Those of you who remember our discussion of System Justification Theory will recall that it posits (and goes on to demonstrate) that there are three overriding domains by which we guard our self-worth: ego motivation (“I like me”), group motivation (“I like us”) and system justifying motivation (“I like the way things are”). The balancing of these three motivations explains a great deal of behaviours that seem counter-intuitive or self-defeating, particularly in circumstances where power imbalances between groups are concerned.
When we consider race as a power imbalance, we would expect to find that the majority group is strongly motivated to preserve its ego when the fairness of the system is at risk. In other words, when confronted with a world that is clearly racist, there is considerable psychological pressure for members of the majority group to salvage their ego – the stereotypical “I’m not a racist” response. With the threat to our egos thus avoided, members of majority groups are then free to continue participating in an unfair system, confident in the knowledge that the ‘real’ problem is those ‘other’ people.
A fascinating new study from the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology sheds some light on the depths to which this behaviour can sink: … Continue Reading
One of the oft-made claims by self-styled Libertarians is that ‘taxes are theft’ (and are therefore ‘bad’). This kind of assertion underpins most of the Libertarian position, and also the bulk of any anti-tax/pro-small-government arguments by folks of any political stripe. Unfortunately, it’s rare to hear this position defended as the self-styled Libertarians don’t seem all that well-read with regards to their own literature.
In the 1950s and 1960s, Ayn Rand was gaining prominence, but there were no Philosophers backing her corner, partially because she spouted utter drivel and partially because to side with Rand was engage in self-loathing (Rand was notoriously anti-Philosophy/ers).
Enter Robert Nozick, with his tome “Anarchy, State and Utopia”. Nozick is well-regarded in Philosophy for articulating what was inarticulate, and defending the generally indefensible. Nozick sketched out the Libertarian claims, largely as a response to John Rawls’s defense of Social Justice, and, well… His arguments are not obviously terrible (as much as we may disagree with them). His arguments are certainly compelling, if you have a tendency to ignore all counter-arguments to your position. But hey, that’s the human condition, right?
So let’s dive in. And hold your nose (and your breath), because Nozick doesn’t make the argument that ‘taxes are theft’. Nope: “Taxation of earnings from labor is on par with forced labor.” Yeah, he went there.
… Continue Reading
Occasionally, I see people invoking ‘shame’* as a strategy to some end. That people ‘should be ashamed for doing shameful things’ and that ‘shaming people for doing shameful things is good’. I have to admit that I find this mindset somewhat baffling, for a number of reasons.
Without getting into the ins and outs of what shame ‘is’, exactly, I think we can agree that shame is a negative feeling we have in certain situations, related to/overlapping with guilt, or to just generally ‘feeling bad’*. I think that ‘feeling bad’ captures a wide range of situations, but the word ‘shame’ applies when the ‘feeling bad’ is in response to a social response (or a projected potential social response) to an action we just did. An illustration: a child breaks a window and feels shame, even though no-one is around, because that child projects how people will react to her breaking that window. (This article is an extremely simplified overview. For a far more in-depth and technical article, see end note. For those of you with a background in Psychology: I am intentionally conflating guilt/shame/embarrassment as these terms are often conflated in the vernacular. This article is not intended to be an explanation of the difference between those things, but an argument against trying to evoke that group of emotional responses)
There are two important criteria to be evaluated when trying to determine whether or not a particular tactic is ‘good’.
- Is it effective? Given the goal that I want to achieve, does using this tactic actually move me towards that goal? Is effective in the long-term, or only in the short-term?
- Is it ethical? If the tactic is, itself, harmful, and there is no other less-harmful effective option, then yes this tactic may well be the least unethical choice. Conversely, if there are other less-harmful effective options, then the use of this tactic is unethical.
… Continue Reading
Because of the way in which the conversation has been traditionally framed and understood, we face a serious reluctance to identify all but the most egregious examples of racism in common parlance. To be sure, there are those of us who make a habit of exploring the racial component of every human interaction under the sun (and what exactly do you mean by ‘under the sun’?). To discuss racism properly is to be involved in a constantly-evolving conversation that explores all angles of an issue without falling too definitively hard on any one position (at least without acknowledging the other positions).
