Sunday, July 27, 2008

On Racial Hierarchy

On a recommendation from Bobvis, I went over to visit, a site dedicated to . . . well, go check it out yourself, and come back.

Are you back?

Now, obviously, every blogger gets to decide what to blog about based on his own lights as to what is important. But, personally, I can't get much motivated with picking fights with people who basically share my criticisms of the status quo. I remember a while back when Laurence Auster and the folks at Age of Treason, people whose politics are almost identical, got into a round of name-calling over some obscure point of dogma the details of which I couldn't be troubled to learn. I mean, I'm sure it was darned important to them, but seriously folks, there's something to be said about playing the ball where it is.

Which is a roundabout way of saying that I normally wouldn't go out of my way to criticize the folks at Sure, without knowing the details, I would guess that our policy goals are similiar, but their ideas are their own, and I would not appreciate having them attributed to me, as I am sure they would not want my ideas attributed to them.

One of the posts near the top of their pile addressed an open letter by a group of Stanford bioethicists on "The ethics of characterizing difference":

Statement 1: We believe that there is no scientific basis for any claim that the pattern of human genetic variation supports hierarchically organized categories of race and ethnicity.

The equality of rights of all human beings is an unquestionable, moral claim that cannot be challenged by descriptive, scientific findings. As a normative commitment, equality is fundamental to our conception of human rights, and is not open to debate. Classification by racial and ethnic categories has, at particular moments in history, been used to further racist ideology. In view of concerns that linking of emerging genetic data and race/ethnicity categories may promote racist ideologies, we emphasize that there is no scientific basis for any claim that the pattern of human genetic variation supports hierarchically ranked categories of race or ethnicity. Furthermore, we abhor any use of genetic data to reinforce the idea of between-group difference in order to benefit one group to the detriment of another.

MajorityRights calls this "a Nazoid fantasy," but really, I found little to disagree with here. Sure, their carefully-worded statement may be creating a straw-man opposition, and it will likely be abused to suppress legitimate discourse, but as written . . . well, let's look at the details:

- There is no hierarchy of races: agreed. I would not argue that this or that race is "superior" to any other race. Indeed, describing a race or species, categorically, as superior would not be scientifically meaningful. This is a very different argument than the one we actually make: that racial groups, in the mean, show differences in measured intelligence, and that these differences are substantially heritable. (The open letter addresses this specifically, and somewhat problematically in Statement 5.) It is even different to say, as I would argue is the case, that European races, in the mean, show better adaptation to a society and civilization created by Europeans than do non-European races, in the mean, and in varying degrees.*

- The equality of races is a moral claim: agreed. It may not be "unquestionable" since many have, in fact, questioned it at various times and places. But the claim is certainly not subject to empirical argument one way or the other; it is a philosophical postulate, and one I happen to share.

- Racial classifications have, at particular moments in history, been used to further racist ideology: hard to argue with. No doubt we would quibble as to what counts as "racist", or how relevant this history is to our present and future policy debates, but sure: Darwinism has been used to justify some Really Bad Stuff, like slavery and genocide.

- We abhor the idea of between group differences being used to benefit one group over another: exactly! "Equality Before the Law" and "Individual Merit" have been the mainstream conservative banners for, roughly, its entire modern history. On the other side, it is the political Left that wishes to use racial categories to benefit non-Asian minorities over everyone else.

But here is what's at stake: our policy elites, possessed of the Dogma of Zero Group Differences, discovers actual group differences and cries out: racism! Blacks underperform in school? It's "the soft bigotry of low expectations!" Blacks underperform on the SAT? The test is culturally biased! Blacks underrepresented in your law school class? Change the admissions standards until they are not! Blacks denied home mortgages at a higher rate than Whites? Stop the redlining! Blacks crime shoots through the roof in the 1970s? It's the legacy of slavery!

