Westworld, Prom, and Cultural Appropriation

Last Friday I read an odd opinion piece about the mostly excellent TV series Westworld. The author argued that the Shogun version of Westworld due to be introduced in season 2 was inherently racist. His reasoning, more or less, is that white people might visit and get a kick out of killing robots that looked like Japanese people.

To assert that there is a special degree of moral depravity in Westworld’s Edo-period sister park simply because the hosts there are phenotypically Asian and some of the people who might visit will surely be white is, at best, a peculiar sentiment. It suggests there is something inherently wrong in a white person killing a sentient robot that looks like a Japanese person that isn’t wrong in a white person killing a sentient robot that happens to share their complexion (and vice versa). That is, killing and torturing robots that don’t look like you is somehow more unethical than killing robots that do, regardless of your motivations.

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Heroic patriot Cliven Bundy takes brave stance on slavery

Cliven Bundy is a man of honor and dignity – a True Patriot and a paragon of Rugged Individualism whose ancestors civilized the American frontier. Courageously, he has disobeyed state and federal law for decades, defying court orders directing him to remove his cattle from public lands or start paying management fees.

I addressed the details of Bundy’s heroic stance against the sustainable use of public goods earlier. Now, this representative of freedom and liberty – the standard-bearer in the fight against Big Government – has taken a brave stance on racism and slavery.  According to the Washington Post, he is on record as an active practitioner of the former, firmly in favor of the latter:

“I want to tell you one more thing I know about the Negro,” he said. Mr. Bundy recalled driving past a public-housing project in North Las Vegas, “and in front of that government house the door was usually open and the older people and the kids — and there is always at least a half a dozen people sitting on the porch — they didn’t have nothing to do. They didn’t have nothing for their kids to do. They didn’t have nothing for their young girls to do.

“And because they were basically on government subsidy, so now what do they do?” he asked. “They abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never learned how to pick cotton. And I’ve often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy? They didn’t get no more freedom. They got less freedom.”

There isn’t a lot of subtlety there. No hidden meaning. Cliven Bundy thinks black people were better off in chains. He sees the disproportionate rate of incarceration among African Americans as a direct result of their failure to learn “how to pick cotton”, rather than a product of complex socioeconomic factors, including (but not limited to) institutionalized racism.

This is hardly a startling revelation. That doesn’t make it less despicable. Merely unsurprising. This is a man who denies the existence of the federal government while simultaneously claiming to uphold the laws of the state of Nevada – all without familiarizing himself with the constitutions or laws of either. The opinions of Bundy (and many of his supporters) concerning basic civics, U.S. history, and government are rooted in blatant ignorance. Is anyone truly surprised to find that his beliefs concerning race, equality, and civil rights are any different?

On one hand, it’s tempting to gloat about something like this. It offers confirmation to those (like myself) who see Bundy as a bitter old curmudgeon with a childish sense of entitlement, couched in inexplicable feelings of persecution and a fundamental inability to consider differing perspectives. Unfortunately, people gripped by such a miserable disposition don’t keep it bottled up. Instead, they project it into a miasma of paranoia and resentment that corrupts discourse. Bundy’s atavistic outlook, marked by cavalier racism and aggressive ignorance, is neither unique nor isolated. There are others like him. In a world marked by considerable progress on a range of social issues and nearly ubiquitous access to free information, this is lamentable.

I’d like to think that Bundy and those who share his worldview are gradually going extinct. The fact of the matter, however, is that there will probably always be people like Bundy – men and women whose psychological development was arrested around the time they developed a panicked, grasping concept of ownership, screeched the word “mine”, and began greedily hording toys at the expense of their peers; petulant children in adult bodies. They will continue to pollute the arena of ideological exchange and social progress with their nonsensical ideologies and justify their behavior through vague appeals to “tradition”. This is a justification based on the competing – yet equally baffling -notions: (a) that everyone is heir to the same body of tradition and (b) that some people are heirs to an objectively superior set of traditions to which everyone else should adhere, both of which seem to be based on  the idea that people who lived in the past somehow had the best ideas concerning how best to live in the present. Cliven Bundy and his ilk aren’t going away any time soon. They will continue to clamor for attention and pursue their short-sighted, crudely formed interests and voice their ill-informed, dubiously justified opinions. The best response is to make sure their racket is rendered inaudible by the sound of more measured voices rooted in reason and compassion.

There is now a petition on whitehouse.gov asking that the federal government enforce the law in this situation. Sign it here.