When racist behaviour carries with it the (apparently immense) threat of being labeled ‘a racist’, the emotional stakes are quite high before a claim will be accepted as having any merit at all. Absent a fMRI and sworn testimony by a panel of psychics, people are prone to deny the racist component of any behaviour they may have exhibited, and will jump to the immediate defense of any admired person who is thus accused. On comes the search for a loophole – any loophole – that provides enough cover to escape having to confront the harm that those behaviours have.
Most people don’t have time for the kind of near-constant scrutiny and encyclopaedic historical knowledge required to identify all instances of racism. Whereas those of us in visible minority positions are made more aware of racism by the mere fact that we are more likely to experience it, I would venture to guess that within any race-based story there is a subset of even the affected minority group that says “now you’re just overreacting”. Depending on how convoluted or specific the issue, this dissenting group may encompass all minority group members except a few dedicated academics. … Continue Reading
As I mentioned in my summary of my experience at Eschaton2012 in Ottawa, I had a brief exchange after my presentation with biologist ad blogger Larry Moran. He took me to task for a statement that I made during my presentation, in which I asserted that race is not a biologically-defined reality, but rather a socially-derived construct. In response, Larry had this to say:
My position is that the term “race” is used frequently to describe sub-populations of species, or groups that have been genetically isolated from each other1 for many generations. By this definition, races exist in humans just as they do in many other species.
The genetic evidence shows clearly that Africans form a distinctive, but somewhat polyphyletic, group that differs from the people living outside of Africa. Amongst the non-Africans, we recognize two major sub-groups; Europeans and Asians. I see no reason why these major sub-populations don’t qualify as races in the biological sense. Please read: Do Human Races Exist?.
I don’t think that denying the existence of races is going to make racism go away. Nor do I think that accepting the existence of biological races is going to foster racism.
I think that most of my disagreement with Dr. Moran (or perhaps more accurately his disagreement with me) is a product of a number of things. The first and most obvious one is my lack of familiarity with the full scope of the genetic literature when it comes to human beings and their (our) descendent trees. The second seems to be an unfortunate result of the time limit of the presentation and the imprecision of the language I chose. The third one is a bit more complicated, but has largely to do with what evidence we are using to arrive at a definition. I will discuss each of these issues in detail, with the hope of clarifying the problem. … Continue Reading
I don’t have herpes. This may come as a shock to those of you who think, for some reason, that I had herpes. But I don’t. I had chicken pox when I was a kid, though. I don’t remember it, but my dad says I didn’t particularly enjoy it at the time. I was rashy and irritable and generally miserable. But, like you do, I got better and didn’t have chicken pox anymore. A buddy of mine had chicken pox when he was a kid too. A few weeks ago he bailed on some plans we had. Annoyed, I asked why. He said he could barely move, he was in such pain. A trip to the doctor would reveal that my buddy had an outbreak of Shingles, which is caused by previous exposure to the chicken pox virus, a virus that never completely leaves the system.
There are a lot of theories about what causes Shingles – whether it’s just random inflammation, whether it’s the result of someone being immunocompromised due to competing surgery, or the result of the system becoming otherwise compromised by factors such as stress. What is clear though is that being infected with chicken pox means that there’s a chance that, years later, you will see a painful flareup. Other forms of herpes are like that too – all it takes is to get infected once and you’re at risk of outbreak for the rest of your life. At times of immunocompromise or great stress, you’re likely to see flareups. … Continue Reading
The Scene: Heaven – Intelligence Design Inc., a celestial engineering firm. Angels toil away on various projects, some at architect’s easels, others at lab benches, other stitching together prototypes of different animal species. A senior angel wanders the corridors, supervising. A peal of trumpets announces the (unexpected) arrival of YAHWEH.
Supervisor: Lord! (All angels look up from their projects, shocked to see the boss, and reflexively genuflect)
YAHWEH: Surprise inspection time, bitches! What have you drones got cooking?
Supervisor: W…w…well Lord, we’ve been focusing on creating things for your animal creatures to eat. We wouldn’t want them to start eating each other, would we? (He chuckles weakly)
YAHWEH: Hmm… (YAHWEH pauses, musing) We’re going to put a pin in that idea.