I am not without sympathy for those who see that portion of the black community mired in poverty, ignorance, and crime, and seek to improve their lot; on the contrary, I would like to help them as well, starting with an end to third-world immigration. But bad ideology gives birth to bad policy, and as long as your policy is based on chasing the phantom of White racism, then you won't accomplish anything except to assuage your own moral vanity.

* If I had to trust the fate of American civilization to non-Europeans, I would pick the Indians, at least to the extent that Bobvis, Razib, and Bobby Jindal are representative.

Friday, July 25, 2008

More on Moralistic Therapeutic Deism

Ross Douthat, reviewing Jody Bottum, writes:

[Norman Vincent] Peale's heirs occupy the pulpits of what remains of the Protestant mainline, but they preach from the dais at numerous evangelical megachurches as well. The people who read Joel Osteen and Joyce Meyer and The Prayer of Jabez may be more politically conservative then the people who read [presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church Katherine Jefferts Schori's book] A Wing and a Prayer, and read certain passages of Genesis and Leviticus more literally, but the theology they're imbibing is roughly the same sort of therapeutic mush. Indeed, the big difference between the prosperity gospel that Osteen and his ilk are peddling and Schori's liberal Episcopalianism has less to do with any theological principle and more to do with what aspect of American life they want God to validate. And this difference, I suspect, has a great deal to do with social class. Osteen and Co.'s God wants us to pursue financial fulfillment because they're largely preaching to entrepreneurial, upwardly-mobile members of the middle class, whereas Schori's God wants us to pursue a more personal fulfillment - sexually, emotionally, philanthropically - because she's preaching to a demographic that, financially speaking, has already got it made.

Read the whole thing.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Vantage Point

I caught the movie Vantage Point on DVD last night. A few thoughts:

1. I'm pretty sure that the U.S. president has never used a body double, certainly no where near the media. If William Hurt hadn't played both the President and his double, the fact would have been obvious in the GNN control room.

2. The Secret Service is shown searching for the "sniper" in the Plaza Major, and rushing to the aid of their injured colleagues. As honorable and courageous as this might be, I'm pretty sure it wouldn't happen in real life. In real life, they would be surrounding the president, and leave the rest to local law enforcement.

3. The probability that every body who was anybody in the film would all accidently show up under the same underpass was so remote as to be laughable.

4. The opening sequence where Sigourney Weaver chews out a reporter for "editorializing" on air was not believable. The editorial in question -- that some people don't like us, was exactly what the media would take the trouble to report. I can't make the judgment as to whether the president's anti-terror summit should be the "real" story as Weaver claims, but for the American media, the anti-American demonstration is always the story. Even I can't remember the point of the G8 meeting in Seattle, but we all remember the demonstrators.

5. The filmmakers are cowards. They set out to make a straightforward movie about the struggle against terrorism, but rob this struggle of any context. Who are the terrorists? Why do they hate America? What are they trying to accomplish by kidnapping the president? All these questions aren't even asked in this movie, let alone answered. The only conceivable reason for this is that the filmmakers didn't want to name names.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Unbridgeable Differences

Megan McArdle (a.k.a. "The Other Megan") presents as list of "issues where I [Megan] am pretty sure that I am right, but recognize that the people on the other side have valid value judgements that they are calling differently from me." My commentary on her list:

Abortion: I can appreciate that people with pecuniary or emotional investment in the economic and sexual emancipation of women might genuinely wrestle with this question. I can also understand the conflict within those who believe that abortion prevents the deterioration of our racial stock. However, in the first case, I have no such investment, and in the second case, such beliefs have no basis in present reality. So the interest in unborn children not to be killed has no competition, in my view. (And before you ask, I would think these even and especially if my daughter got knocked up.)

Gay Marriage: show me evidence that gay marriage improves things I actually care about (stronger families, lower illegitimacy, lower crime, lower taxes, etc.), and we have the basis for a conversation. But arguments based on "equality" in the abstract are essentially moral in nature, I see no reason why my morality ought to grovel before yours. In the meantime, it is not difficult to see gay marriage becoming the vehicle for the further marginalization and persecution of those Christians who will not bend to it.

