Saturday, September 09, 2006

Racism and Pessimism

My wife and I were watching a re-run of Black/White, the show where a black family puts on whiteface to explore the white world, and a white family puts on blackface to explore the black world.

At one point, a black man explains how white people seem improbably curious. "When white people hear a strange noise, they go to see what's making it. When black people hear a noise, they try to get as far away as possible."

It struck me that this is fundamentally the difference between optimism and pessimism. When I have time, I'll post my summary of Marty Seligman's "Learned Optimism," a true classic. For right now, I'll content myself with two of Marty's observations.

One, optimism is *generally* a more productive strategy. Optimists are happier, healthier, and more successful.

Two, pessimism has an important role to play, because pessimists perceive reality more accurately than optimists. If your pilot is deciding whether or not to cancel a flight because of ice on the wings, you probably want a pessimist in the cockpit! When the cost of failure is high, pessimism is the more effective way of thinking.

This maps very well to race and racism. If racism makes the cost of failure higher for black people, pessimism is a logical and effective strategy, albeit one which comes at the cost of some happiness. If research shows that African-Americans tend to be less happy, perhaps this is because their cost of failure is higher.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

I Am Old, I Am Old, I Shall Wear My Trousers Rolled

Warning: Yet another post with no business content. But if you're old like me, you might find it an amusing walk down memory lane.

As much as I try to deny my geezerhood, this blog keeps tripping me up.

A few months ago, it was being accused of being homophobic for using the phrase "flame away" in my post on why I hate San Francisco.

Now I'm a chauvinist pig for calling Barbara Ehrenreich an "ignorant slut."

A quick history lesson.

"Ignorant slut" is a reference to the classic Saturday Night Live bit with Dan Ackroyd and Jane Curtin.

Saturday Night Live was a great sketch comedy series that debuted in the 1970s, and launched the careers of people like Bill Murray, John Belushi, Chevy Chase, Dan Ackroyd, Jane Curtin, Gilda Radner, Eddie Murphy, Adam Sandler, and Will Ferrell. For those of you who don't recognize the first eight names, let me reassure you that they were once big stars, and very funny.

If none of this still rings a bell, SNL is also the show that did the "Lazy Sunday" rap on the Chronicles of Narnia.

Side note for all you geezers out there: For the current generation, Bill Murray is that old guy in all the Wes Anderson movies, John Belushi is Jim Belushi's brother, Eddie Murphy is the guy who does all those family comedies that aren't funny, and all the other folks are random people from the caveman days, along with Buster Keaton and Fatty Arbuckle.

At any rate, back to "you ignorant slut."

In a classic Weekend Update bit, Dan Ackroyd and are two dueling news anchors. As they debate issues,, they lob insults at each other, culminating in Ackroyd's famous line, "Jane, you ignorant slut."

Now Barbara Ehrenreich is ignorant, but I had no intention of implying anything about her sexual practices. I was simply tipping my hat to a classic take on the absurdity of this kind of debate.

By the way, where are all the troll's rights protesters? After all, trolls have feelings too!

P.S. For bonus points, identify the reference in this post's title.