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Never look a gift park in the mouth.
May 18, 2009 2:51 PM   Subscribe

A 28-acre plot of unspoiled Sierra foothill forest is bequeathed to the Auburn (CA) Recreation District. The bequeath came with one condition: That the park be named "Nobel Laureate William B. Shockley And His Wife Emmy L. Shockley Memorial Park."

You may remember Nobel winner Shockley as the co-founder of the transistor. Or you may remember his as the so-called Father of Silicon Valley. He also made a splash as one of the only admitted donors to the mythical Nobel sperm bank (real name: Repository for Germinal Choice).

Or perhaps you remember that he once advocated offering "financial rewards for the 'genetically disadvantaged' [primarily blacks] if they volunteered for sterilization."

The Auburn Recreation District was unaware of Shockley's other infamies, and is unsure now about how to proceed with the donated land.
posted by mudpuppie (89 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
You know who else advocated offering "financial rewards for the 'genetically disadvantaged' [primarily blacks] if they volunteered for sterilization?"

No, wait a minute...
posted by ZenMasterThis at 2:55 PM on May 18, 2009


Was it Watson or Crick?
posted by Artw at 2:56 PM on May 18, 2009 [6 favorites]


Refuse the gift and then take it under eminent domain, due to the fire hazard it presents. Refurbish it and name it the Stephen Biko Memorial Park.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:57 PM on May 18, 2009 [38 favorites]


What's the big deal? We carry pictures of racists with us everywhere we go. In fact the government accepts these pictures (fire hazards that they are) as legal tender.

He stole transistor technology from the aliens, give the man his damned park.
posted by mullingitover at 3:00 PM on May 18, 2009 [17 favorites]


...it also says we should build something called an "interocitor".
posted by Artw at 3:02 PM on May 18, 2009 [17 favorites]


Or take the approach that they took in Missouri, where a local chapter of the KKK wanted to participate in the Adopt-a-Highway program: the state legally couldn't bar them from participating, so they renamed the highway the Klan wanted to adopt: it's now the Rosa Parks Highway. The William Shockley Memorial Park, inside the Stehpen Biko Memorial Open Space (to use Blazecock Pileon's suggestion), has a nice ring to it.
posted by mosk at 3:04 PM on May 18, 2009 [9 favorites]


The guy was born in 1909. You'd be hard pressed to find people born in 1909 who didn't harbor some racist/sexist/homophobic attitudes. But unlike all of his peers, this guy invented the transistor.

His racism died with him. His invention lives on. Name the park after him.
posted by Pastabagel at 3:09 PM on May 18, 2009 [32 favorites]


"Nobel Laureate William B. Shockley* And His Wife Emmy L. Shockley Memorial Park."

* a known racist.

Problem solved!
posted by odinsdream at 3:12 PM on May 18, 2009 [12 favorites]


Put a huge statue in the middle. The plaque would say: "In honor of William Shockley, for the invention of the transistor - which brought about such technologies as the portable amplified radio" The statue should be a huge black dude with a boombox, straight out of a Spike Lee movie.
posted by qvantamon at 3:14 PM on May 18, 2009 [35 favorites]


Just put it next to the Hank Shocklee S1W Nature Preserve.
posted by basicchannel at 3:20 PM on May 18, 2009 [15 favorites]


They should assign one syllable of the name to each acre. Have to expand the middle names to cover those last few acres, though.
posted by ook at 3:20 PM on May 18, 2009


The two primal emotions are greed and fear.

Here we see the Auburn Recreation District trapped between its greed (for the free land) and its fear (of the public backlash).

Which will prove stronger?
posted by Joe Beese at 3:20 PM on May 18, 2009


Never look a gift park in the mouth.

Except when it says nasty things about your melanin-rich family, neighbors and friends. Then you can stare it down and ask "What did you say? Maybe I didn't hear you correctly." But the guy's dead, and who really pays attention to the names of parks anyway? Santa Barbara has the Alice Keck Park Park (er Alice Keck Memorial Gardens, but who calls it that?)

