I’m not tolerant

Except that I am.

Okay, let me explain that a bit further. There are some people – the ‘regressive left’ – who practice ‘tolerance’ of other cultures But I fear that I am not one of them, even though this might mean the regressive left tells me that I’m not a liberal.

But I am not here to get labels from other people. I’m here to say what I believe, and for what I stand. So let’s back up a moment and ask what morality might be.

Morality is a sort of value system. And what are values? Well, there are two types of values: instrumental and intrinsic.

Something with positive instrumental value is a thing that helps in the achievement of an intrinsic value or helps to prevent something of a negative intrinsic value. Something with a negative instrumental value is something that helps to prevent something with a negative intrinsic value, or makes something of a positive intrinsic value harder to achieve.

But, what things are of an intrinsic positive or negative value? We can say ‘You ought to value this.’ But what does that mean? What is this ‘ought?’ ‘Ought’ implies ‘Do this, or suffer something of lesser value.’ But that, in itself, presupposes a value system. Therefore, even with intrinsic values, there is no way in which we can say ‘this value system is less valuable than that one,’ unless both we, and those with whom we converse, hold a single set of values in common.

Very well. Then what are moral values? Well, they are a certain type of preference. A certain type of value. Historically, the notion of moral preferences developed with the evolution of human society. However, humans now have an ethical side, in addition to the other sides. That is to say, we have a sort of preference. A preference that may or may not be evolutionarily advantageous. Maybe our morals will be evolutionarily disadvantageous. But the beautiful thing is, that we humans have evolved to the point that if some group embraces some moral standard, that is, some standard of values, we can eliminate those others that disagree.

Okay. So, to me, what is intrinsically valuable, is that each individual person should be autonomous over themselves. As such, I approve of people choosing to live with different cultural traditions. But I do not approve of cultures that take away our autonony over ourselves.

Now, to my mind, the morality of the individual, is the set of things for/against which the invidiual will exert themselves. I will exert myself so that each person may be autonomous, and so that nobody will be dominiated from without! That means, however, that I will oppose certain ‘other cultures,’ and also that I will oppose my own culture, the culture of the U.S.

In general, my moral values are not ‘tolerant’ of cultures. That is to say, I tolerate humans making choices for themselves, but I do not tolerate cultures that inflict or impose upon individuals their choices over themselves. That means, I do not tolerate a culture that wants to dominate the world in the sense of dominating every individual (even if that culture is one I happen to enjoy; I do enjoy many aspects of Irish-American culture, even when that does not approve, e.g., abortion). Nor do I tolerate a culture that attempts to dominate a given gender. Or a given profession. Or a given race.

From where, however, do morals come? Well, in the end, if you choose not to agree with our morals… be excluded. That is, apart from the punishment, all any moral code can give you. For morality is a system of values. But all values are either intrinsic or else relative to an already accepted value – so intrinsic values must be agreed upon ‘arbitrarily.’

However, what is most important is, that I do not care about most of the things in which different cultures differ. I do not care, for instance, if a film decides to break into song partway through (as Indian films tend to do). The basic thing about which I care is about individual freedom: is everyone free to live their lives free from bullying?


More anti-white racism

On Etsy, no less! A ‘white tears mug’ t-shirt.


Seriously, how will we have an egalitarian, colour-blind society when the right-wing is engaged in anti-‘non-white’ racism, while the left wing is engaged in anti-white racism? Perhaps we could just be people who deal with other people as people? That would work, but I doubt the right or left wing could handle it.

As an actual egalitarian, it can feel quite lonely at times.

‘Not all…’

When it comes to generalizations of the form ‘X do Y,’ it’s perfectly reasonably to respond with ‘Not all X do Y.’ And I think most people know this. Now, in some cases this may not be the appropriate response, in the sense that it might still be true that most X do Y (e.g. most members of the KKK are anti-Semitic, even if there’s a handful that aren’t). But in many cases people seem to object to the ‘not all X do Y’ statement, even when there’s a sizable subset of X that do not, in fact, do Y.

The problem is that some of the same people who came out after the Paris attacks with their ‘not all muslims’ defence, will become angered if a male says ‘not all men’ in response to some misandrist remark that purports . So let’s give a brief recount of some things that are not true of all members of a group, starting with those I think most leftists would agree with, moving down to some that may annoy the regressives among them.

