What's in an Ethnic Epithet?
In the 16th and 17th centuries Shakespeare was asking us, what’s in a name? to critically-think about the function of the categories we set and establish, far before the essentialism attacking postmodernists Foucault, Derrida, and Baudrillard. I am asking you, what’s in an ethnic epithet, but really the (read as THEE) ethnic epithet par excellence? The n-word.
Dick Gregory wrote a book on the word appropriately titled Nigger: An Autobiography. Larry Wilmore played with the word in a quasi-formal setting, in reference to the ‘leader of the free world' (earth’s emperor). Nas tried to pull a Dick Gregory but ended up folding to the powers that be (rule #1 I learned from Immortal Technique and MURS and Nipsey Hu$$le is you gotta own your own shit), so he named his joint Untitled. But, we all know what he meant. Dave Chappelle says the -er is detrimental and part of why he walked away from $55 million, but the -a should be for all friends and comrades not putting people down. A term of endearment. Like Aksumites who lovingly refer to their loved ones as tota (monkey) and ayt (rat).
Whilst hot-takers are dunking on the podcast genre, especially its long-form flavor, I’m unabashedly and unashamedly an addict and senior student of the art and the science. The Fifth Column, though it doesn’t comport totally to my political interests, let alone my interests writ large, has been and is in regular rotation through my free earlobes and gray matter.
Vice’s Michael Moynihan slightly irritates me with his generally centrist disposition on the weightier matters (prisons, police, wars), but we align in opposition to the superlative end of the current culture of secular excommunication. Reason’s Matt Welch and I have stylistic difference in the means, because he arrives through journalism and I arrive through Austrian Economics, but we end up at the same spot more oft than not, with a small margin of error re: longitude and latitude. This side of eschaton, I don’t think we will achieve being perfectly non-ideological, but we certainly aim at it, and are at least consistently skeptical of ideology. Freethink’s Kmele Foster is of recently Jamaican descent, and yet he says he is not black, but an individual. Individualism and self-reliance are huge mentalities I grew up with, and still retain with refrain, but I am also perhaps paradoxically a communitarian. Community matters. The city of god is a thing. So are shepherds of the wilderness. On everything else political, he and I are the closest aligned of the three pundits.
Their recent conversation with Ben Smith, of the so-called paper of record, was illuminating, as I imagine an illustrated invitation card from the Illuminati would be. Smith is the media columnist. Before this role, he was the founding editor at Buzzfeed, queen-consort of clickbait. Amongst other responsibilities, as media columnist, he is tasked with the metatask of investigating and writing about his own publication. His own purse-string pullers. I’m most impressed with his willingness to be straightforward about the glaring conflict-of-interest, and my smile widened when he mentioned other news organizations’ ombudsman role. As I have said before, I was an organizational ombudsman at two research universities in the legendary North Dakota and in the 209. News organizations are not too different from universities. Many are filled with NPCs. Neither an accident, nor an act of god. They’re rewarded for playing this role.
I digress. The ombudsman, like the mediator and arbitrator, is a third-party neutral who actively listens to disputants in order to help them navigate their dispute. The arbitrator helps disputants navigate by making the decision for them, always with their advanced consent. The mediator helps disputants navigate by guiding them to written or verbal remedies and restitution. The ombudsman helps disputants, and sometimes a single person with a problem, by presenting possible solutions or novel ways of thinking. A sherpa of difference management. Additionally, the ombudsman gives private reports to leadership and/or public reports. There is a watchdog strain of the ombudsman class, sometimes unwritten, also sometimes explicitly in the signed contract of the gig.
Sadly, perhaps more oft than not, the de jure watchdog of the masses becomes a de facto lapdog of leadership. I ultimately left my two university posts, because of the discomfort brought to my breath of life, by this lapdoggery. Smith straddles these polarities, but favors the latter. You have to give props where and when props are due. He went onto a podcast hostile to the decision-making of his masters, jeopardizing, however minimally or maximally, his rent paying and provision of food on his table for his family. That’s courageous. Unironically.
And yet, he is a trained professional at curating facts and opinions in a way that “tells the truth” and yet says nothing at all. He calls himself “slippery”, in the eyes of the listeners, in the episode. But again, I commend him. He quotes his former colleague’s mentality as his own, “read the comments”. This matches serial entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk’s perpetually sage advice, which I have taken seriously since late 2017. Respond to everyone, or stop complaining about your lack of growth. Let your actions match your verbalized ambitions. Moynihan chimes in that it is helpful that only Times’ subscribers can comment. Which matches Moldbug’s advice. Welcome all emailers to privately send you their two cents on your writing and speaking, but only permit paid subscribers to comment publicly on your publication. It’s a solid filter. Saves me from the riffraff and rabble-rousers.
The Times, monarchic management and staff, de jure duressed left-of-center boomer and science writer Donald G. Mcneil Jr., who placed his birthdate in his medium title, into resignation for discussing the n-word, in the context of denouncing ethnic epithets, with youth privately on a pricey Peruvian trip. De facto, they fired him.
There are two main ways in which the chattering class is perceiving this. One, fret not, this is an isolated incident of an old man out-of-touch with contemporary ethics that should adhered to by all, neglecting neither jot nor tittle, including but not limited to all prescribed feast days and liturgical rubrics. Two, this is a microcosm of a culture of decontextualization, nonviolent anonymous mob justice, and the urge to purge.
You may or may not have noticed that these types of recurring events make me feel some type of way. Is there an indignation emoji? There are several well-thought out views you can have regarding usage of the n-word. That’s fine. Really. Sometimes, I shift betwixt and between them. I’m used to steelmanning (opposite of the straw man fallacy), playing slanderer’s advocate, and being as charitable as is humanly possible. Neutrality has oft literally been in my job description, and is likely in my genetic disposition were you to check my DNA. One view I’m intolerant towards is the one where you use little initial evidence to get one out of an institution, after decades of service, for not crossing a t and dotting an i.
Even though the guillotine’s hunger never dissipates, there’s hope. Substack is a microcosm of technology continually granting more and more power to the individual over the system. And yet, my view of history is more pendulum than middle school linear graph. So, this hope is tentative.
You’ve already read what I have to say. Read what the system has to say. Read what the individual has to say. Think critically on these matters. That’s all I ever ask for, and all I can ever hope for. Concluding is up to you, and your crew. Peace.