Or ignore who it's named after, and allow the efforts sign enhancements of some artistic youth to remain. You might then find yourself at a picnic in "Notable Racist William The Shocker And His Widow Emma's so Skankey Memorial Park."
posted by filthy light thief at 3:27 PM on May 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


Do you know we have a state named after a confirmed slave owner?
posted by one_bean at 3:28 PM on May 18, 2009 [10 favorites]


Huh! My will also bequeaths land for use as a park with the condition that it is named after me and refers to me as a Nobel laureate.
posted by Flunkie at 3:30 PM on May 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


"Nobel Laureate William B. Shockley Derision and Outrage Park."
posted by fire&wings at 3:34 PM on May 18, 2009 [3 favorites]


you think THAT'S bad, you should see what his wife Emmy Shockley is famous for.

hint: she was Hitler.
posted by shmegegge at 3:35 PM on May 18, 2009 [16 favorites]


Here we see the Auburn Recreation District trapped between its greed (for the free land) and its fear (of the public backlash).

Greed? They weren't looking to develop it commercially. Further, if you read the article, it seems like the individual running the Recreational District was somewhat reluctant due the fire hazard the land represents.

What we have here, really, is a bigot trying to bully others even from the grave. He's managed to grief others into fighting each other over a small parcel of land. Tragic, really.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:37 PM on May 18, 2009 [4 favorites]


So? Hell, if I had the money, I'd also offer financial rewards for the 'genetically disadvantaged' [primarily FOX News anchors] if they volunteered for sterilization. And I'd bequeath my land to be turned into a park on the condition that they name the park His Supreme Majesty, It's Raining Florence Henderson and His Supreme Majesty It's Raining Florence Henderson's Wife Mrs. It's Raining Florence Henderson Memorial Park and Gift Shop. Unfortunately, I spent all my money on tran sister hookers and sockpuppets.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 3:39 PM on May 18, 2009 [8 favorites]


I guess he just couldn't handle the stress of post-racial America.
posted by yeloson at 3:39 PM on May 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Re: Keith Shocklee

As the park is in California, maybe Shock G would be a better choice.
posted by box at 3:43 PM on May 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


spent all my money on tran sister hookers and sockpuppets.

Sockpuppets are $5 a pop - so tran sister hookers gotta be expensive.
posted by rough ashlar at 3:48 PM on May 18, 2009


Just to be clear, if they name it the "Nobel Laureate William B. Shockley And His Wife Emmy L. Shockley Memorial Park" it will actually offer to sterilize any black people that walk in it, right?
posted by Artw at 3:50 PM on May 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


Do you know we have a state named after a confirmed slave owner?
Are you sure it's just one? I don't know, but it might be up to ten.

In addition to the obvious Washington, I wouldn't be surprised if some or all of the following were slaveowners:And maybe some others I'm overlooking.

Slavery was legal in all of these people's countries when they were alive.
posted by Flunkie at 3:57 PM on May 18, 2009 [10 favorites]


Nobody is perfect. Granted, racism is (now) considered very offensive, but it was more or less subconscious back then.

He did good things, and as far as I can see, he didn't lynch anyone, sanction racially motivated violence, or any other tangible offenses. His tangible actions are, by and large, good.

If only people beyond moral reproach were allowed landmarks or the like in their name for posterity, we'd have to rename almost everything in our cities every 5 years.

He did win a Nobel Prize, you know. And I can pretty much guarantee you that you've cracked some joke at the expense of some vaguely defined group at some point or another. If someone were to quote you on that, you'd look like an ass as well.

And you sure as hell didn't invent the transistor OR have the ability to save some of our environment. The only driving back seat moralists do, is drive me crazy.
posted by flippant at 3:58 PM on May 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


I find all these concerns quite base.
posted by 7segment at 3:59 PM on May 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


tran sister hookers gotta be expensive

Power amplification, switches, multiple connections... back in the day, trans sisters were hella expensive. Now that it's all solid state, you can fit a dozen tran sisters on the head of a... PIN number number. On the plus side, though, most tran sisters are integrated nowadays.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 3:59 PM on May 18, 2009


Do you know we have a state named after a confirmed slave owner?

Lets not even get into the portraits of slave holders most Americans carry in their wallets alongside pics of the grandkids.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 4:00 PM on May 18, 2009


tran sister hookers gotta be expensive

Power amplification, switches, multiple connections... back in the day, trans sisters were hella expensive. Now that it's all solid state, you can fit a dozen tran sisters on the head of a... PIN number number. On the plus side, though, most tran sisters are integrated nowadays.


