Round Robin

Okay my reactions to this woman are so viscerally unpleasant it took me a loooong time to get around to doing this, and it might shorter than I’d intended but let’s get started.

Getting a Baseline

For body language I wanted some kind of baseline, to see what normal for her is. Normally you’d want everyday informal interactions but since she does public speaking for a living a few different public speeches would be enough. I was a little surprised at how….flighty and fluttery she seems. I don’t know the source but my first thought was that she was a traditional White Southern Lady since there was a lot hand waves and bits where she leans back with her head a bit forward and pursed lips. There’s also some Italianish hand gestures (which she might come by naturally). Most annoying is a tendency to use the OK handshape to punctuate sentences moving it around (a way of leading those listening to her, think of a conductor holding a baton).

The Hair Story

The part I chose to look at a bit more closely is from this video. Starting at about 04:33. This is a go to story for her that she’s obvious told many, many times which means that it’s a good deal less spontaneous than the relation of a new event would be But that doesn’t matter since this is a teaching story (stories are among the most effective ways of teaching people things). The audience has been prepared to hear how she messed up and how the mess got fixed and what was learned.

At 5:02 she says: “I want you to notice what I’m doing, not only am I making a joke about a Black woman’s hair, which is a sensitive issue”.

This is a weird thing to point out. She does this as if everyone and their dog knew that Black women are sensitive about their hair. Is that true? I don’t know. I do know that if someone you know is sensitive about something it’s not a good idea to go broadcasting that around. The same way that if you’re sensitive about some aspect of your appearance you should never bring it up and should never assume that other people are bringing it up. Don’t let people know how to push your buttons. Whatever she thinks she’s doing, she’s also letting the audience know: “Hey, if you want to be nasty to a Black woman… start in on her hair! They hate that!

At 5:08 “And I do know better” The body language and intonation here carry a bit of noblesse oblige “Silly Black women and their hair obsession, I hope they’re sufficiently grateful that I’m on their side… think of the damage I could do if they don’t appreciate me..

At 05:36 “Would you be willing to grant me the opportunity to repair the racism that I perpetrated toward you in the meeting last week?”

This is close to word for word from her book and so the wording is obviously important to her and there’s a couple of weird things here. She loses all animation as she says this in a weird mantra-like monotone which indicates it’s almost a set phrase for her. This is clearly outside the normal framework of human interaction but it’s also clearly how she thinks people should communicate.

It seems that she’s using racism as a count noun whereas in normal usage it’s non-count. Racism was an event, an almost physical thing that can be repaired…. We’ll leave aside the semantic features of repair which don’t really fit here – is she intended to make her racism work better?.

Also ‘perpetrate’ usually contains the semantic feature “on purpose” no one uses “perpetrate” about things that happen by accident or ignorance.

At 6:12 “And I have spent my life justifying my intelligence to white people.” this is followed by a very weird gesture that’s reminiscent of a benediction? And then she moves on. What the audience is usually expecting at this point is some recognition of the survey’s value that she had not previously noted. This is conspicuous by its absence here. The impression that’s left is “Poor Angela trying to prove she’s smart with her tedious surveys… God bless her”.

I’d love to know what her interlocutor is feeling during this interview. A lot of the time she seems bemused, but after seeing her on other videos I think that’s just her resting face.

There’s more but I can’t take it…. instead just as yourself about face validity. Does the type of interaction she describes seem like it would lead to improved relations between people from different races? If you think it does then by all means start saying this like “Would you be willing to grant me the opportunity to repair the harm that I perpetrated against you.” and please write up the results.


Finally, the meta-message of this story (and longer excerpts and quite possibly her whole book) seems to be

A white person working with a Black person has to walk on eggshells all the goddamned time” which is part of a larger meta-message “Dealing with Black people at work is a miserable experience for white people and you need an expert like me to get through it.” Which is the whole point. As some have pointed out, the function of Robin and those like her is to prove corporate employers with a convenient way of firing people at will. She’s part of the Professional Managerial Class whose role in the system is to instill labor discipline. Employers don’t want employees who feel any kind of class connection with each other and Robin and her kind help make sure that can never happen.

