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Law and The Cultural Order
Sorting out winners and losers.


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Jonah Goldberg

I don’t like playing poker with black people. Most of them don’t get the game. And, besides, it just makes everyone self-conscious to have an African American in the room. The rest of the guys can’t relax.

Now, if I were serious — if I didn’t offer the disclaimer right here and now that I don’t actually feel this way — my career would be over. I can’t say this for sure, of course, but considering the Lott hysteria it’s certainly not an outlandish assertion.

But guess what?

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I’m perfectly willing to say that about women. Oh sure, I bet there are some women who’d be great additions to my poker table, but, as a rule of thumb, I’m entirely comfortable saying “No girls allowed.” But if I said, “As a rule of thumb, I’m entirely comfortable saying ‘no black people allowed’,” Sweet, fancy, Moses! The forces of Progressive Thinking would have my body on a cold, steel dissecting table so they could turn my giblets into gravy.

And for good reason. You see, it’s a funny thing: Women aren’t black and blacks aren’t women. Yes, yes; I understand that the categories overlap in the region of black women, but I think you get my point. If it helps, Asians aren’t blacks and neither are gays, Jews, Hispanics, nor the cheese-eating surrender monkeys (again, with similar overlap exceptions).

In fact, that raises a useful illustration. Whenever, I tee off on the French, I get e-mail from angry Franco-Americans who — from a safe distance, obviously — complain: “If you wrote that way about black people, you’d be called a racist!” To which I usually respond “Wiener Schnitzel!” and they run away in terror. No actually, what I tell them is: “You’re absolutely right; if I wrote that way about blacks I’d be called a racist.” But, I tell them, “I’m not writing about black people. I’m writing about French people, and therein lies all the difference.” And this difference has nothing to do with phrenology — or any other scientific or pseudo-scientific claim to racial differences. For all I know French people and black people have identical series of bumps and knobs on their heads. Though considering how many French spend their time hiding under desks, who knows how those bumps got there.

THE “HA-HA”S OF BIGOTRY
Anyway, the point here is that grownup people in a serious culture can make all manner of distinctions. And the best way to understand this reality is to look at humor. If I write, “We’ve got to keep the Danes from pouring over our borders,” it’s moderately funny. If I write, “We’ve got to keep the Mexicans from pouring over our borders,” I’ve given a powerful indication about where I come down on a host of political, economic, and cultural questions. Many readers might cheer. But an equal or greater number might boo. Now, obviously, in the eyes of God there’s no difference between Mexicans and Danes. And in the eyes of the law, there should be no difference between Mexicans and Danes. But in the realm of culture, there’s a huge difference between Mexicans and Danes.

This is a point many conservatives and almost all leftists (though not necessarily all liberals) don’t always understand. On the right, there are a few people who want identity politics for white folks. They’re understandably peeved that Whitey or Christians are constantly mocked and ridiculed, while various boutique minorities are put on velvet-covered pedestals.

A larger subset of people on the right (though still a minority) are the folks who just tell bad jokes. They assume that all peoples and groups should have equally thick skins. So they see no difference between telling an off-color joke about Jews or telling one about Swedes.

But the fact is there’s a big difference, historically speaking, between Jews and Swedes. Nobody — save perhaps the Norwegians or, more likely, the management at some Minnesota Bob’s Big Boy — has ever sought to solve “the Swedish problem.” And even then, the solution probably didn’t involve systematic mass murder, so much as limiting the number of permissible rips to the meatball tub at the buffet. Again: “The perfidious influence of the Swedes” = Funny. “The perfidious influence of the Jews” = Not necessarily so funny. Although, full disclosure: I do sometimes use the phrase in what I consider to be funny circumstances, like when I’m stuck in traffic. “If it weren’t for those perfidious Jews,” I say to the Missus, “This traffic would be moving a lot faster.” But, the joke there is about people who think Jews are to blame for everything, not Jews themselves.

NOW IS SO THEN
Anyway, let’s get back to the chicks. On the Thursday after Trent Lott’s self-immolation, the National Organization for Women (stop laughing) realized how outraged they were at Lott’s “objectifying” comments about women, specifically Britney Spears and the feminist scholars who serve buffalo wings at Hooters. Among the outrageously insulting truths Lott dared to utter: “What is Hooters, if it’s not about breasts, if it’s not about the women’s physiques?”

“Lott not only insulted millions of African Americans last week, but he also offended women,” NOW’s President Kim Gandy shrieked in a prepared, though still tardy, statement. “The Thurmond birthday celebration sounds like a toast to the ‘good old white boys.’ Lott clearly yearns for a time before women and people of color crashed the party.” “It was all about sexual innuendoes, using women as objects,” NOW vice president, Olga Vives, sniffed to the press.

One need not dwell long on the desperate me-tooism at work here. But it is amusing to consider that what Lott said was, almost precisely, what every NOW-feminist says about Hooters: that it objectifies women. In fact, NOW suggests that one way to fully celebrate “Love Your Body Day” is to boycott Hooters precisely because it objectifies women’s bodies.

NOW’s hysteria is obviously the natural reaction of overly serious people who are not to be taken very seriously. You get the sense these women would literally weep if you explained to them that if Lott had only made jokes about Hooters — but not about a Strom Thurmond presidency — nobody would care at all, and NOW’s press releases would be thrown away unread.