...must do that George Alec Effinger post...
posted by Artw at 4:00 PM on May 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


If it's like every other park in America, poor people will have sex in it.
posted by Astro Zombie at 4:02 PM on May 18, 2009 [9 favorites]


Oh, also, New York was named after England's Duke of York.
posted by Flunkie at 4:02 PM on May 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Sure. Take it and name the park after the guy. But reserve the right to a last laugh and put up huge bronze statues of famous rappers like Tupac and Biggie.
posted by tkchrist at 4:04 PM on May 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


I think if I were Shockley's family I would instead demand that the space have exactly three trailheads, labeled emitter, base, and collector.
posted by Rhomboid at 4:05 PM on May 18, 2009 [13 favorites]


Oh, also, New York was named after England's Duke of York.

This guy? Oh wait, nevermind.
posted by dead cousin ted at 4:06 PM on May 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Why don't they name it the "Nobel Laureate William B. Shockley And His Wife Emmy L. Shockley are Much More Gullible Than Stephen Jay Gould Memorial Park." Gotta include the wikipedia link, too.
posted by muddgirl at 4:07 PM on May 18, 2009


I would say it's less racism (though it's that) and more early-onset Alzheimer's. I mean, the man was mentally ill. This was not a well-thought out plan, it was a crazy guy who got a lot of press because he won a Nobel before he lost his mind.

Just take the darn park.
posted by GuyZero at 4:11 PM on May 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


is a bigot trying to bully others even from the grave

I saw him speak on Geraldo one time. It was pathetic. Why his family let him appear on TV is a mystery. He should have been in institutional care as he was very, very clearly in the throes of dementia. He's no more a bully than that guy down the hall who screams at the orderlies.
posted by GuyZero at 4:14 PM on May 18, 2009


I think it's ironic that a man who was so concerned about genetic superiority and sterilizing the "inferior" would donate sperm at such an old age when studies show the increased likelihood of mental disability in offspring.
posted by ryaninoakland at 4:20 PM on May 18, 2009


Park and move on.
posted by darth_tedious at 4:21 PM on May 18, 2009


But could the Internet even exist as we know it without the invention of the tranny.
posted by digsrus at 4:24 PM on May 18, 2009 [4 favorites]


I find it rather amusing that we're using devices comprised largely of transistors to criticize him.
posted by Malor at 4:25 PM on May 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Darn you, digsrus. :-)
posted by Malor at 4:28 PM on May 18, 2009


Nobody is perfect. Granted, racism is (now) considered very offensive, but it was more or less subconscious back then.

Shockley did his work on racial inferiority in the 1970s and 80s. It wasn't subconscious at all; he spent considerable time and energy on ideas and projects in racist eugenics.
posted by mr_roboto at 4:36 PM on May 18, 2009 [5 favorites]


My hometown used to be called Berlin. Then, in World War I, it was decided that it wasn't cool to be German, so they changed the name to Kitchener. This was in honour of Herbert Kitchener, who sent thousands to die in concentration camps in South Africa. You can't win.
posted by Schlimmbesserung at 4:36 PM on May 18, 2009 [3 favorites]


tran sister hookers gotta be expensive

$20, SAIT.
posted by rtha at 4:40 PM on May 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


I'd simply ask : Did his actions intentionally & explicitly harm the civil rights movement? A few examples might be aiding the Nazis, joining the KKK, writing racist literature, etc. I'd say just see how the racists quoted him, you know they'll have found the most inflammatory parts.
posted by jeffburdges at 4:43 PM on May 18, 2009


Nitpick: The bequeath bequest came with one condition...
posted by robcorr at 4:54 PM on May 18, 2009


Refuse the gift and then take it under eminent domain

That suggestion is quite possibly as evil as anything Shockley ever said or did. Arguing that the conditions of acceptance are just too odious, fine. But eminent domain has enough problems when there's a genuine compelling interest; seizing property as a kind of speech/social statement would add a whole new dimension of problems that would make those associated with things like flag-burning laws look tiny by comparison.

Then again, I'm in the "give the man the park" category. Not only out of recognition for his significant achievements. I almost think our culture could actually stand to have reasons to think about the fact that many people -- maybe even many "great" people -- are mixed baskets of good and evil, effective and ineffective, and that it turns out you can be really quite smart, even make serious contributions in your profession or to society at large... and still be pretty wrong about important things. A park named after him isn't going to interfere with that kind of understanding, and it's certainly possible it might contribute.
posted by weston at 5:10 PM on May 18, 2009 [7 favorites]


William B. Shockley was not a racist. He was a scientist, who believed that the current reproductive patterns of the world were having a dsygenic effect on the human population. Given:This is a credible. Of course, there is evidence to the contrary, such as the Flynn effect.

