Is it really racist?

What I want to discuss is how some policies, while they might seem racist, if you analyze the impact by race, might have nothing to do with racism (in the sense of believing one race inferior) at all.

Let me start with an analogy. Did you know that for drivers 18-25, males pay more in car insurance than females? Surely this is a sign of a deep sexism at work! Surely, the insurance companies hate men!

… Actually no, it has nothing to do with an hatred of men, and everything to do with statistical analysis. See, insurance companies have to judge customers, not based upon the customer as an individual, but rather, based on a few broad characteristics. And, statistically, males are WAY more likely to get into an accident. So, it makes sense to charge males more. You will, statistically, need to do so, in order to make a profit.

More generally, insurance companies do not charge everyone the same price for the same coverage, and this is based on statistical analysis, not upon bigotry.

Now, if you can grasp that this is not about bigotry, perhaps consider the following scenario: A Republican in charge of voting districts engages in gerrymandering. This is absolutely wrong. But let’s say they do this to minimize the effect of black voting. Is this necessarily racist? As in, done because this person dislikes black people or considers them inferior?

No.

See, gerrymandering is wrong. But if you ARE going to gerrymander, you do it so that your party wins. And if you see that some factor correlates with voting against your party – including race, since blacks tend to vote Democrat – you will include that factor, when you calculate how to gerrymander.

It’s statistics, and no different than what insurance companies do.

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Starship Troopers: Some Thoughts

Warning: as writing goes, this is somewhat disjointed, because I cover a number of different aspects, sometimes without much segue.

I do not believe the Starship Troopers glorifies war. Or if it does, it does so in a good way, because it does not glorify senseless violence, but rather, to paraphrase the book itself, putting oneself between the violence of war and one’s home.

I do not know what Heinlein himself believed, or whether Rico’s opinions were really his. I imagine he agreed with a lot of Rico’s opinions, but perhaps not all; whether he really thought that limiting the voting franchise to military veterans was a good idea, in particular, is questionable. He probably did think that it was best for the individual to sacrifice themselves for the whole, which is a somewhat fascist notion, or rather, the fascists have such a notion (though it is worth noting that liberal democracies have had the same notion – including when said liberal democracies were forced to fight fascists).

Here is the thing: we evolved to sacrifice ourselves so our genes might continue. This is why people sacrifice themselves for their offspring (some other animals do so in even more spectacular fashions: see, for example, the spiders in which the male commits suicide, being eaten by his mate, so that his offspring have a better chance of survival). But thanks to our intellects, humans are in the rare (evolutionarily speaking) situation, in which we can die to try to promote the survival of our ideals. This is probably a by-product of the evolution of our intellect. Yet, it might end up being the key to the evolution of an intelligent species.

Rico is, of course, correct, that any group which limits its own reproduction, is going to be overrun by other groups that do not limit reproduction. The morality of how that reproduction is obtained is irrelevant. We see this now, with Western nations having low birthrates, and high numbers of non-Western migrants, causing a large demographic shift. Unfortunately, not only European genetics are thus being crowded out, but also Enlightenment ideals, as the people with the most reproduction belong to the most conservative, right-wing religious groups. If humanity ever achieved an equilibrium, it s still true that other species could throw this off with ease, should they exist, and should humans fail to reproduce rapidly.

Thus, Heinlein does not glorify war, though he does glorify the war, and perhaps rightly so: any group that wishes to survive, whether that group is defined by family ties, ideological ties, national ties, or some other kind, must face the possibility that they will be competing with another group that will refuse to be persuaded, and engage in what von Clausewitz called ‘the pursuit of policy by other means,’ i.e., war for survival.

The notion that the Terran Federation should never have any rebels strikes me as ridiculous, both on the face of it, and because his explanation is nonsensical: ‘A revolutionist has to be willing to fight and die – or he’s just a parlor pink. If you separate out the aggressive ones and make them the sheep dogs, the sheep will never give you trouble.’ But the Terrans do not do this. It does not seem, first of all, that a system could ever be created which would guarantee that this would be done, but secondly, since their system of Federal Service is entirely voluntary, there is no reason why an aggressive individual with revolutionary tendencies might not simply choose revolution over Federal Service. And in fact, there are doubtless many individuals who have the aggressiveness, but end up kicked out of Federal Service, and may feel themselves treated deeply unfairly, while also having strong political aspirations – Hendrick, for example, is just this type. Here, Heinlein appears to have created a rather unrealistic aspect of his world. Hendrick and his type would be prime candidates for rebels. Now, it may be that rebellion is impossible, because the Terran Federation controls all the weapons, but at the same time, an effective insurgency does not require parity of weapons; it requires only that the government be unwilling to engage in wholesale slaughter of civilians in order to put it down, together with a modicum of popular support.

