"A Caste System"

Today's entry at the NYT makes a claim that is so ridiculous that I'm having trouble deciding where to begin addressing what's wrong with it.
A caste system is an artificial construction, a fixed and embedded ranking of human value that sets the presumed supremacy of one group against the presumed inferiority of other groups on the basis of ancestry and often immutable traits, traits that would be neutral in the abstract but are ascribed life-and-death meaning in a hierarchy favoring the dominant caste, whose forebears designed it. A caste system uses rigid, often arbitrary boundaries to keep the ranks apart, distinct from one another and in their assigned places.

Throughout human history, three caste systems have stood out. The lingering, millenniums-long caste system of India. The tragically accelerated, chilling and officially vanquished caste system of Nazi Germany. And the shape-shifting, unspoken, race-based caste pyramid in the United States. Each version relied on stigmatizing those deemed inferior to justify the dehumanization necessary to keep the lowest-ranked people at the bottom and to rationalize the protocols of enforcement. A caste system endures because it is often justified as divine will, originating from sacred text or the presumed laws of nature, reinforced throughout the culture and passed down through the generations.
The Indian caste system can be sensibly discussed in terms of 'throughout human history,' since it occupies something like the same scope. Nazi Germany was only around for a few years. The Nazi system wasn't a caste system anyway; it aimed to eliminate even Germans who had less-than-ideal traits (by the lights of the government). As Hannah Arendt's work on totalitarianism points out, the Nazi system was gearing up to purify Germans through eugenics just as soon as it finished eliminating Jews.

The United States, far from having a centuries-stable system, has passed through a number of systems in its relatively brief history: from fully legal slavery (which was still not a racial caste, since blacks could be free and own slaves); to Jim Crow (never evenly applied across states or regions); to informal prejudices against which specific legal barriers were erected; to the current system, which in fact aims to promote minorities and is currently bent sideways trying to figure out how to fix the remaining racial inequalities. Currently "the protocols of enforcement" are aimed especially at people who speak ideas that can be deemed racist, which will rapidly cost them their jobs, their advertisers, their homes, their friends, and so forth.

The author Isabel Wilkerson, by the way, is "a winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Humanities Medal."


ymarsakar said...

Wed day is here.


Grim said...

It doesn't, though. The two concepts aren't even approximately the same, let alone equivalent.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

It's simply an emotional increase in volume. Ooh, caste system, good one. That'll sting. It's like the Antisocial Personality Disorder headed eventually to prison who chooses his insults purely for effect. He has loaded words for every group, and uses them. Sometimes he will stand in solidarity with a member of one group that he insulted fifteen minutes ago in order to bring a flush of the face and an angry reaction to a person of another group. We get a few of these at the hospital, and I am sure you have seen some in your day as well, who will call some black person the n-word, then join another black person who is trying to inflame a female by calling her the c-word.

From the vague idea that people have different status in America - true as far as it goes - comes this bizarre formulation that it's like a caste system. Oh yeah, exactly like that. Preach it. That America is the most extreme example in world history of social mobility is irrelevant, because the idea is not to compare America to any known reality. The intent is to wound and infuriate, in order to move the argument to emotional, rather than intellectual grounds..

David Foster said...

Just about every European country had some form of caste system, in the shape of class distinctions, some more permeable than others.

Ymarsakar said...

That requires more unpacking and typing.

It might work better under the wed y post.

Short version is that Caste does not require race Nor does slavery require race.

A slave master 2.0 style could be red white black. Could be uneducated or educated. The caste of aristos is between master and those serving masters. The ultimate division of Service to Self versus service to Other.

Hitler made the Japanese honorary aryans because the aryans became a cast and not A Genetic Race.

There are many different caste systems including India British hybri.

ymarsakar said...

The main sewer and deep state are caste systems. They inter marry.

Perhaps patriarchy would fit them.

ymarsakar said...

Also i do not read or think about nytimes. They gain sts power every time readers recognize their caste as free press.

David Foster said...

Speaking of caste...Cisco is being sued by California on charges that the company allows higher-caste Indians to behave abusively to lower-caste Indians.


Grim said...

So it's as if US law was a kind of anti-caste system, you say?