(An angel attending YAHWEH scribbles a note on a pad of paper) … Continue Reading
We live, as we ever have, in a time of great uncertainty. Climate change is undeniable, but specific and plausible paths forward are seemingly beyond our grasp. We face an inscrutable economic future, with a whirlwind of contradicting ideas constantly blowing around us. Despite the progress we’ve made unlocking the mysteries of the cell and the double-helix, human health is still very much a crap-shoot. Genetic manipulation of food, once seeming to hold the promise for the cure to world hunger, has revealed itself to be far more complex than we could have imagined. In the face of these interminable unanswered questions, it’s hard to look at the scientific enterprise as something upon which we can consistently rely.
And yet, even with such epistemic despondency so justified, there are occasional bright spots where we can lean confidently upon the rigour that science provides us and make confident conclusions about the world. For it is science, that great illuminator, that has finally bestowed upon our poor race a great and fundamental certainty, answering once and for all one of the great questions that has plagued mankind, lo these many years: does getting an HPV vaccination turn your daughter into, like, a total slutbag? … Continue Reading
One of the most frustrating aspects of being involved in a social justice movement is coming to grips with the sheer scope of the problem. Social inequalities are grounded, more often than not, in centuries of history and the evolutionary detritus of human cognition. We can point to a handful of successes like the American civil rights movement, but those were foughts that people literally bled and died for, and resulted in a system that almost immediately adapted to restore as much of the racist status quo as was legally permissible. The fact is that the fight for equality is gigantic, and it’s easy to feel as though one person can’t do much to move the massive edifice the dictates the roles of various groups in power dynamics.
Indeed, even if one wasn’t so overwhelmed by the sheer scope of the problem, it’s hard to conceive of what actionable solutions are available. The whole Occupy movement was heavily criticized for even trying to get together and spell out all of the problems. When solutions were offered (and they were offered), their very existence was denied or ignored because it fit into the more easily-digested narrative that we live in a world where people cannot solve big, diffuse problems. Certainly those who are sincerely interested in, say, seeing the end of racism can see few avenues toward true progress: the problem is inside people’s heads. How can we fix the ever-warping landscape of human psychology aside from waiting for the ‘racists’ to die off and hope that the next generation does a better job?
While I agree the task is daunting, there may be one specific lever we can exploit: … Continue Reading
Some of you may remember the story of Satoshi Kanazawa, a “scientist” and “researcher” who made fame by raising some “tough questions” about the relationship between race, IQ, and health outcomes. He also pondered the evolutionary reasons why black women are just so damn unattractive (hint: it’s because they have so much testosterone – I’m not making that up). There was a predictable backlash against this brave scholar simply for asking “the tough questions”, and he was drummed out of academia, never to be heard from again.
But the career necromancers that are the BigThink editorial board have raised this errant genius from the depths of oblivion and have restored him to prominence on their group blog site:
Without a doubt, Satoshi Kanasawa is a willful, and highly effective, intellectual provocateur. In his scholarship, he has boldly overstepped traditional academic disciplinary bounds to posit interconnections and relationships between our evolutionary past and psychological present that address questions very few of his colleagues are even asking, let alone attempting to answer. In daring to ask these questions, Satoshi has made us think more than most.
His passion for endeavoring to think bigger and his deep-seeded contempt for the constraints of orthodoxy have informed a diverse body of scholarship that have turned a scientific light on an array of taboos, sacred assumptions and unquestioned — even unnoticed — realities. Like all heretics, Satoshi has become a lightning rod for criticisms across the spectrum which has only hardened his resolve to defy convention and expectation. In his public writing and blogging, he doesn’t posture or hedge to insulate himself from attack; on the contrary, he opts for the most extreme hypotheticals couched in the most sensitive, real-world contexts — he then stands firm and unflinching against the blowback.
Such a brave maverick! Not letting little things like “proper research design” or “understanding the topic” or “restricting your conclusions to the strength of the data” get in the way of preaching bold truths! Fuck your taboos of scientific rigour, squares! Satoshi is here to blow to roof off your narrow-minded “needing to do things correctly”! … Continue Reading