But there’s a larger and more-important lesson here. Women aren’t black. The modern feminist movement is based on the false conviction that discrimination against women is morally, intellectually, and historically analogous to discrimination against blacks. “The racism and sexism of Trent Lott are all of a piece. His racism, his sexism, his homophobia. That’s what we need to draw attention to,” exclaimed another NOW vice president, Terry O’Neil, on Fox’s Hannity and Colmes. Racism and sexism might be “of a piece” in the same way that steak comes with a baked potato on the same plate. But that doesn’t mean steaks and potatoes are the same thing. And to say otherwise — to say that racism and sexism are morally equivalent — is absurd.

You can come up on this notion from any point on the compass and see how absurd it is. Historically, we didn’t fight a bloody civil war over the role of women in our country. Biologically, skin color is — literally — skin deep while femaleness goes to the bone. Take it from a guy whose wife is almost eight-months pregnant: There are really big differences biologically speaking between men and women. And these biological differences translate into profound cultural differences. Little girls like dolls and little boys like guns. This is a biological fact, hardwired into our brains. Studies show, time and again, that if you give a little boy a doll, he will try to use for stabbing or whacking. He will not serve it tea. Unfortunately, feminists have so saturated the education establishment, the common assumption today is that boys who behave in unfeminine ways — i.e., like boys — are malfunctioning. This is why, as Lionel Tiger recently noted, boys are prescribed Ritalin at a rate of 9-to-1. Maleness is a disease for some.

For feminists of a certain obtuseness, the assumption that discrimination against women is the same as discrimination against blacks leads to all sorts of outrageously silly arguments. Because, if the differences between blacks and whites are superficial that the differences between men and women must be too. For example, Colette Dowling argues in the The Frailty Myth: Women Competing for Physical Equality, that there are no innate physical differences between men and women when it comes to, say, athletic performance. She argues that the patriarchy has discouraged women from building up their upper-body strength and running speed as part of their (our) “hidden agenda of keeping women in their place by keeping them believing in their weakness.” She insists that “studies show gender to be barely relevant as a predictor, or limiter, of athletic performance.” And, once women understand how men have kept them down, women will run just as fast as men and be just as strong. I am not making this up.

The ramifications of this lunacy are profound. Forget the silly, yet pernicious, crusade against the Augusta National golf club. Think about the military. Whatever reservations I have about gays in the military, they are dwarfed by my concerns about women in combat. Feminists — especially the ones like Dowling who believe physical differences are the product of discrimination not biology — believe that women should be in combat because to keep them out is like keeping blacks out (gays do this, too). Yes, white soldiers had problems with the idea of serving with black soldiers. And yes, male soldiers have problems with the idea of serving with female (or gay) soldiers. But that doesn’t mean the problems are the same. Most soldiers would have problems with the idea of serving in combat with one-armed midgets too. That doesn’t mean one-armed little people should man the parapets, does it?

The biggest problem with women in combat isn’t that they won’t be able to cut it. I’m sure there’s some tiny minority of women who are physically capable and psychologically willing to spend months on end in foxholes and the like. The chief dilemma in my mind — and confirmed by conversations with career military men — is that men behave differently around women. This is a fact so obvious, so incandescently apparent that it is astounding it is remotely controversial. Let me count for a second. 1..2…3…carry the one…hold on…okay. Got it. My math is rusty here. But I think it’s fair to say somewhere between 97 percent and 98 percent of the great novels, plays, and poems of human history make some reference to the fact that men behave differently around the fairer sex. Feminists would have us believe that this behavior is wholly the product of culture and therefore the military should just fix its culture and everything will be just fine. That, again, is absurd.

No one is saying that women weren’t unfairly discriminated against in the past or aren’t today. But the nature and circumstances of that discrimination are profoundly different and, ultimately, incomparable. Indeed, the assumption that women are akin to blacks is also profoundly insulting to women. After all, if you think through this analogy, it means that millions of women — Hooters girls chief among them — are the moral equivalent of Uncle Toms. Marxist feminists call it “false consciousness” but the message is the same.

Now, none of this should be interpreted as a defense of the usual barefoot-and-pregnant stereotypes. Though I have no doubt it will be by some. Rather, I am just trying to make two simple points. First, the culture leaves all sorts of room for distinctions, contradictions, caveats, exemptions, and distortions of rational rules. Just consider, how many feminists like to have the man pay for dinner. When it comes to race and ethnicity Margaret Cho gets to make inane jokes about Asians which, for some cultural reason, I am banned from making. Chris Rock can talk about how some blacks are niggers and some aren’t. But if I use that word, it’d better be condemnatory and with an asterisk over the vowel. I can make jokes about perfidious Jews but Rich Lowry might get in trouble for it. Trent Lott can make jokes about Hooters and no one cares. He can make jokes about segregation and his career’s in the toilet. That’s culture for you.

But law is different. Trent Lott broke no laws when he made his dumb comments and neither would I if I used, for example, the n-word. And, what goes for free speech should go for everything else. The law, though not the military, should be blind to things the culture sees clearly. Affirmative action is based upon the assumption that blacks cannot compete with whites. But if I say that blacks can’t compete with whites, I’m a racist. Why should the law say something racist? Simply put, the law shouldn’t be picking winners and losers in the market and it shouldn’t be picking winners and losers among races and ethnicities either. But among women, it has to make distinctions because women and men are, simply, different — and will be for the foreseeable future.



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