–at least not what I call hurt–if a man hits you by accident or play. But just a little tap, when you know it comes from hatred, is too terrible. Boys do hate each other: I remember it, and see it again. They can make strong isolated friendships, but of general good-fellowship they haven’t a notion.”

How could you foster “general good-fellowship” among teenagers, especially ones brought up believing their comfort, self-esteem and satisfaction are of upmost importance?

Note the draconian undertone of some of these pronouncements. We start out with a stand against bullying, and end up at a position where dislike/disgust with homosexuality is partially responsible for the suicides of distant strangers. If true, should we mandate that all people believe that gay is okay, so no more children will have to die? Even if many people hate homosexuals, how on earth will berating them help anyone, least of all the recipients of their hatred? The “atmosphere of unkindness, which no discipline can dispel” may be painful, but it cannot be banished through force. Likewise, people are entitled to believe whatever they like, including beliefs that, if widely held, might drive someone to suicide or murder.

It’s also unclear if all the gay suicides came from bullying. Suicide is the third leading cause of death among 10-24 year olds; some of these are bound to be gay, bullying or no bullying. There are also straight children who commit suicide because of bullying, though there’s an essential mystery in anyone’s motives to kill themselves.

While standing up to bullies can go a long way, conflating bullying with dislike of homosexuality does everyone a disservice. Plenty of people view homosexual and bisexual behavior as unnatural or immoral, yet they don’t act on it by psychologically torturing children. When you conflate bullying with someone saying that they think homosexuality immoral, you attempt to reframe the debate so that anyone who disagrees with you is morally equivalent to someone who torments a 13 year-old. Which you may believe––but I don’t.

Proponents of Spirit Day also appear not to consider practical solutions to sexuality-based bullying, such as homeschooling, private tutoring, school vouchers or an early high school exit exam (a CHSPE in California) to take the victim out of the offensive environment. Making expulsion from a public school possible for egregious bullies (along with other offenders) has not been brought up, to the best of my knowledge. No one deserves abuse, but it is foolish to expect it never to happen. Rather than bemoaning its existence, why not take practical steps so more and more children can learn in safety, free from undue harassment?

Let’s move on to emotions. All beliefs are based on them. I suspect that every person over the age of six, with normal cognitive functioning, has experienced every major negative emotion: hate, anger, bitterness, jealousy, rage, desire to kill, desire to hurt, race animus, sex animus and more. Can you, reader, honestly say that you have never felt any of the above? Depending on your social circle, certain people, groups and organizations are acceptable targets for negativity, while others are protected and sacrosanct. Often, people who “show solidarity” with victims use that as an excuse to batten on the enemy. We should not ignore this facet of human nature, since it motivates much seemingly altruistic action.

Showing solidarity with bullying victims is a worthy cause. But stopping there, as this campaign seems to do, is more cruel than ignoring the problem entirely. What will you do the other 364 days of the year? Does anyone plan to, say, build a boarding school or a safehouse for sexually atypical, at-risk youth? Or run a crisis center for young people struggling with life? And what will happen to those bullies, anyway? Perhaps, on some distant day, all people will join hands in harmony; until that day, I have to agree with J.D., from Heathers:

The only place different social types can genuinely get along with each other is in heaven.

It’s still not clear to me whether Spirit Day is about discouraging people from mistreating each other, or upbraiding other people for disliking a group they’re supposed to like. If it’s the latter, I cannot support it.

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