  1. Not all muslims are terrorists.
  2. Not all muslims support sharia law.
  3. Not all African Americans are criminals.
  4. Not all males are misogynists or rapists.
  5. Not all whites are racists. For that matter, not all cops are racist, either. In fact some cops are reverse racist: they are extra careful around non-whites to avoid any possibility of seeming racist.

Even in some cases where most of a group may hold to a particular viewpoint, the ‘not all’ caveat is still often useful. For example, ‘Not all Americans supported the Iraq war at its opening.’ Of course, as the war progressed, support dropped drastically, but at the beginning it enjoyed majority support, to the best of my knowledge.

The particular problem, of course, is that by making generalizations and then refusing to admit that they don’t apply to all members of a group, a person comes off being just as bigoted as those they are usually targeting. This is a particular problem among regressive leftists of all flavours.

As a suggestion, it is usually better, or more accurate, to talk about official positions of groups rather than what individuals within those groups believe. For instance, not all republicans are anti-choice. However, the GOP official position is anti-choice. So, ‘Republicans are anti-choice’ is true as a statement about an official position of the part, but not as a statement about all people who identify as members of that party.

There’s nothing wrong with using language in a manner that is convenient. And often, statements like ‘X do Y’ are simply used for convenience. But the response ‘In fact not all X do Y’ is a perfectly valid one and in some cases, is one that really needs to be underlined.

Does god need to stay hidden?

When atheists ask theists why their god doesn’t provide actual proof of his existence, the latter usually respond with something like the following:

‘Well, if an all-powerful god were to prove their existence to someone, then that person would obey out of sheer fear, whether they really want to do so or not. God doesn’t want that and instead wants people to make their own decisions on whether to follow him.’

The major problem here is, that isn’t what people are deciding!

The FIRST thing that people decide, is whether they believe god exists. But that has nothing to do with what sort of ethical system they admire, or what kind of person they want to be. It’s a question of ‘Is there an X?’ In other words, it’s like the question ‘Do you believe extraterrestrials have visited earth?’ People can answer it with ‘No,’ ‘Yes,’ or ‘maybe.’

The SECOND thing is, if people think god might exist, they need to decide if they want to follow him. According to the theist explanation, they’re supposed to feel like they aren’t being coerced. But if they really think god exists, then they will feel just as coerced into following him, as they would feel if he gave proof of his existence! In either case, they 100% believe he exists, and will feel the same amount of coercion in either case! (Which does not, incidentally, mean they will feel coerced to follow god. I would not follow the god of christianity or islam, because I would rather go to hell myself than kiss the arse of the god that sends people there).

At this point, the theist could back up and say ‘Well, the way the lack of coercion works is that if they don’t want to follow god, they can lie to themselves about the evidence. So in that way, it gives them choice without coercion. If he proved his existence they would follow him just to get out of going to hell [not true as I noted above], but this way, they can decide they don’t want god to be real and then deceive themselves.’ But I’m not sure that ‘letting’ people subconsciously or consciously deceive themselves should really qualify as ‘choice without coercion.’ Nonetheless, we will let that point pass. It’s a much more complicated defense of god staying hidden, but it’s… not entirely incoherent.

The THIRD thing people need to decide is just what god is like and what he wants. And this is incredibly problematic! Suppose a person is convinced that christianity is correct. But which kind? You’re taking rather a crap shoot in any way you go. If you go Orthodox, the Catholics and many Protestants will say you still go to hell. If you go Catholic, then the Orthodox and many Protestants will say you still go to hell. If you go with some form of Protestant (or baptist, Assyrian, and so on), the Orthodox and Catholics say you go to hell – and lots of other Protestants will say the same! And that is assuming you can jump from evidence that a god exists to the conclusion that some form of christianity is true! In fact, just because you conclude a god exists, does not eliminate judaism or islam or even a polytheistic religion – including perhaps some deity which no human in history has ever grasped!

This third point is, I think, the weakest one for the theist argument in defense of god staying hidden. The first two points can sort of be made to work in a muddled way, by suggesting that the ‘lack of coercion’ comes from being able to deceive yourself. Which is still really, really strange, but can perhaps be accepted. The third point, however, is what really gets things complicated. Just because you accept there is a god and that you want to follow him does not mean you can figure out who that god is or what they want!