Shockley never believed that all black people were stupid, or should be prevented from reproducing. He believed that people of below average intelligence should be incentivized to reproduce less. Given his beliefs, this is actually the most humane and reasonable way to solve what he saw as a very serious threat to the future of humanity.

Shockley did believe in a link between race and intelligence, but this too is an open question. Shockley was a scientist first and foremost, and remained one to his death. Given evidence to debunk his beliefs, he would have let them go. He died in 1989 without ever seeing such evidence. That evidence still doesn't exist today.

I'm certainly not saying Shockley was right. I just think he isn't getting a fair shake in this thread, and equating his beliefs with those of the KKK, Nazis, etc. is unfair. Shockley simply didn't like stupid people, regardless of their color, class, or creed.

Note: I had never actually heard of Shockley before this thread, and most of this was just from reading Wikipedia. If I'm way off and he actually did want to kill all black people: whoops.
posted by christonabike at 5:22 PM on May 18, 2009 [11 favorites]


Shockley simply didn't like stupid people, regardless of their color, class, or creed.

From what I've read by other people who worked for Shockley, he was kind of an asshole since always. I don't think any of the "traitorous eight" missed him at all after they left.
posted by GuyZero at 5:30 PM on May 18, 2009


preemptive note - the state was named after its founder's father, not after its founder, so I don't believe "he was a Quaker" is a valid objection to the possibility that he was a slaveowner

Random historical fact: Quakers owned slaves too. They just came to the conclusion that it was wrong a lot sooner than most.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 5:39 PM on May 18, 2009


You know who else advocated and practiced eugenics?
Bzzt. Wrong, sorry.
posted by _dario at 5:58 PM on May 18, 2009


I say accept the land under the conditions, or refuse it and do whatever his will had intended to happen if it was refused (go to his kin, etc). But don't try to scam and finagle to get the park anyway.
posted by stifford at 6:06 PM on May 18, 2009


"The Auburn Recreation District was unaware of Shockley's other infamies, and is unsure now about how to proceed with the donated land."

This is stupid. They should do the right thing, take the land, and make a park of it.

The area is *ALREADY* called Shockley Woods, alongside of Shockley Road. Do they think that making it a public park is going to change that?
posted by markkraft at 6:06 PM on May 18, 2009


"I don't think any of the "traitorous eight" missed him at all after they left."

Whooooaaaa, let's leave Battlestar Galactica out of this.
posted by mecran01 at 6:12 PM on May 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


I like the upper class feel that "Nobel Laureate" gives to his name and the sense of ownership that "his wife" gives to her name. More parks should reflect the world's gender imbalances in their names.
posted by Joey Michaels at 6:21 PM on May 18, 2009


Put a huge statue in the middle. The plaque would say: "In honor of William Shockley, for the invention of the transistor - which brought about such technologies as the portable amplified radio" The statue should be a huge black dude with a boombox, straight out of a Spike Lee movie.

Funny and favorite-worthy indeed, but strangely not far from the truth with regards to the opinion of one of the transistor's co-inventors, Walter Brattain:

''The thing I deplore most,'' he said in later years, ''is the use of solid-state electronics by rock musicians to raise the level of sound to where it is both painful and injurious.''
posted by Tube at 6:24 PM on May 18, 2009


"Nature has color-coded groups of individuals so that statistically reliable predictions of their adaptability to intellectual rewarding and effective lives can easily be made and profitably used by the pragmatic man-in-the street," said Shockley.

He made this claim at a meeting of the American Psychological Association in 1971. That is to say, not too long before even George motherfucking Wallace was publicly disavowing institutionalized racism. To hell with Shockley, transistor or no transistor.

If the people of Auburn simply must have their park, I hope they follow this suggestion:

How about making the 13-word name even longer, [District Board member Gordon] Ainsleigh suggested, by adding the phrase: "Dedicated in 2009, the year when Barack Obama, a man of black African ancestry, took office as president of the United States."

"I like that a lot," Ainsleigh said. "I can only hope that Shockley is somewhere looking down and squirming."

posted by DaDaDaDave at 6:40 PM on May 18, 2009 [3 favorites]


Man, those inventors sure were pricks.
posted by dead cousin ted at 6:41 PM on May 18, 2009


Shockley didn't even really "invent" the transistor. He was just the manager. It was Bardeen all the way....
posted by mr_roboto at 6:51 PM on May 18, 2009


why I love MetaFilter:
you can parse posts/words like no other
you can curse along with the best
you say this but you mean that
you fake left/go right or maybe the other way around
and, last but not least, you always leave me wondering what's next.

