Darwinian China vs Newtonian America

Newtonian thinking: cause and effect combine to form a causal chain.

Example: Wolves are predators. Sheep are prey. Deer are prey. Wolves eat sheep and deer. If a rancher owns sheep, wolves are bad.

Darwinian thinking: ecosystems are complex, interrelated webs where everything is a but for cause of everything else. 

Example: reintroducing wolves into an ecosystem is amazing and unpredictable. 

Reality: wolf reintroduction helps willow trees, beavers, and more!

The Ecosystem of Power

Here’s how a good sociologist, Dan Little, describes Juan Wang’s work on China

Given this segmentation of political power in China, both historically and in the current time, it is important to understand the dynamics of government at lower levels as well if we are to understand the overall behavior of the system.

This is the task that Juan Wang sets for herself in her excellent recent book, The Sinews of State Power: The Rise and Demise of the Cohesive Local State in Rural China. She has chosen the title deliberately; she wants to demonstrate that China's overall political behavior is the result of a complex interplay among multiple levels of political organization. In particular, she finds that the particulars of the relationships that exist between three levels of local government have important consequences for the actions of the central government.

There are numerous strengths of Wang's treatment. One is her emphasis on disaggregation: don't consider political power as an undifferentiated whole, but instead as an interlocking system including both central authority and local political institutions and actors. Second, Wang's approach is admirably actor-centered. She attempts to understand the political situation of local officials and cadres from their own points of view, identifying the risks they are eager to avoid, the motivations they are pursuing, and sometimes the individual rewards that lie behind their decisions and actions. As she points out, their behaviors often look quite different from the idealized expectations of officials and cadres in specific roles.

The Nazi Next Door and the "structure" metaphor

Here’s how Jamelle Bouie describes the United States in critiquing the New York Timesseriously terrible profile of the Nazi next door, Tony Hovater. There is no ecosystem of causation here. The US is racist, therefore ordinary people are racist. Wolves are predators, therefore wolves kill sheep:

Hovater's extremism may demand some additional explanation, but there's nothing novel about virulent white racism existing in banal environments. That, in fact, is what it means to live in a society structured by racism and racist attitudes. The sensational nature of Hovater's identification with Nazi Germany obscures the ordinariness of his racism. White supremacy is a hegemonic ideology in the United States. It exists everywhere, in varying forms, ranging from passive beliefs in black racial inferiority to the extremist ideology we see in groups like the League of the South.
A look back to the past is instructive. In 1921, one of the deadliest anti-black riots in American history occurred in Tulsa, Oklahoma. A mob of white men, eager for retribution after the alleged assault of a young white woman, descended on the city's prosperous Greenwood neighborhood, dubbed the "Black Wall Street" by admirers. Armed with pistols, rifles, and a machine gun—as well as a plane equipped with rudimentary bombs—this makeshift army burned Greenwood to the ground, killing hundreds in the process. We don't know who gave order to the mob, organizing and amplifying its lethality, but we can identify the men who participated. 
They weren't, as white Tulsans would later learn, the working-class men drawn to the city's oil wealth and frontier atmosphere. No, they were Tulsa's white elite—its respectable middle class. "Photographs of the tragedy also showed that many in the white mob drove the most expensive cars and dressed in clothes beyond the means of the average roughneck," notes Tim Madigan in The Burning: Massacre, Destruction, and the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921. They were recognizable. Ordinary. 

The thing is, Bouie is so close to being right. The fact that the Tulsa race riot wasn’t in my Bailey and Kennedy American Pageant history book from high school is totally baffling. The fact that it still isn’t there nine editions later is just pure racism. As a pundit who is also a black person, Jamelle Bouie should be publicizing this history every time he can. The NYT’s Nazi-next-door piece is a good peg for it.

But humans--even Nazis--are mammals, and the science of our behavior is governed by the ideas of Charles Darwin. Bouie, meanwhile, frames American racism using a Newtonian metaphor from materials science. Materials science—physics and chemistry—tells us, for example, about the crystalline structure of quartz and how that causes it to vibrate when subjected to an electric charge. It’s a materials science metaphor at work when Bouie says, “what it means to live in a society structured by racism...”

Our language is littered with metaphors like this. We use them totally unconsciously. But they have consequences. They shape our world... See the physical metaphor "shape our world"! 

Why does a quartz crystal keep time? Because it's structure leads to a piezoelectric effect: where movement causes an electric charge and an electric charge causes movement.