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Communication notes: Divination vs handicapping

Just a bit more before getting to Sister Robin…

Tells in analyzing communication (written or oral) are general involuntary indications that a person is tense or relaxed or concealing something. I have one friend who develops a large red splotch on their right cheek whenever they’re bothered by something. No matter what they say, if that splotch shows up they’re not happy. Tells exist because most people most of the time want to tell the truth and if they lie with their mouths their body still tries to get the truth out.

Also, people tend to end up talking about things they did or feel and even if they’re trying to hide what they really feel or really did or really want to do there are verbal tells that come out. A great example in TV was an early season of the Sopranos where Tony’s mother became obsessed with talking about news stories she’d found of women killing their children and going on at length about how horrible it was – and at the time was planning the killing of her son. Most real life examples aren’t that extreme but how much a person talks about something (and just as important… how they talk about it) can give some indication of what they’re thinking or what they’ve done or what they want to do.

But none of this is foolproof and if anyone says something like “Oh, he touched his mouth…. he’s lying!” that shouldn’t be taken too seriously. Things like analyzing a person’s body language or statement analysis are not infallible and there is no single ‘tell’ that can allow a person to state “They’re telling the truth!” or “They’re hiding something!” Even a person who is absolutely telling the truth 100% (as they perceive it) will still have an occasional tell that can be interpreted as conveying falsehood. What counts are patterns and percentages. It’s not like a mathematical formula which always works – it’s more like handicapping a horse race taking lots of things into account and playing the averages. It’s not infallible but there are people who can make a living at it.

Finally, in the social sciences there is a concept called ‘face validity’ used in testing. What it means is “Does it seem like a good way to measure what we’re trying to measure?” If you want to measure how many hours a day a person spends looking at their phone and only observe people while they are on public transport…. that doesn’t have face validity because extrapolating from that data might lead you to think people spend 20 or more hours a day on the phone. Face validity is also not completely infallible but it’s one factor that needs to be taken into consideration in designing surveys (for example).

Next…. on to fragile Robin…

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Inka Oppression

Aspects of the current political situation in the US remind me of coffee in Poland during the communist period. Polish people loved coffee (too mild a word – they absolutely lusted over it) and the country imported large amounts… to roast. After that was done they sent almost all of it elsewhere as it was far too valuable to waste on the local population. Coffee became hard to get (like anything pleasant in a communist country) and some cursed soul came up with a horrible substitute “kawa zbożowa” (grain coffee) and the most famous brand was Inka. I remember the first time I had it I could barely choke any down, it tasted like bad, weak coffee mixed with tea and then left outside for week. Nonetheless, some people developed a taste for it and it’s still around as it’s own thing.

Inka! Any resemblance to real coffee is purely coincidental….

That’s what I think about ‘white supremacy’ and ‘systemic racism’ and why some people get really upset when faced with the fact that African Americans are not in fact killed in disproportionate numbers by the police (this is not meant to imply that policing in the US is not flawed – it seems to have evolved into an antagonistic semi-militaristic model that is probably related to rising social inequality – the more inequality in a society the more brutal the police will generally be but that’s a topic for another day).

I think there is a great demand for racist oppression in America that comes from progressives and the left. They long for oppression. They want it so they can have something to resist and play revolution. They want minorities to be oppressed so badly that they’ll accept ersatz victims like Rayshard Brooks and try to turn them into sainted martyrs. For the record, I don’t think Brooks should have been killed but had he lived he shouldn’t be free either – apparently he was on probation and a DUI charge would have put him behind bars which is one reason he attacked the police. An unfortunate case but not a good choice as symbolic victim. But when the real thing is hard to come by people make do. Just as some people managed to convince themselves that Inka was something a human being could drink, the modern left in the US has convinced itself that a getting killed while attacking the police is a cause for revolution.

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Communication notes: Presuppositions

Before I get to analyzing why I find Robin DiAngelo so toxic I’ll give a little background on communication. You probably know this but… it doesn’t hurt to spell it out.

An important concept in communication is the presupposition which means (roughly) what the receiver of a sequence of language needs to accept as true in order to understand it. This has to do not only with the meanings of words found in a dictionary but also includes lots of other things.