Immigration: Megan reflects the values of her social milieu; she ought to know better. Can she say, "externalities"? How about "MS-13"?

Affirmative Action: it's not the best way of helping black Americans, although it may have been the best way of making Michelle Obama pretty nasty. But at least Megan appears to appreciate that the logic of affirmative action is unsustainable in an era of mass immigration.

Taxes: Megan pretty much nails this one.

Humanitarian intervention: sorry, but Darfur doesn't "rend my heart", cold-hearted bastard that I am. Black African Muslims butchering slightly-more-black African Muslims isn't any of my business. While I wish them the best, I don't have a wog in this fight.

Government subsidy of Nature and Art: Megan nails this, too. Bad in principle, awfully nice in the mean time.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008


There's a lot of heavy breathing out there about the amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) from people who, by all appearances, haven't bothered with reading the actual legislation. Not that I blame them: figuring out from the Library of Congress website which of the many versions of a piece of legislation is the one under active consideration is tedious to say the least, and sometimes the legislation itself seems almost deliberately designed to be obscure to the general public. But really, anyone bothering to comment on it should at least make the effort.

Back during the Clinton administration, I did some work that required me to have a passing familiarity with FISA, United States Signals Intelligence Directive (USSID) 18, and Executive Order 12333, the three documents which authorize and regulate electronic surveillance. Against the background of the administration's general lawlessness (for instance, the attempt to assert attorney-client priviledge among government lawyers against Congress), what I saw and heard didn't make me confident that our 4th Amendment rights were much respected. Almost nobody I spoke with had any idea how the legislative safeguards were implemented administratively, and some pretty high-ranking people thought the only limitation on their reach was the exclusionary rule, i.e., that they couldn't introduce warrantless surveillance in a criminal trial.

So I'm especially sympathetic to the idea that the executive inherently possesses the authority to do whatever it wants. But many people seem to think that the protection of the Constitution extends to everyone anywhere; it does not, nor should it. The Constitution exists to protect American citizens (more specifically, "United States persons", a category that includes resident aliens). People who are not citizens are not protected from eavesdropping, and never have been.

The primary purpose of this legislation is to specifically provide the government access to communications passing through the telecommunications networks in the United States. The protection of the privacy of U.S. persons remains unchanged: the government must still obtain a FISA warrant to target a U.S. person. Given the volume of international traffic that passes through U.S. networks, it would be dangerously frivolous to extend the protection of the law to the network instead of the people. For this reason alone, the legislation is needed.

But this part of the legislation isn't even the most controversial. What the Left hates most is the immunity provision that protects telecom companies from lawsuits for having already done what this legislation specifically authorizes. It would be easy to see this as merely a bone to the trial lawyers, but I don't think that's it. I do think that it's a power play. The Left is trying to send a message: never ever cooperate with a Republican, or else we'll GET you.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Vassar on "Nice Guys"

Michael Vassar at Overcoming Bias makes a foray into the Beta question:

[W]hen women grow up, they find that they aren't attracted to the men they were told to look for. Maybe they believe, with reason even, that such men are 'boys', not 'men', and find this unattractive (ultimately because it was and still is evolutionarily unfit). Instead, most women spurn the timid advances made by the 'nice guys' they think they should prefer. But since they believe they should be choosing such men, they also decide that the men they reject cannot be the type they were told to prefer. This may explain why 'nice guys' might end up labeled 'liars'.

In this model, the nerd's sense of thwarted entitlement comes from recognizing that he has the traits X, Y, and Z that authority figures told him to display and that women claim to want - which does nothing to change the fact that feelings of thwarted entitlement for ANY reason are extremely unattractive.

Read the whole thing.

UPDATE: as Bobvis has noted, Overcoming Bias has a lot of great material