Oh, and so as to stay on topic, let them call National/State/Regional Parks anything but Late for Dinner, just let there be as many of them as an be allowed.

For those of you lucky enough to live in northern California, the East Bay Regional Parks District is the oldest os such. Sorry, no link. You will have to do the busy work yourselves.
posted by emhutchinson at 7:36 PM on May 18, 2009


Random historical fact: Quakers owned slaves too. They just came to the conclusion that it was wrong a lot sooner than most.

*Frees remaining slaves, in hopes of escaping Mefite censure.*
posted by A dead Quaker at 8:38 PM on May 18, 2009 [12 favorites]


...but what do I do if my live-in slave doesn't want to be free?!
posted by markkraft at 9:22 PM on May 18, 2009


How dare they name Napoleon's Tomb after Napoleon...

Give Marcel Marceau the nod!
posted by markkraft at 9:25 PM on May 18, 2009


The statue should be a huge black dude with a boombox, straight out of a Spike Lee movie.

So he should be a dude? And he should be huge? With a boombox?

I-I-I dunno, sounds kinda racist.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 9:50 PM on May 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


How many things in this country are named after John D. Rockefeller? Few remember the Ludlow Massacre.
posted by limon at 10:00 PM on May 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Because of William Shockley, Barack Obama was able to coordinate millions of supporters and become the first black President of the United States of America. So really, there should be a statue of Obama with the words "thanks to William Shockley". On the plus side, it'll totally piss off Republicans!

the state was named after its founder's father, not after its founder, so I don't believe "he was a Quaker" is a valid objection to the possibility that he was a slaveowner

Plus, if my 7th grade "History of Pennsylvania" class was any indication, William Penn was a Quaker sort of like Richard Nixon was a Quaker.
posted by dirigibleman at 10:25 PM on May 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


flippant: Nobody is perfect. Granted, racism is (now) considered very offensive, but it was more or less subconscious back then.

This is sort of a side-issue, but I want to say:

I know that this idea—the idea that we in our time are superior in general to the peoples of the past, and that we understand and reject evils which to them were simple facts of life—is a common one; and it's an understandable idea, given that society has made advances in many ways over the last fifty years. However, it seems to me that it is somewhat provincial, in the sense T.S. Eliot meant in this passage of his 1944 essay “What Is a Classic?” which is worth quoting:

In our age, when men seem more than ever prone to confuse wisdom with knowledge, and knowledge with information, and to try to solve problems of life in terms of engineering, there is coming into existence a new kind of provincialism which perhaps deserves a new name. It is a provincialism, not of space, but of time; one for which history is merely the chronicle of human devices which have served their turn and been scrapped, one for which the world is the property solely of the living, a property in which the dead hold no shares. The menace of this kind of provincialism is that we can all, all the peoples on the globe, be provincials together; and those who are not content to be provincials, can only become hermits.

It's easy to believe that racism was merely an unquestioned way of life for the white people in the past; it is part of our larger neglect of the past, a part which, I might add, is particularly convenient for us white people. As long as our grandparents and great-grandparents were just 'living in a racist time' and we just forget about it, we don't have to go through the painful and difficult process of facing what they did and dealing with it.

In the simplest terms: racism was not, and has never been, subconscious. It has always been a conscious act, something human beings do to each other. In a sense, it represents a lack consciousness, but it's not something anybody has every done without seeing clearly the consequences. Real racism takes the proper schooling; as Oscar Hammerstein put it so aptly sixty years ago, in 1949:

You've got to be taught
To hate and to fear;
You've got to be taught
From year to year—
It's got to be drummed in your dear little ear!
You've got to be carefully taught.

You've got to be taught
To be afraid
Of people whose eyes
are oddly made,
And people whose skin is a different shade—
You've got to be carefully taught.

You've got to be taught
Before it's too late—
Before you are 6 or 7 or 8—
To hate all the people your relatives hate;
You've got to be carefully taught.


Or look to that essential scene in Flannery O'Connor's great work “The Artificial Nigger” where the old man shows the boy a black man and says, "you know what that is?" The boy says: "A tall man?" No. "A well-dressed man?" No. "A skinny man?" No. "Then what is he?" And the old man says: "Don't you know a nigger when you see one?" Racism has to be taught; it's not a natural state, and it's not something we simply absorb, it's a habit which we have to learn from our parents.