For example, if someone says “Janet’s house is nice” the recipient accepts that the speaker knows a person named “Janet” and this person has a house that can be labelled as hers and that in the subjective opinion of the speaker said house is nice (and that the speaker feels entitled to tell whoever they’re talking to about it and some other stuff that’s not relevant).

Certain structures in English carry with them certain presuppositions. A possessive carries with it the idea that the thing possessed exists. This is not true in all languages and in Hungarian, for example,  “my nice house” (a szép otthonom) doesn’t necessarily exist and in fact “My nice house doesn’t exist” is a normal sentence in Hungarian that doesn’t sound weird as the English version does (A szép otthonom nincs means “I don’t have a nice house”).

Attached to specific words, presuppositions are often called ‘connotations’ and often the ‘same’ word has very different connotations in different languages. The English word adequate has negative connotations and nobody would like their efforts labeled as ‘adequate’ which people understand as ‘barely good enough’. The Polish equivalent however ‘adekwatny’ has none of this negative baggage and the word is used unironically as praise.

Presuppositions can also include things that are part of the meaning of a sequence of language that is not found in the words being used.

For example is someone says “Even Jack could pass that class” (the heavy emphasis on Jack is necessary) the receiver knows that Jack is not a very good student and that class isn’t very hard. On the other hand change the word order a bit and you have “Jack could even pass that class” and suddenly Jack is a star student and the class is very challenging. But in neither sentence is there overt mention of Jack’s abilities or the difficulty of the class.

The meaning of sentences tends to be more than the sum of the meanings of the individual words. All language communities share hundreds if not thousands of presuppositions and native speakers understand them without trying. On the other hand a different language community speaking the “same” language might have very different presuppositions built into their versions of the language (which can make communication tricky for speakers of languages like English or Spanish that are used in different countries).

Also, non-native speakers tend to miss many presuppositions since they tend to focus on the surface meaning of the words and might not realize the additional accrued communication functions they have acquired. This is a frequent cause of intercultural confusion and conflict. If you’re ever speaking a second language with a native speaker and they suddenly start behaving very oddly then chances are that you’ve managed to convey information that you didn’t intend to. By the same token if a non-native speaker of your language says something that makes you start to feel or act oddly then they may not have realized what they said and you might want to give them the benefit of a doubt.

Trying to figure out what went wrong is probably impossible though. I’ve been on both sides of that particular interaction and unfortunately trying to ask questions about what’s just happened generally just makes things worse.

I’ll end this entry on that cheery note.



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Best soap opera on youtube…

As crazy as they can be, vegans have some of the most consistently entertaining channels on youtube, never more so than when drahmah occurs. The combination of self-righteousness and awareness of how many people think they’re obsessive weirdos (not an insult, obsessive weirdos are some of my favorite people).

Recently, a very prominent vegan body builder influencer guy decided he doesn’t want to be vegan anymore and more butthurt you have never seen in your lives. Virtually every prominent vegan has decided that they must urgently respond to this, the biggest news story of the year for them. Most of them sound roughly like 15 year-old mean girls who’ve just found out the boy they’re obsessed with just asked another girl to the dance. My favorite is a British woman who’s made something like four (and counting) videos about him (not that she’s that interested in him or anything).

The former vegan influencer in question doesn’t sound very bright and listening between the lines (and listening between the lines of a video by his brother) make it possible to put together a working hypothesis.

He went vegan as an emotional response to a vegan propaganda video and he’s finding a hard slog to keep up long term (there was an egg incident earlier…. which they all refer too in dark tones). Also he became a father a couple of years ago and I suspect there are diet problems with his child and his wife put her foot down and he doesn’t want to make it about his kid so he’s taking the heat himself.

Apparently this happens any time there is a high profile defector from the cause and I understand why but they maybe should rethink releasing them – they sound a lot like they’re trying to convince themselves rather than anyone else.




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The Gift of Indifference…

In the early 1950s, the Polish poet Wisława Szymborska was a devoted communist and party member who wrote poems in honor of Lenin and those who built Nowa Huta (a soulless communist housing project next to factories that polluted Cracow for many years). She slowly grew disillusioned (since she was not stupid) and started making contacts with the dissident movement and finally in 1966 she officially left the party. In 1996 she was given the Nobel Prize for Literature, the first Polish woman to be so honored.