This brings us to the next issue: the book intends to glorify the infantry, yet the MI really do not seem to be infantry. They use extraordinary amounts of equipment (namely, the powered suits), which functionally make them more of a mix of a tank and a ground attack helicopter, tactically speaking, mixed with a small amount of the additional flexibility that infantry have. Yet it seems incredible that the Terran Federation would not employ numerous less-well-equipped soldiers as grunts, with the MI retaining a role more that of support and special forces mixed into one. This is doubly perplexing, since the recruiters complain of having to find make-work for many of the volunteers: would not not make sense to send them as, if nothing else, canon fodder, given that the Federation has little concern over whether the volunteers survive Federal Service? Tactically, they could be very useful. We see, near the end of the book, how thinly spread the MI troopers are; numerous unsuited but armed troops could have easily made a big difference. Even today, tanks and helicopters and drones do not win wars; the lightly equipped grunt remains the focus of the battle (If you don’t believe me, you can ask Nicholas Moran).

In addition, the training of the MI seems absurd. They undergo a course with a 10% pass rate, which seems to rival the toughest special forces courses in the real world. Yet surely, to use a powered suit effectively, requires nothing more than what we would expect from a tanker or pilot today? Now, while these soldiers are required to have an high level of physical fitness, they are not held to nearly the standards of, say, a SEAL. The training may be more intended to psychologically weed out some of the recruits; if so, very well. But the weakness of the entire system (including that volunteers can quit service even if it is 30 seconds before a jump) is shown in the fact that the Federation spends much of the book losing the war, largely due to a lack of troops. History shows us that, while it may be nice to have only the most elite troops as soldiers, it is often more effective to bolster the numbers, especially when there are an excess of volunteers, and not enough jobs for them. Some motivated, though perhaps not quite so psychologically tough, individuals, who are required to serve their term once they sign on, might have proved decisive, or at least beneficial.

Finally, much is made of the low ratio of officers to enlisted men in the MI. But is this really the benefit that Rico thinks it is? He mentions officers having to take on multiple command roles as a matter of course; this is clearly not to anyone’s benefit, as an overworked officer is more likely to overlook things. Granting his complaints about the rest of the problems of having too many officers, in combat, command and control is important, and the lack of officers will be highly detrimental.

It is therefore my opinion that, on many levels, this book lacks a realistic picture of tactics and training.

Nonetheless, I love this book. It is unapologetic in portraying the spirit of camaraderie among the MI. It is also unapologetic in the notion that humans have a right to fight for their existence, even if that means destroying another species. Of course, cooperation might be the better option. But in this instance, it was not so far possible to even communicate with the Bugs.

In addition, even where I disagree with it, it raises very interesting questions to think about. Is there any advantage to ensuring that only those who understand the cost of freedom should be allowed to vote? The downside, of course, is that the book presents the advantages of such a system, but does not really engage in the debate over the disadvantages, including the very real likelihood, in my opinion, of a rebellion, as well as the problem that these oligarchs are likely to in reality vote for themselves to be made far better off than the other citizens. We know in our own system, thanks to the Princeton study, that even in our own system, with the voting franchise being widely distributed, that a small group of oligarchs have managed to usurp practical control, for their own gain. Is it really unreasonable to think that the Federal Service veterans would probably very quickly establish themselves as an upper caste, with all others relegated to lower castes?

Yet, it is nonetheless an instructive question to consider. Another interesting question is the role and form of punishment. Heinlein appears to be empirically wrong about humans not inherently having a ‘better nature,’ but correct that, unless circumstances are right, that nature will not be brought to the fore. We have an instinct for fairness and to some extent for pro-social behavior, but his criticism of avoiding punishing badly behaving children resulting in badly behaved adults has some validity, though he also ignores the role of positive reinforcement. Another valid question is why we reject the use of painful punishments. This is something which we have, in the US at least, been brought up to reject (at least when administered by the government), but as the book mentions, pain is our evolved way of being told that something is wrong. Would such punishment be effective? Could it ever be morally acceptable? We might conclude that the answer to both of these questions is ‘no,’ yet the role of good fiction is (apart from its primary role, to entertain), to encourage us to think about other perspectives.

Nonetheless, one feels that this book, as Jordan Vogt-Roberts said of his own movie, that it is ‘way better than it had any right to be.’ The unrealistic aspects of it should damn the book, yet they somehow fail to do so (and in fact, the book succeeds so much in being entertaining and thought-provoking, that I did not notice them very much until a second reading).