Why are there Nazi's next door? Because the structure of our society causes white people to fear that they will lose what they have if black people get enough power.

Newton to Marx to Gramsci to Coates to Bouie

The second crucial phrase, hegemonic ideology, is tricky and sorting out it's exact meaning involves spending a lot of time learning wrongness, that is, studying the views of people whose views are incorrect. It is Newtonian thinking that takes a left turn at Marx and Engels, then an even sharper left turn at Antonio Gramsci only to speed up and take the Ta-Nehisi Coates overpass to America's Conversation About Race.

The whole sordid tale is the reaction to something that didn't happen. Karl Marx said that capitalism would lead to revolution. He literally guaranteed that the working class would rise up against the owners of capital. Cause and effect: capitalism inevitably immiserates the working class, therefore the working class will inevitably revolt. So, decades go by and the proletariate--who, remember, had nothing to lose but their chains--are still living their lives, the question arrises: what caused this? Capitalism causes revolution. Cause and effect. No revolution is caused by? Control. The proletariate is controlled by force (F=ma! Physics). But they are not just working, they are whistling! Not just physical control, mind control.

I'm serious. Mind control. Lots of academics still devote their lives to this. Everyone whose speciality has the word "critical" in the name studies mind control. You think I'm joking, but I'm not.

The reason there is a Nazi next door is that all of us are subject to mind control. The people in power control our minds with the ideology of white supremacy.

Newton: If the theory of gravity is correct, why does a feather not hit the ground at the same time as the bowling ball? What’s the other force? Friction.

Gramsci: If the workers are oppressed and have nothing to lose but their chains, why no revolution? Hegemony:

The notion of “hegemony” is rooted in Gramsci’s (1992) distinction between coercion and consent as alternative mechanisms of social power (p. 137). Coercion refers to the State’s capacity for violence, which it can use against those who refuse to participate in capitalist relations of production. By contrast, hegemonic power works to convince individuals and social classes to subscribe to the social values and norms of an inherently exploitative system. It is a form of social power that relies on voluntarism and participation, rather than the threat of punishment for disobedience. Hegemony appears as the “common sense” that guides our everyday, mundane understanding of the world. It is a view of the world that is “in- herited from the past and uncritically absorbed” and which tends to reproduce a sort of social homeostasis, or “moral and political passivity” (Gramsci 1971:333). Whereas coercive power is the exclusive domain of the State, the institutions of “civil society,” such as the Church, schools, the mass media, or the family, are largely responsible for producing and disseminating hegemonic power (Gramsci 1996:91). In industrial capitalist societies, hegemonic power is the prevalent form of social power; the state relies on coercion only in exceptional circumstances. 

Try an ecology metaphor

Instead of borrowing a phrase from Marx, what if Bouie looked to ecology? The article I linked to above about the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone calls the consequences a trophic cascade.

Otters are predators that eat fish. If you introduce otters to an ecosystem, you will have less fish. Cause and effect. Predator eats prey. Newtonian causation. Totally wrong. From Nature Education:

Kelp Beds
Perhaps the best recognized example of a tri-trophic cascade comes from the Aleutian Islands and southeast Alaska, where sea otters (Enhydra lutris), invertebrate herbivores (i.e., sea urchins) and macroalgae demonstrate spatial and temporal density patterns suggesting widespread predator facilitation of plant persistence (Figure 2, Estes & Duggins 1995). Although a historically common component of near shore marine communities, sea otters were hunted to near extinction in the early part of the 20th century for their luxurious pelts and now patchily persist along the coast.
...
As sea otter populations have expanded into new sites in recent decades, predictable changes in the density of sea urchins, kelp, and the organisms that utilize the habitat created by healthy kelp beds, have been observed, demonstrating the potential for whole-ecosystem recovery with the reinstatement of predator populations (Estes & Duggins 1995).

What do healthy kelp beds bring? Rockfish.

A wide range of fish can be found in kelp forests, many of which are important to commercial fishermen. For example, many types of rockfish such as black rockfish, blue rockfish, olive rockfish, and kelp rockfish are found in kelp forests and are important to fishermen.

You can't answer the question why is the US racist without studying the whole ecosystem of our society. The Tulsa Race Riot is a great bit of history that offers some insight into that complex and dynamic system. But it is not an example of hegemonic anything. That's not how ecosystems work. The hegemonic otter eats fish. The real otter both eats fish and brings them into existence.

Fischotter,_Lutra_Lutra.JPG