I guess what I'm coming around to is this: racism is a moral failing, and that doesn't change just because we're talking about people of the past. It is just as much a fault in them as it is in us.
posted by koeselitz at 11:19 PM on May 18, 2009 [6 favorites]


"He invented the transistor" might be what the Shockley family tells themselves but according to wikipedia:
The first patent[1] for the field-effect transistor principle was filed in Canada by Austrian-Hungarian physicist Julius Edgar Lilienfeld on October 22, 1925, but Lilienfeld published no research articles about his devices, and they were ignored by industry. In 1934 German physicist Dr. Oskar Heil patented another field-effect transistor[2]. There is no direct evidence that these devices were built, but later work in the 1990s show that one of Lilienfeld's designs worked as described and gave substantial gain. Legal papers from the Bell Labs patent show that William Shockley and a co-worker at Bell Labs, Gerald Pearson, had built operational versions from Lilienfeld's patents, yet they never referenced this work in any of their later research papers or historical articles. [3]
So all he did was read some German patents and implement their ideas. Figures that a dumbass racist would pass off other people's work as their own.
posted by delmoi at 11:30 PM on May 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


William B. Shockley was not a racist. He was a scientist, who believed that the current reproductive patterns of the world were having a dsygenic effect on the human population. Given:
· the negative correlation between IQ and reproduction
· the heritability of IQ

So in other words, he was a racist.

Anyway, this idiot was running around spouting this crap in the 1980s there's no historical absolution here. He was a racist, and proud of it. Fuck 'em.
posted by delmoi at 11:39 PM on May 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


That's well said, but I'm not sure I agree with all of it. Attitudes toward others are taught, yes, but as part of one's culture. One is seldom completely aware or conscious of one's cultural influences, just as a fish is n't completely conscious of the water in which it lives.

A hundred years ago, the culture in many parts of the US, for example, simply did not reverberate with the harmonies of equality the way they do today. We may well condemn someone for failing to hear those subtle and sporadic strains back then, but probably not with the same fervor that we could call people to account nowadays, when the instrument is playing much more loudly.

One fervently hopes that a hundred years from now, people will be able to say the same about us.
posted by darkstar at 11:40 PM on May 18, 2009


(responding to keselitz, above)
posted by darkstar at 11:41 PM on May 18, 2009


darkstar: A hundred years ago, the culture in many parts of the US, for example, simply did not reverberate with the harmonies of equality the way they do today. We may well condemn someone for failing to hear those subtle and sporadic strains back then, but probably not with the same fervor that we could call people to account nowadays, when the instrument is playing much more loudly.

But that's what I'm saying—there is no culture*, first of all, and there are no harmonies, no subtle and sporadic strains. I have never seen a good reason to hold to this weirdly Hegelian view of history as a progression upward to glory and righteousness. No one hears mystical voices, and history is not guided by unseen hands; it's just a progression of people living and working and thinking and dying.

Avoiding racism is, in part, about education and about exposure, that much is true; the education we receive gives us the condition we need to have group-feeling for all human beings. But a condition is not causation—just because we're given the opportunity to avoid racism, we don't necessarily do it, since that much is on us alone.

But racism isn't just miseducation; it's a disdain for one's fellow-creatures, and decent, good human beings have always been against racism. I believe that it's possible to point to non-racists in every time and every era; unfortunately, our grandparents and great-grandparents didn't do humanity justice, but this doesn't change the situation as a whole. The point is that I believe there have been whole societies in the past that were founded on non-racist foundations; and there have been whole societies that were as racist as could be. The men in them chose what they chose, but they didn't have to wait for the 'harmonies' of equality to reach their ears; anyone who considers what decency to other human beings, really faces it, comes to the same conclusion.
posted by koeselitz at 12:59 AM on May 19, 2009


William B. Shockley was not a racist. He was a scientist, who believed that the current reproductive patterns of the world were having a dsygenic effect on the human population. Given:
· the negative correlation between IQ and reproduction
· the heritability of IQ


1. These are really very big givens. For example, just after most of these eugenic tracts were produced we had the Second World War and the post-war baby boom, when the middle classes (the "high IQ" population) suddenly bred very fast. See also upper-middle-class people with lots of children, high infant mortality amongst the poor, the demographic shift, and so on. And that's not even looking at IQ...