In other words, if god exists and wants us to be able to find out the facts about himself by using our rational faculties, he’s done a piss-poor job of it! And if he doesn’t want our faculties to be useful for finding out the truth, then he is basically the deceptive Cartesian demon – in which case, we really have no grounds for thinking ANYTHING is true, at all!

Demographic generalizations

Why, you thought racial generalizations were just for white people? That only white people could be so evil and irrational as to say that an entire ethnicity should be shunned? I invite you to check out the following tweet:

Let us make this clear: if you make a racial generalization without having scientific evidence to back it up, you are a racist. And even if you find scientific evidence saying ‘group A ranks higher/lower on this scale than group B, on average,’ if you assume an average can be generalized to apply to everyone in a group, you are an idiot (for instance: males are on average stronger than females, but there are MANY females who are stronger than I am).

I don’t believe A Bucs Life is in any way representative of black people – but I do believe that there’s a lot of non-whites who dislike white people in general, based purely on stereotypes. And yet, they complain that white people stereotype them (which unfortunately a lot of white people do just that). There’s a term for that – ‘hypocrisy.’ I do understand that it is frustrating when we encounter a lot of people from a given group who treat us badly just because of our demographic. Unfortunately, the temptation to shun that group as an whole is just exacerbating and continuing the problem.

We need to stop treating other people as nothing more than their demographics, and start treating them as individuals.

U of T: How Should Admissions Work?

In a previous post, I pointed out that the University of Texas admits that they deliberately give black applicants an advantage over white applicants. I also pointed out that technically, this fits the definition of institutional racism against whites (or, I suppose, one could argue it should be called institutional beneficent racism towards black people, but really, the semantics aren’t the point here).

But there are arguments for why this is potentially a good idea. I want to discuss under what circumstances I think it is a good idea to give a student an advantage. That is, under what circumstances should a school say ‘Student A has higher scores, but we should take student B anyway?’

I believe schools should go by merit (I don’t think it’s fair to do it any other way, regardless of the potential pragmatic benefits that might come from non-merit-based admissions). But I don’t think that always means taking the student with the highest scores. A student may have personal circumstances that have hampered their performance. For example, if student B’s family is poor, she may have had to take on a part-time job, while student A did not. In that case, student A had more time to study, so even if B’s scores are a little lower, we could argue she shows more potential than A. There could be other factors as well, like having a single parent household, which arguably could have caused B to perform worse than A, despite having higher potential. In those cases, I could certainly approve of admitting B over A.

The question then becomes: should race be considered a factor that hampers education, at the primary and secondary levels? Well… that’s a tough question to answer. I would have to firmly say ‘maybe, but probably not as much as people think.’ What I mean by this is that to consider race as such to be a factor, I would need to see evidence that within a given race, students of similar economic background at similar schools are being given less attention from teachers as a general rule to those students of other races. And I don’t think anyone can say that this is the case – except perhaps with certain specific schools or teachers. I’m sure there are racist teachers. There’s probably also teachers who go out of their way to help minorities, though. And saying ‘well, students from this demographic do worse on tests than that demographic’ doesn’t show anything in itself about whether there’s deliberate and general bias against the demographic. There’s many other factors to consider, like the quality of the schools, the family economics, etc. One cannota priori use differences in test scores to assume there’s some kind of bias going on as a general rule.

So what I would do is, instead of using race itself as a factor, use these other characteristics to decide which students to accept despite having lower scores. Take the students who come from poor backgrounds, from unstable backgrounds, from low-quality schools, and give them all an edge, regardless of their ethnicity. These will likely contain a high percentage of minorities, but will probably also contain some white students, Asian students, and so on. If a student comes from a specific school known to have a bias against a given race, then give them an edge based on race. That way, you give all students from disadvantaged backgrounds a boost, and in the process, you will naturally help more students from ethnicities that tend to have lower incomes or attend poorer primary and secondary schools. And even if race is one factor that is used temporarily, these other disadvantageous factors should also be accounted for.

Ethnic Diversity: a Benefit to Thinking?