In 1968, in the face of student protests and repression an internal rift developed in the communist party which led to an “anti-Zionist” campaign in which one flank of the party accused the other of being Jewish and traitors. The accusing side won and a bunch of party members were forced to emigrate (as were a number of Jewish non-party members). As this nasty episode was taking place, Szymborska remembered years later that her first reaction was relief that she was no longer a party member. It was terrible and she hated it but at some level it had nothing to do with her and wasn’t being done in her name and she was very grateful for that.

That’s kind of how I view the current unrest in the US. It’s terrible and I want it to stop and I want the political process to become less poisoned and dysfunctional on all sides, but…. it’s not my problem anymore. As the Germans say: “Not my circus, not my monkeys”.

My reaction is actually more intellectually curious that really upset. I kind of agree with the take that it’s the beginning of the end for the Democratic party as it has failed to meet the test of realignment as parts of the unrest are different factions turning against each other like the attack on CNN (and poor senile Joe Biden has no idea how to deal with it, not that he’d ever be allowed to try). But that’s it. People far away are carrying on about things that really have nothing to do with me. I hope y’all sort it out. I really do. But…. meh.


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Being dragged kicking and streaming…

I was very psyched last weekend. The university was preparing to begin classes again as of June 1 and the coronavirus situation is absolutely under control with a small number of deaths (currently averaging about 10 a day with an average age of around 75) and hospitalization numbers steadily decreasing.

I hoped I could still make something of the crappy situation and save a bit of the school year. Then Monday morning when the final details were to be announced… no classes after all (except for a few in situations that require physical equipment and the new ‘return to normal classes) is set to happen no sooner than October 1 (the university year here begins on October 1 which is weird….).

I spent the next few days in denial and have reluctantly started to sign in to things that will increase some kind of semi-direct access with students though I despise them (and the university has some deal with the devil Microsoft so we’re expected to use that crap. Especially since as many exams as possible are supposed to be carried out remotely. This is a nightmare and a half and can’t be waved away since the Polish situation is exam-centric to an absurd degree. It was only beginning a few years ago that students got grades for classwork, that was all pass/fail and only exam grades counted for anything (which is absurd but that’s another rant for another day). They also include individual oral exams for every student (I blame Roman Catholicism, the exams are mini catechisms).

During my virgin skype talk, a colleague pointed out some fairly sound reasoning for not having physical classes again this semester but they were also upset about the October beginning since they wanted to organize a symposium in September with guests from a dozen or more countries.

I hate remote work more than I can express and am prepared to spend as much time as possible laying the groundwork for armed rebellion (or some kind of protest or strike or something) should the return to normalcy be put off again for this nothing burger of a pandemic….

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Has China Pscyhed the World Out?

As far as I can consciously recollect I haven’t seen this exact theory anywhere though I might have. But my evolving thinking on the coronavirus…. situation is now shooting off into bizarre directions. So, here it is… feel free to gasp or laugh or just sadly shake your head, whatever seems appropriate.

So…. China realizes it’s headed for a difficult economic patch (this is common knowledge). The government probably has access to more reliable figures than the phony ones they feed the world (I’m sure they’re awful and misleading but the Chinese government is probably able to take that into account).

What it doesn’t want more than anything is lose economically in terms of relative position so it wants the rest of the world to take a massive economic hit as well. Then along comes a bat virus (new viruses are always showing up in China so it’s not like they have to wait for long).

The virus isn’t that serious for most people though it can easily turn deadly for a very small minority with certain underlying medical conditions. The government then takes steps to export the virus both, throughout China  (Wuhan is apparently a transportation hub so lots of opportunity there) and abroad as well. It also, and here is the devious part, pretends to look like it’s trying to cover things up (and failing while carefully letting just enough slip to freak everyone out). It enlists its old ally the WHO (wittingly or not, I’m not so sure) to further this pretend cover up. The world will believe the government is trying to squash information because that’s pretty true to type and assume the worst and follow through in preparations for a massive deadly pandemic…. that never really arrives (though it does get bad in a few very densely populated regions).