 

On guns

This is part of an email I wrote to Sierra Club, after they emailed asking me to write congress and ask them to ban assault weapons, on the grounds that they are ‘weapons designed solely to kill.’

First, most murders are not committed with AR-15s.They are committed with other weapons. And gun ownership is not strongly correlated with homicide or suicide rates. When Australia engaged in its gun ban in the ’90s, there was no statistically significant drop in crime rates.

Second, if you want students to feel safe, have armed guards at their schools. Don’t rely on anti-gun laws to prevent criminals from acquiring weapons on the black market. You will never stop criminals from circumventing the law.

Third, we have a right to own guns. On principle, I will not give up my assault rifles, with which I have never committed a crime, just because someone else might commit a crime with a similar item, any more than I would give up my car just because someone killed 8 people on a bike path in New York with an automotive vehicle, or 80 people in Nice with a vehicle.

Fourth, the AR-15 is not even an assault rifle, as it lacks the ability to fire in fully automatic mode. The AR-15 comes chambered for many rounds, including .22 LR, .223 Remington, 5.56 NATO, and .300 Blackout. The power of these rounds all differ.

Fifth, every gun was designed ‘solely to kill.’ Whether designed to harm animals or humans, that is the truth of every single gun. In fact, guns designed to hurt animals often are _more damaging_ than assault rifles, inasmuch as they fire heavier bullets with more energy. The sole exception would be nail guns, which were designed to drive nails, but which are not actually guns.

Sixth, the very fact that the 5.56 NATO, a round used by many AR-15 variants, is so damaging, is precisely why it makes those who use it for self-protection safer. A drugged-out psychopath will not stop because a tiny .38 round hit them – they may not even feel the pain. Only a round with actual stopping power is going to keep them from harming the innocent. People love to talk about crimes committed with guns, but hate to talk about crimes stopped or discouraged by guns.

Colourblindness is not racism

SJWs love to talk about ‘colour-blind racism.’ And for once, there is an actual, rational, evidence-based argument, which is not founded in postmodernist woo-woo, to back them up.

Except, it is nonsensical.

And nobody would support it, were it not for postmodernist woo-woo.

Colourblindness means treating everyone as individuals, rather than as people of ‘this skin tone.’ And that is liberal. It absolutely is. But not everyone is liberal. Some people treat others badly because of their skin colour (or other group identity). And the argument is that, if I treat a given individual a as an individual, even though a has experienced intolerance because of a‘s skin colour (other other group identity), then I am ignoring their oppression!

Except… that isn’t at all what colourblindness means.

See, colourblindness means we acknowledge each person we encounter, and their struggles, including struggles that they have faced because of colour. It just means that we deal with those struggles because everyone needs to be dealt with individually, rather than as members of a group.

Martin Luther King Jr. argued for colourblindness, when he said that we should judge one another by the content of our character, not by our colour. But that includes looking at how people might be judged by others because of their colour.

Similarly, if a person living under Nazi occupation said ‘I don’t see Jew and gentile, I just see people,’ they could still have realized ‘BUT, if Jews are judged as needing to go to the concentration camps, they are people I need to save, while gentiles are not.’ So no, colourblindness is not racism. The goal here is to render all of society colourblind, rather than to cement colour-identity even further into our minds (as the SJWs are trying to do).

Make Stereotypes Humourous Again

I am going to argue that we should find the use of stereotypes in humour socially acceptable. This topic came up when I was discussing an article claiming that non-Polynesians should not dress up as Moana for Halloween, because it is ‘laughing at their culture by making it a costume.’ Now firstly, the girls who want to dress as Moana areĀ not laughing at her or Polynesians; they areĀ admiring her as their heroine, and wanting to look like her, just as if someone dressed as Spider-man. But this made me think about the question of costumes that do seem to mock a culture, e.g. toga costumes making fun of decadent Romans. And I will argue that such costumes should be perfectly acceptable, even if they are stereotypical. If you want the short version, Lloyd of Lindybeige does a very good job of talking about why humour about minorities is important:

Let’s Laugh at Minorities

But leaving aside the question of whether taboos on stereotypical jokes actually cause harm for the moment, let us consider the reason why stereotypical jokes are generally frowned upon.

The first reason is that stereotypical judgments of individuals are harmful to individuals. It is, for example, harmful to an hispanic who applies for a job, if the hiring board were to say ‘Well, Mexicans are lazy, so we can assume this person is lazy, and not hire them.’ That is, of course, wrong. Such judgments should be socially condemned (and, in this instance, perhaps legally regulated as well).