2. The givens don't logically lead to racism in a strictly eugenic sense. If you were a pure IQ eugenicist, you'd decide on your criteria based on some kind of IQ testing regime: you wouldn't use skin colour as a proxy because you would find, as always, that variation within groups is greater than variation between groups. So melanin is not a useful proxy for IQ, it does not have sufficient predictive power, and you're being simply unscientific if you use it.

Really, even if you are an evil take-over-the-world madman, unless you're a dumb take-over-the-world madman, using skin colour for IQ is stupid and unscientific. Even if you did successfully steal the plans for the transistor from a German and get a Nobel prize.

Remember, "scientist" is not a holy priest class. Just because you're good on one area of science (transistors, physics, maths) does not mean you're any good at any area (population genetics, biblical truth, evolution.) Shockley could be both a brilliant scientist in one area and a complete idiot in another. Both endeavours, of course, served by his high IQ...
posted by alasdair at 1:06 AM on May 19, 2009


Remember, "scientist" is not a holy priest class.

No duh. That's a druid.
posted by rokusan at 2:36 AM on May 19, 2009


Everyone around Boston usually refers to the Leonard P. Zakim-Bunker Hill Memorial Bridge as "the Zakim bridge" or "Bunker Hill Bridge."

I think the park should be named as specified, then everyone should be encouraged to refer to it as "Nobel Park." Mapmakers are not going to put that long, self-serving title on their products, and they too can be lobbied to call it Nobel Park.

Eventually, Shockley won't be associated with the park in anyone's mind. Instead, they will associate it with an inventor of high explosives.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:10 AM on May 19, 2009


How about using cy pres?
posted by djgh at 3:43 AM on May 19, 2009


koeselitz, perhaps my use of somewhat poetic verbiage has triggered in you a response to something that isn't there. It is strange to me that you simply dismiss the effects of culture out of hand as "weirdly Hegelian", as if you felt people were, or should be, somehow immune from subconsciously being influenced by culture.

There are fairly codifiable, concrete examples of how culture influences people, as well as ways in which it is not so easily codified. When more and more newspapers are willing to carry stories of injustice, when more and more people speak out against racism, there develops a critical mass, or at least a minimal context, in which a child growing up at least has a chance to be influenced by other than a culture of racism. When I was growing up in Georgia 40 years ago, that chance was much, much less than it would be for a child there today.

To somehow suggest that I, in my youth, had absolutely equal moral opportunity to see racism for what it was as compared to a child of today completely ignores environmental influences on development of values. Similarly, the environment that my father grew up in 70 years ago in Alabama was markedly different than the one I grew up in. Sure, one can be absolutely reductionist about morality, but to do so requires being willfully blind to the context and culture in which people live.

People, as you say, must be taught what's right and wrong. One's culture is the most pervasive teacher there is. If it is inimical to racial equality, then perhaps we can cut a little bit of slack to someone who doesn't have your or my sensibilities, even as we condemn the racism they may espouse. There is, after all, a difference between ignorance and evil.
posted by darkstar at 5:55 AM on May 19, 2009


Or, at least, to my mind there is a difference between being ignorant and being evil. But that indicates my own cultural values.

I accept that some may prefer to believe that if people are ignorant, they must be willfully so and that this equates to evil in their eyes. That, in essence, if people are a part of a racist culture, there are no gray areas and they must be willfully and completely consciously, in your words, disdainful of their fellow creatures.
posted by darkstar at 6:20 AM on May 19, 2009


Perhaps they should open the park, and name it as he saw fit.

Then have two signed entrances - one for blacks, and one for whites. And keep the one for whites shut. Anybody who wanted to fetishize his less savoury views would have the choice of going through that gate, or not going in at all.

FWIW, I don't have a dog in this race, but I do sometimes wonder why it seems completely normal to accept that the 100m Olympic final is exclusively contested by Afro-European, Afro-Carribean and Afro-American sprinters but opening up the question that any other genetically inherited advantages may affect one race more than other makes you, automatically, a racist.*

* note: I am emphatically not trying to open up the bell curve debate: I'm just pointing out that if someone told me that, it was genetic advantage over white Europeans, it wouldn't automatically strike me as a pejorative racist comment to white Europeans.
posted by MuffinMan at 6:28 AM on May 19, 2009


One final thought, as it occurs to me: it is interesting how taking a willful, conscious position to reduce morality to stark elements seems to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. That, in order to assume others must harbor conscious and intentional disdain for others because there is no middle ground for them to possibly occupy, one is required to take a position that, itself, allows for no middle ground to occupy and is the result of a conscious, intentional disdain for the complexity of their context.