The thinking went, maybe, that foreign economies would get beat up as well as governments over-reacted in copying the the lock down protocol pioneered by the Chinese Communist Party in Wuhan. Then after a few months with everybody bruised and bloodied and dazed the economy would start huffing and lumbering into gear again with China in no worse shape vis a vis the major foreign economies.

Does that sound too crazy? It sounds crazy, doesn’t it? Tell me, please, that it sounds crazy (and explain why).

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Pessimistic about Optimism

One of the more useful, in my experience, ways of understanding cultural differences, especially in Europe, is ‘uncertainty avoidance’. In short, cultures (meaning majority preferences within a society) tend to differ in how they deal with the inherent uncertainty of existence. No one knows what will happen tomorrow and over time and through history cultures broadly tend to fall into two camps.

Tomorrow is another day… and it’ll be great!

Tomorrow is another day… it surely will bring disaster….

In Europe, in general terms, the more north and west you get the more likely countries are liable to fall in the first camp. The further south and east the more likely they are to fall into the second. Lots of other things fall out and correlate from this basic approach to the future, from usage rates of caffeine and alcohol, attitudes toward children and teenagers, attitudes toward rules and even how fast people drive.

Poland, where I live, is firmly in the second group (high uncertainty avoidance. Here, no one thinks in terms of glasses being half full, here, optimism is more about “Wow, that glass is only half empty! Yahoo!”

The US, the land of my birth is moderately low uncertainty avoidance and the traditional attitude is more like why is it only half full let’s pour more into that glass till it’s overflowing!

What’s interesting is not only how cultures deal with uncertainty but how they deal with real catastrophe. Pessimists as they say are sometimes pleasantly surprised while optimists are almost always disappointed. When disaster really strikes it’s the pessimistic cultures that rebound more quickly.

This can be seen clearly in US vs Polish responses to the Coronavirus pandemic. In early March, when things were uncertain, Polish people were on edge and the lockdown was welcomes as a necessary inconvenience. But by Easter people were getting antsy… nothing that terrible was really happening. The numbers of infections and fatalities have never been that high. I don’t know if there was a single day with more than 500 new cases (though only at risk groups were being tested) and hardly a day with 40 fatalities. It’s plateaued at around 300 new cases a day and 30 fatalities (I’m rounding up in both cases) and Polish people are done with Coronavirus and the lockdown.

Government measures to reopen the economy and public life are less about real health concerns and more about trying to look like they’re nominally in charge. They opening things up as slowly as they think they can get away with because they don’t want to create a situation where it becomes obvious that no one cares what the government says.

Very different from the optimistic US where places with even lower rates of infection and fatalities are on forever lockdown and people are narcing (narcking?) on their neighbors like East Germans reporting to the Stasi.

It’s not that people in Poland are unaware of the risk, in high uncertainty avoidance cultures people can deal with risk. They understand the level of risk and the probability of a bad outcome and are okay with it. They’ll wear masks in public (or pretend to) and that’s about it. And cases of people reporting others for violations have been all but non-existent.

I’m glad I’m where I am.

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Have We Been Played?

I’m starting to get the idea that some governments (okay, just about all of them) are instrumentalizing Coronavirus (however dangerous it is) to reinforce and strengthen austerity. This isn’t the end of austerity but its final victory as most societies are ruthlessly third-worlded.

All the stories about how much better the air is? How the animals are now frolicking in the cities without those bothersome people? Religious leaders and bubblebrained celebrities talking about messages from the Earth or God?

The economy isn’t going to restart because they’re shutting it down on purpose – to the cheers of too many suckers. Healthcare and infrastructure will be gutted and more and more people will be permanently unemployed surviving (or not) on charity as governments and the Greens preen.

I’d like to be wrong about this, I’d love it. But the evidence is mounting and obligatory austerity (no more fun travel or discretionary income for you) seems to be the goal.

The longer things stay closed the more likely this has nothing to do with the disease and everything to do with a return to a medieval order of serfs and lords. Hi there, fellow serfs!

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