If Cultural Appropriation is Wrong, What About Technological Appropriation?

If you haven’t been living underground or on the moon for the last decade, probably you’ve heard of cultural appropriation. It’s a word critical theorists invented for when white European people adopt elements of other cultures in a way considered insufficiently respectful.

In practice, it’s a means of exclusion. It’s the sentiment that the people I hate should stay on their side of the line and not touch any of my nice things with their dirty hands. People who harbor no racial hatreds have never once complained about cultural appropriation.

Case in point, the polite indifference of average Japanese citizens to the casting of a white actress (Scarlett Johansson) in the lead role of Ghost in the Shell:

The people you hear harping on about cultural appropriation are the ones who hate white people for one reason or another, and so are provoked by the sight of a white person engaging with their culture to any degree at all. To them, it feels like an unwanted intrusion.

A related question which is not often asked, however, is “what about technological appropriation”? If PoC hold the right to deny access to art, music, food, clothing and other aspects of their culture, do white Europeans and Americans have the right to deny access to their many important inventions?

I once had occasion to ask a social justice warrior about this. The gist of their reply was that cultural appropriation is real and a problem, whereas technological appropriation isn’t a thing. Their reasons were many, including that in their opinion there isn’t a disrespectful way to technologically appropriate, and that white Europeans do not have a monopoly on invention.

That’s true of course, and the reason for this article which argues against white people appropriating PoC technological innovations. How about that? Anybody can appropriate white American/European inventions, but European descended people cannot appropriate anything invented by PoC.

The examples of PoC inventions are predictably dire, like peanut butter and low rider modificiation of automobiles. I think we could do without those things, besides which George Washington Carver did not actually invent peanut butter as we were all taught growing up. Much like Kwanzaa, it was fabricated to improve the self esteem of African American students. A black inventor is responsible for the Super Soaker, however. Why not teach us about that?

By contrast, just about every invention associated with modernity came from the minds of white Americans and Europeans. Television, computers, the internet, spaceflight, robotics, DNA sequencing, lasers, the list goes on. This is the real reason why the social justice crowd denies the legitimacy of technological appropriation as a concept.

There’s a reason why around the world, business is conducted in western style skyscrapers and business suits. Why offices all more or less follow the western standard as well. An office in Japan, Africa or India looks very much like an office in the US or Europe. The whole world is using electrical and internet infrastructure invented in the US.

The US leads the world in spaceflight, with Russia close behind. When China managed to send humans into space for the first time, they did it in a blatant copy of the Soyuz:

Shenzhou

Soyuz

None of this matters to the mind of a social justice warrior, because it isn’t useful to their narrative. It’s difficult to paint an entire race of people as demons who are responsible for everything wrong in the world on a computer they invented, using the internet they invented. When you’re surrounded by modern amenities invented by a race you’re committed to vilifying, some degree of mental gymnastics are required to square that circle.

In this case, a double standard they make no serious attempt to justify: PoC can deny white people access to their culture and technology but white inventions are public domain, free for anybody’s use in perpetuity. That doesn’t seem terribly fair to me, but then social justice was never actually about fairness in the first place.

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