March 29, 2015
Are people who distrust troublesome minorities wrong in the head?
I would have thought it obvious that people who TRUST troublesome minorities are wrong in the head -- but I am just a cautious old conservative so I guess my views don't count in the fairytale world of Left-dominated academe.
The New York Times does push the view that people who distrust troublesome minorities are wrong in the head. But they do so amid such a flood of words that is difficult to pin down any clear claims. I am referring to the article "The Brain’s Empathy Gap" of March 19, 2015. It was so difficult to pin down any clear assertions in it that I initially gave up any attempt to write some sort of critique of it. Answering it seemed like doing battle with a giant marshmallow. So, initially, I simply referred readers to what the excellent Steve Sailer had to say about it. I do think however that I have a few things to add to Steve's comments so I am going to tackle the challenge after all.
The article moves from stories about gypsies in Romania to a disquisition on brain scanning and then back to stories about gypsies in Romania. Romania is a poor country and Romanian gypsies are apparently the poorest of the poor. And it's all caused by "discrimination", of course. The jump between brain scans and Romanian gypsies is rather startling -- but whatever floats your boat, I guess.
What the brain scans showed were some clear patterns but the article itself admits that interpreting such patterns is still speculative. Here is a typical sentence from the article:
"And in both groups, a small region of the brain, the medial precuneus, which may be associated with the theory-of-mind network, responded more strongly"
And it also may be associated with airborne pork, I guess. I have been writing about such scans for some time and, at least among Leftist writers, they seem to be little more that a Rorschach Ink Blot test: What you see in the thing before you tells us more about you than it tells about the display before you. The NYT writer, Jeneen Interlandi, who is said to be a frequent contributor to the NYT magazine, soldiers on anyhow and proceeds to interpret the brain scans. She relies on some work by Emile Bruneau of MIT. It was he who found the enigmatic patterns in brain scans.
It was however an anomaly in the brain scans that caused the excitement. Three Israeli peace activists showed scans similar to Arabs. I can't imagine any Israeli being surprised by that but surprise it apparently did. The article goes on quite rightly to concede that the non-random and tiny sample precludes any generalizations from the findings but then goes on to make some mushy generalizations anyhow
When we get back to the gypsies there is a reasonably fair account of how the gypsies are in part the authors of their own problems. Their high level of petty crime and their unsavoury lifestyle are repellent to other Romanians. And the article admits that government programs designed to uplift the Gypsies have failed. We also read however that "racial prejudice was thwarting efforts to assimilate the Roma" -- where "Roma" is the politically correct word for Gypsy.
And, despite all its admissions, the article ends with a claim that by studying people's brain scans we might somehow be able to see where all that nasty prejudice is coming from and stop it -- presumanbly by sending the people with "bad" brain scans to Siberia or some such. That the main problem with gypsies is their known very low IQ is not of course mentioned. Leftists often give me cause to point out pachyderms in rooms.
And a final point I would like to make is that in elite thinking both inside and outside traditional gypsy lands, gypsies have long been appreciated. Despite their general intellectual limitations, many gypsies are brilliant musicians and their music is a substantial source of income for them. It is undoubtedly a rather eerie talent. There have been accounts of gypsies graduating from high-level music schools without being able to read a note of staff notation. They just memorize everything.
And in classical music circles, there have been many expressions of admiration for gypsies by reason of their musical talent. In the most famous opera of all time -- "Carmen" -- the leading lady is a gypsy, and she is certainly portrayed with overall admiration. And the gypsy lifestyle is also portrayed as admirable. And another well-known opera is "La Boheme", where "Boheme" is a French term for a gypsy. And the "Bohemian" lady is treated sympathetically there too. And in Lehar's operetta Zigeunerliebe, the gypsy lifestyle is again admired. And Kalman's operetta Graefin Maritza is one extended hymn of praise for gypsy music. And Kalman was a Hungarian -- and Hungary has a substantial population of Gypsies -- so it is unlikely that he had any illusions about them.
You can see the Moerbisch performance of Graefin Maritza online here. It's infinitely more entertaining than the NYT and the expressive Dagmar Schellenberger in the title role is a pleasure to watch and hear. She is both a most accomplished soprano and a superb actress.
So I would argue that in elite European opinion at least there has been much favourable disposition towards gypsies. That gypsies have been unable to parlay the favourable disposition towards them into any general uplift at all suggests that their own limitations are the problem -- rather than something bad in the heads of others.
UPDATE: Zigeunerbaron -- by Strauss II -- is another Austro/Hungarian operetta that praised gypsies to the skies. Lehar's Zigeunerliebe is actually something of a commentary on the obsession with gypsies. In the first part of the show the romance of a gypsy life is set out but in the second half everyone comes back down to earth. Lehar obviously thought his fellow composers had got a bit carried away with gypsies.
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