The issue is that this is a separate topic from the question of whether stereotypical jokes should be taboo, whereas in PC thought, these issues are confounded. This is a logical fallacy, a ‘slippery slope fallacy.’ While slippery slope arguments can have validity, this one does not: in order to prove valid, a slippery slope argument must show that there is no way to keep from sliding down the slope.

Consider an analogy: ‘driving drunk is bad. If we make alcohol legal, and socially normalize drinking safely, it will encourage people to drink, and end up with them being encouraged to drive drunk!’ This is rather clearly a fallacious argument. In fact, we have made driving while impaired both severely punishable and severely taboo. Normalizing drinking under some circumstances does not thereby normalize drunk driving. And it is not justifiable to ban people from safely drinking just in case it slightly reduces the chances of someone drinking unsafely, regardlesss.

Similarly, normalizing a joke about something does not inherently normalize prejudice against that thing. Nor would it be justifiable to ban jokes on a given topic just in case this slightly reduced the chances of someone being actually prejudiced. In a rather similar manner, I would say the holocaust was one of the worst and most tragic evils in history. However, jokes about it are fine, Anne Frankly I’d like to see more of them.

The problem, then, is that PC taboos confound ‘finding humour in something’ and ‘disrespecting that thing/approving of that thing.’ A person could find a rape joke funny without thereby approving of rape. A person could find a joke about the late Italian, or the drunk Irishman, funny without thereby being prejudiced against Italians or the Irish. We can both support clean water for Native Americans and laugh about Big Chief Whomp ‘Em.

The next argument for making some jokes taboo is that some jokes are offensive. Of course, the problem here is that literally everything is likely offensive to someone. A woman going outside with her hair uncovered could offend the hijabi next door. A gay pride flag could offend the baptist on the street. A crucifix could offend an atheist. Whether a thing is offensive is not even a question: it is offensive to someone, somewhere.

The issue with humour, as Ricky Gervais put it (and I am paraphrasing here slightly), is ‘there is nothing about which you should not joke. It depends on where the joke is coming from.’ He did not mean here ‘it depends on the identity of the person making the joke,’ but rather that it depends on intent and context.

Humour – on any topic – can, I think, be malicious or ‘all in good fun,’ as one might say. In fact the very same joke could be told in good fun, or told maliciously. There is therefore nothing that should be taboo. As Lloyd said, of course, one should be tactful, and consider the audience and how they are perhaps likely to see the joke, but nothing should be off limits, including stereotypes. Telling jokes about stereotypes does not make you a closet racist, unless you are really trying to hurt people with those jokes.

So wear whatever the fuck you want for Halloween, and stop PC policing your kids.

‘Privilege’ is a bad term

The word ‘privilege,’ as used in social justice, is a bad term. There are a few reasons for this. The biggest one, though, is that most of what is called ‘privilege’ are actually rights, which are being denied to some people.

For example, we have the right to not be murdered by cops. That cops frequently get away with murdering black people is not ‘white privilege;’ if anything, it is white normalcy. A ‘privilege,’ on the other hand, is something which some people receive over and above their rights. Example: diplomats receive the privilege of diplomatic immunity. This is something which ordinary people don’t, and shouldn’t, have (arguably the diplomats shouldn’t either); it is thus not at all a right.

The problem is that most of the things SJWs speak of as ‘privilege’ are actually not privileges at all, they are merely a lack of disadvantage. Often it is not even a lack of disadvantage, but merely a lesser disadvantage. After all, white people are murdered by cops as well. Black people are murdered at a disproportionately high rate, of course, but no group is immune from having members murdered by police. Yet, I’m supposed to consider myself ‘privileged’ because I’m less likely to be murdered by a cop?

A similar issue occurs with the term ‘systemic.’ What, exactly, is ‘systemic?’ Often, it seems to be used as a synonym for ‘widespread.’

I’m not demanding a precise, rigorous definition. Not all terms need to be fully precise to be useful. There is a famous linguistic/philosophical puzzle: what is a ‘pile of sand?’ If you begin putting individual grains of sand one at a time onto a table, at what point does it become a pile? It’s not really possible to say, but the term ‘pile’ is still useful.

But with ‘systemic,’ this does not seem to be the case. If it means ‘widespread,’ then it’s merely a synonym. On the other hand, if it means ‘inherent in the system,’ well, that is not the way it is used. There is nothing inherent in our criminal justice system that lets cops get away with murdering black people; racial bigotry in some police officers and some jurors is to blame. There’s no law saying that being black is a mitigating factor when it comes to cops killing suspects/civilians, or anything.

The problem is that, if systemic merely means widespread – as it would seem – then why replace the words? The only reason would appear to be that, by calling it ‘systemic,’ SJWs hope to evoke a feeling of collective guilt.