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They do not relate to the present any more than they relate to the person.

I came across this sentence from the book The Fire Next Time and just couldn’t understand it. Than would indicate some sort of comparison, but it's not a construction I've come across before.

How do I interpret “they do not X any more than they Y”?

A fuller context that may be more helpful here:

The person who distrusts himself has no touchstone for reality—for this touchstone can be only oneself. Such a person interposes between himself and reality nothing less than a labyrinth of attitudes. And these attitudes, furthermore, though the person is usually unaware of it (is unaware of so much!), are historical and public attitudes. They do not relate to the present any more than they relate to the person. Therefore, whatever white people do not know about Negroes reveals, precisely and inexorably, what they do not know about themselves. [from page 57 of The Fire Next Time, see the Goodreads quotes page ]

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    The expression is a basically a different way of saying "and (equally)". For example: I don't like beer any more than I like wine means I don't like beer and I don't like wine (I dislike them both equally).
    – Shoe
    Feb 21, 2021 at 11:39
  • Compare ell.stackexchange.com/questions/275725/… Feb 21, 2021 at 11:46
  • What @Shoe said. But note that to some extent this usage is an "idiom". The literal meaning of the words simply asserts that the extent of (negated) attribute / activity X is not greater than that of Y. Which in principle allows for X to be less than Y, and it doesn't explicitly say anything about the absolute level of either X or Y. But the idiomatic use of “not X any more than Y” always implies that both are uncommon / untrue. In practice, the second attribute (Y) is often something which all parties to the conversation know is false/rare. Feb 21, 2021 at 12:17
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    The actual X an Y would make this easier to explain.
    – Jontia
    Apr 7, 2021 at 16:01
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Many of the comments and earlier answers seem to suffer from insufficient context. A fuller quote is:

And these attitudes, furthermore, though the person is usually unaware of it (is unaware of so much!), are historical and public attitudes. They do not relate to the present any more than they relate to the person.

Here Baldwin is saying that these attitudes -- which, he says, a person who is not self-trusting adopts -- are not attitudes primarily about the present moment, nor about that individual person. (That is the "do not relate to the present any more than they relate to the person" part) Instead, he says that the attitudes are "historical", that is long established, and public, that is widely shared. So when he writes:

They do not relate to the present any more than they relate to the person.

he means that they are neither of the current moment nor individual, instead they are the product of a long historical process, and are part of a shared culture.

So in this case "They are no more X than Y" means "They are neither X nor Y, but instead are A and B". Such an expression will not always have this sort of meaning, context is needed to understand such an expression accurately.

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It could be that the sentence is describing two different things that a group of people do not do. This could be to show positives and negatives or to emphasise a single draw back.

So a group of monks who had taken a vow of silence could be described;

They do not tell jokes any more than they scream at each other.

Or a you could describe (toolless) human being as;

They do not fly any more than they can breathe underwater.

Or an aeroplane broken in half;

It will not fly any more than it will keep the cold out.

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I've heard this expression a lot. It means:

X isn't better than Y (to put in simple terms) the two are good for nothing.

Example:

Let say X is a idiot and Y's a ugly person

"not that idiot more than ugly" I'd prefer none.

Here is where things get tricky most times it used to compare bad but few very time its used to compare good. Depending on the story, try discerning which one to use.

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