Alright, so here, I want to comment upon the idea that, if you have an ethnically diverse group of people with which you discuss a decision, that decision will come out better, than if you were to discuss it with an homogeneous group.

And for those who hoped I might disagree, the short answer is: yes, if you get sucked into a random group, and that group has greater ethnic diversity, you might perform better.

This result comes from a psychological study, summarized and reported for us by one of its own researchers: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/09/opinion/diversity-makes-you-brighter.html.

Now, I want to comment on this study. So, what this study did, was to take various groups of people, see what monetary value the members gave to various objects, and see if ethnic diversity affected their accuracy. And no, this was not simply ‘white vs. black.’ They did this test in various cities around the world, dividing their subjects into various ethnic groups. In Singapore, for example, none of their ethnic groups included ‘white’ or ‘black.’ So no, this is not about whites and blacks!

The immediate result: Yes! More diverse groups did better! So, diversity is good, right?

Well… let’s look a little bit deeper. One claim, in favor of diversity, which I have repeatedly heard, is that diverse groups are better, because the diversity of their members brings in new viewpoints. Fortunately, the researchers asked the test subjects their views prior to engaging in groups and…

Well, no, people didn’t exhibit any distinction in views correlating with ethnicitiy. In fact, ethnic diversity in a group did not increase the diversity of views in the group!

In other words: each group had, on average, the same diversity in views, regardless of how diverse the composition of that group might have been! So, having an ethnically diverse group had nothing to do with having more diversity of viewpoints!

And yet, these researchers reported that the more diverse groups did better on their tests, even though adding diversity didn’t add diverse viewpoints!

What was the reason? Well, as the researchers reported, the reason was that in homogeneous groups, if one person made an error, other members of the group were more likely to follow that error with minimal objection. In diverse groups, the individual members were more likely to question the errors of one person and to end up disagreeing with them!

So, the reason that diverse groups gave better average results is, if you are considering a question with a diverse group, you are more likely to think for yourself, and disregard the opinions of others!  That is, when you are in a diverse group, this study found the errors of others are less likely to influence you!

How does this relate to other problems? Well, consider that the writers of the article cited above claim that this means that people should support the University of Texas in being biased towards bringing in non-white students – on the grounds that this benefits all students. But in fact, the benefit, in my opinion, has not been adequately demonstrated.

In fact, I would claim, given the way this experiment was conducted, that what they showed was two-fold: 1. People trust those whom they view as ‘like themselves,’ and 2. Ethnicity is part of what people who are strangers use to determine who is ‘like themselves.’

However, in the long term, I suggest that this ‘diversity’ benefit will disappear. Why? Well, the psychological study is all about people thinking of other people as ‘other’ and thus as ‘not as trustworthy.’ That is, when you bring strangers together, they think for themselves more accurately when the other people in their group are ‘differentiated’ from themselves. For instance… because they are of a different race.

But once a group of workers or students works together for any length of time… won’t they begin to view these people as ‘us,’ and not ‘other,’ and thus remove the benefit suggested by this study? In other words, once the novelty of the so-called diversity wears off – won’t people start to view their partners more objectively than by the colour of their skin, or the shape of their eyes, or whatever? Won’t they trust their fellows based upon past performance, rather than upon their demographics? And maybe such a test would be good to make, i.e. comparing demographically diverse groups who have worked together extensively, versus homogenous groups who have worked together repeatedly! I would hypothesize that they may perform almost indistinguishably!

The point is that, if I am correct in my hypothesis, we could compare two potential groups. Group A is formed by a person who says ‘I want maximal diversity. I’m going to take the most qualified person first, but after that I want to take those who, demographically, are most different from those I’ve already hired, because this study says it will help the to be effective.’ Group B is formed by a person who says ‘I want to take the most qualified people, period.’ Now, according to my hypothesis, group A will possibly do better in the very short term. But after groups A and B get used to working with one another – once they no longer view their partners as ‘Other’ – group B, which has the more highly qualified group, will do better!

So, in my opinion, we should be meritocrats. Period. Take the most qualified people. In the long run, even if someone else does better short-term with more ‘ethnic divesity,’ what counts long-term is just who is most qualified.

Because once ‘ethnically different’ is no longer taken as ‘different,’ such a difference will mean nothing.