I just guess it's true that we often project our own worldview and attitudes onto other people. I'm sure I often do.
posted by darkstar at 6:28 AM on May 19, 2009


Oh Auburn...

The little city up the road from us has little going for it. Just a few minutes away in the sweltering valley we overturned our own park-founding eugenicist as the locals up the hill have noticed.
posted by Ogre Lawless at 10:12 AM on May 19, 2009


I'm just pointing out that if someone told me that, it was genetic advantage over white Europeans, it wouldn't automatically strike me as a pejorative racist comment to white Europeans.

A couple points:

1) Read The Mismeasure of Man, by Stephen Jay Gould. It clearly and completely debunks the notion of a singular, genetic, heritable "intelligence". It goes on to debunk the idea that white people are genetically more "intelligent" than black people.

2) The problem with racist statements like the ones made by Shockley is not that they advocate genetic differences between different ethnicities. The problem is that Shockley takes those differences and creates a bogus hierarchy with White People characteristics at the top and Black People characteristics at or near the bottom, then goes on to say that we should preferentially breed White People to improve humanity. It's like advocating that we sterilize all the blue-eyed people because everyone knows that brown-eyed people are superior mentally.
posted by muddgirl at 11:57 AM on May 19, 2009


The point is that I believe there have been whole societies in the past that were founded on non-racist foundations..

koeselitz

Can you amplify? I'm just (non-snarkily) trying to figure out what you're referring to.
posted by Jody Tresidder at 12:19 PM on May 19, 2009


All this makes me wonder what our enlightened descendants, 200 (or 100, or 50, or even 20) years hence, will think of our attitudes to certain things.

Face it - we're largely products of our upbringing, just as Shockley was. We only think we're enlightened because we have some attitudes that are a quarter-step beyond those of our forebears. We've got a long way to go, and we can't see more than a little bit ahead.

Are you prepared to be excoriated for your attitude and lifestyle by the people of 2209, or even 2059? Because we almost certainly will be...
posted by Pinback at 4:18 PM on May 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


Are you prepared to be excoriated for your attitude and lifestyle by the people of 2209, or even 2059? Because we almost certainly will be...

I guess I'm prepared. I expect I'll be dead by then, so I wouldn't get to care too much. I'd also hope that society will have progressed so that people in 2059 would have to have something worthwhile to excoriate us for. I can already come up with a few things that these future Earthlings should hate us for — wasting natural resources, for one — and I hope they get to live to have the chance to do so. That's progress.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:28 PM on May 19, 2009


My point exactly - we have the luxury of being able to make assessments on the past, and what do we do with it? We judge it harshly based on current mores, not those that existed at the time. It's also complicated by the fact that human lifespans act as a delay between development of attitudes by (for sake of argument) age 15, and implementation of those attitudes (age 20-90).

To be completely fair to Shockley, we shouldn't judge him by the attitudes of 2009 (where he fails badly), or even those of the 1940's or 50's (where his views weren't particularly out of the ordinary). We should be judging him by the attitudes that prevailed in the 1920's-30's. Doesn't mean you have to like his beliefs, but it does mean that you have to accept that it is what it is. Celebrate the advancement if you like, but don't hate the past for being the past - there, but for the grace of God, go I, etc. As you say, "that's progress".

I recognise he was a racist dick, but I don't hate him for it. I do think he was dumb for persisting in trying to prove he was right in the face of mounting evidence suggesting he was wrong. However, this is all tangential to the post...

(Another interesting aside: look into the connection between eugenics and the development of formal 'marriage counselling' by Paul Popenoe in the 50's...)
posted by Pinback at 6:10 PM on May 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


(Oops - 1930's, not 50's)
posted by Pinback at 6:15 PM on May 19, 2009


We judge it harshly based on current mores

Sometimes those "current mores" are a mark of genuine progress — such as progress towards racial harmony. I don't think we're going back to segregation any time soon. Sometimes, perhaps, it's better to recognize progress and politely say, "No, thank you," than to look the other way and take the free shit.

If it was me, living in Auburn as a public official, I'd no more want a fairly bitter and vocal racist dividing my community with his post-departure "gift" than I'd want a Hans Reiser domestic violence clinic in Oakland, or a Timothy McVeigh daycare center in Oklahoma City.

These judgements are harsh, maybe, but I'd rather turn those gifts away than let those individuals keep pushing buttons. I think society can move on without them.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:35 PM on May 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


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