Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Echidne Thoughts, 23 March 2016: On Terrorism, Group Guilt and Tosca Cakes

I have finally beaten the stomach flu which was especially bad because I had gastritis at the same time.  Let's hope that my writing is now clearer.

1.  The recent terrorist bombings, the last one in Brussels, are always an abundant source for despair about the human race.  I wish recovery for the wounded and peace to those who lost someone their lives meshed with in love and meaning.

The reactions to the events on the Internet are predictable.  Not much focus on the victims as real people, except for the obligatory nod from the politicians, and most political activists I read on Twitter and on political blogs  instantly started working to accommodate these events into the ready-made explanatory diagrams, the ones they already had, the ones which argue that the cause is either evil Islam or evil United States and Western colonialism.

What strikes me about that false dualism is that is impermeable to all evidence which doesn't fit it, that it seems to be unable to accept both-and explanations and also unable to replace appealing simplifications by nuanced analysis.  And both sides remove all agency from the culprits.  They are mere puppets with strings held by either evil mullahs or evil Western capitalists.

2.  The previous thought links to this one:  Sexism and racism and homophobia and other similar concepts owe something to the idea of false generalizations, of picking one experience with a person from the disliked group and then generalizing from that experience to the group, or of picking the worst caricatures of the group and then using those as the proper way to define the group.

Thus, because one woman treated some man very badly, that man now goes around hating all women and taking his revenge on them.  Because in that misogynist's mind all women are like the one woman who hurt him and, therefore, all women are responsible for that hurt.

I now see similar generalizations about all sorts of larger groups tossed about as so much candy to the children.  All Muslims are responsible for the Brussels massacre!  All white people are responsible for Western colonialism!  All men are responsible for rape!

It's important to note that men, as a class, do have power to talk to individual men and make sure that the culture doesn't giggle at rape or accept the idea that rape is somehow manly.   Men, as a class, also benefit from sexism which cuts back on competition in the labor markets and education. 

It's also important to note that Muslims, as a religious group, do have power, and the responsibility,  to ask how their religious leaders work to stop terrorism as a potentially religiously accepted alternative.

And it's important to note that white people who live in those countries who carried out Western colonialism will have benefited from the fruits of that colonialism, if only very indirectly.  Likewise, the institutional structures in the US have benefited white citizens over black citizens during long stretches of its history, and those benefits matter.

But all that is very different from this common spreading of genetic or group guilt.  I get that it makes writing easier and stronger, but when something is incorrect it's just more strongly and more easily incorrect.  Besides, yelling at large groups about their perfidy is just the most perfect psychological way to start a fruitful conversation on important topics!


And no, it's not really an excuse that some of those groups have much more power than other groups, that it's OK to apply the same tools which are used in sexism and racism if only those tools are used upwards in the social hierarchies.  It doesn't make it right.  Because then the misogynists on their sites will use that argument to bash women.  After all, they think women run the world so they have the right to bash upwards.

What is the solution to this problem?  Be precise.  If a particular person says something vile and disgusting, attribute it to that person, don't attribute it to all people who wear eyeglasses with similar shapes.  Assign guilt to decision-makers who make vile decisions, preachers who preach disgusting messages and those who pay for that preaching with the goal of getting those messages out.  Avoid over-generalizations about individuals.  That does not, however, mean that we shouldn't criticize ideas.  They don't have that kind of human rights protection.

3.  A recipe.  I add that because the whole post is so very miserable!
This is a recipe from my childhood.  It's really scrumptious, but you have to make sure there is not too much cake compared to the icing, so keep the cake surface low.  If you are like me (greedy) you might want to use less cake and more icing than this official recipe tells you.

Tosca Cakes

For the cake, buy:

150 grams of butter
150 grams (1.75 dls) sugar
2 eggs
200 grams (3 dls) flour
1.5 teaspoons of baking powder
0.5 dls milk

Beat the egg and the sugar until foamy.  Add eggs (shelled!), one by one, while beating.  Mix baking powder with flour in a separate container.  Add some milk to the butter-sugar-egg mixture, then some of the flour, and so on, until all is combined.  Mix until smooth.

Prepare a large oven tin.  Line it with baking paper and heat the oven to 200 centigrades.  Pour the batter into the tin.  Bake for 15-20 minutes.  Then add the icing (from below), return the tin to the oven and bake for a further 15-20 minutes.

Let cool to room temperature, then cut the cake into suitable one-person-sized pieces.

For the icing, buy:

150 grams of butter
100 grams of flaked almonds
100 grams (1 dl) of sugar
6 tablespoons of whipping cream
3 tablespoons of flour

Mix all the icing ingredients in a pot capable of going on top of your stove/cooker.   Heat the ingredients together to the point where it is ready to boil but do not let it boil.
Then add to the cake as described above.  You spread the stuff out evenly over the half-baked cake.

If you can't find flaked almonds you could use a spice mill or a food processor to make a rough blend of almonds.  I've done that and it worked fine.