Sunday, September 28, 2014
Dissenting from American Liberalism & Conservatism
The article by Razib Khan below is not one that I totally agree with but I agree with his central contention that neither the Left nor the Right give appropriate weight to genetics in their thinking. Razib is well versed in genetics research and I too take an interest in that literature. And the more you know about that literature the more you have to shut up if you want acceptance in mainstream politics.
Hardly a day goes by without a new report of some trait or condition being found to be strongly influenced by genetics but that is in the academic literature and any attempt to inject those findings into popular discourse will be howled down as "racist". It will mainly be the Left who do the howling but the cultural predominance of the Left in American society intimidates conservatives into being at least silent on the matter. So in explaining themselves and their policies conservatives rarely refer to genetics, thus omitting a huge explanatory variable in human behavior.
And I sin muchly in often mentioning genetic facts. No candidate in either of the main parties would want to be associated with me. Take the issue of black IQ. The American Psychological Association is the world's premier body of academic psychologists and they are undoubtedly Left-leaning. As it is part of what academic psychologists do to be aware of the research literature, however, members of the APA who are interested in the issue know what the research on IQ shows. So the APA now accepts that the IQ of the average black American is one standard deviation (which is a lot) or 15 points below the IQ of the average non-Hispanic white. Blacks, in other words have on average a sub-adult IQ. The APA even put out a special issue of one of its major journals some years back devoted to presenting the evidence for that one SD gap. See here for more details on the subject.
But getting known for mentioning that gap is career poison. One thinks of the unfortunate Jason Richwine in that connection. I am old, retired and financially independent so I run no similar risks. The only risk I run is of being ignored. And I largely am. So Razib is right in thinking that neither side of politics has a good grasp of reality. They build their reasoning on sand
I had a long discussion yesterday with an individual who has been reading me since 2003. We talked about lots of things. One issue which perhaps I need to reiterate because it’s implicit is that I dissent to a great extent from the premises which underlay both American conservatism and liberalism. Like American liberals I think the life outcomes of many Americans are not due to their choices simply understood. Rather they are the outcome of chance events, whether it be through social background, or, simple happenstance. Years ago I recall Nassim Taleb complaining that people would read The Millionaire Next Door, and believe that by doing everything those individuals did they too could become millionaires, as if there was no random component to such outcomes. The reality is that some people are in the right place and right time. And, some people are born in the right social positions.
Where I dissent from American liberals is the idea that all of the outcomes in our society, in particular inequality, are due to chance or inherited social position (e.g., race or class privilege). In The Son Also Rises Greg Clark reports on intriguing results which indicate that social competence in heritable. To some extent this is common sense. Personal dispositions are heritable, and some dispositions are more congenial to remunerative activities than others. Though many on the Left (though not all) are willing to acknowledge the arguments in Steve Pinker’s The Blank Slate in the abstract, in the concrete they get very little weight when it comes to social policy. To give an example, for many on the Left we can talk about differences between groups (whether it be cultural or biological) only when all social inequality is abolished. The catch in this though is that any persistent differences may also result in persistent social inequality or difference in outcome.
When it comes to the American Right there are two distinct strands. The first is the child of classical liberalism, to some extent in a more thorough fashion than the American Left. For this element the idea that capitalism is efficient in allocating resources, and that people receive their just desserts due to hard work, becomes such an all-encompassing narrative that other variables are neglected. This was clearly evident in 2008 when some conservative libertarians kept harping on the “free market” mantra because they literally had no other playbook. I recall specifically someone from the American Enterprise Institute on the radio arguing that bankers should keep their bonuses because that’s how capitalism works, even after the bailouts. When confronted by this he really had no response. He was literally dumbfounded. It is as if the market was the ends of the American political system, and all wealth is the product of the market.
Though not as constitutionally hostile to the idea of heritable differences this sort of free market conservatism is not comfortable with the idea that not everyone is born with the same opportunities. The reality is that the liberal Left critique of the nature of the outcomes of a free market is correct in some deep sense, even deeper than American liberals may wish to acknowledge. Some people are born with the genetic deck stacked against them, not just the social one (and of course, as noted above there is a lot of random noise). That undermines some of the moral case for the virtue of the market, since it is not blindly arbitrating the outcomes of our choices, as opposed as sifting based on the accumulated weight of inherited history, some of which is due to the genetic lottery.
The second strand in American conservatism is that of the Religious Right. The problem that it has is most clearly illustrated by the issue of gay rights. Though logically toleration of homosexual behavior and its innate or non-innate nature are not related, the Religious Right prefers that homosexuality be a choice for the purposes of moral censure. That is because though these Christians believe in original sin, they seem to espouse a sort of moral perfectionism where all men are equally endowed with the same sentiments and preferences (those sentiments being debased by Satan or the Satanic influence of culture). As opposed to Homo economicus, these Christians believe in Homo christianus. Though I personally espouse the bourgeois virtues of the Religious Right, their neglect of human diversity in disposition and sentiment leads us down the path of great disappointment, as many will miss the mark. A Religious Right which focused more on social cohesion in a general and collective sense, rather than personal and individual moral perfectionism, probably could produce better results (yes, it does take a village!). But the American radical Protestant model is fundamentally individualistic, and treats each human as equal and similar before Christ. And there I believe is the folly with moral crusades which attempt to turn every American family into the same American family. Such a world never was, and such a world will never be.
The Left looks to the perfect future which could be. The Right looks to the perfect past which was, and could be.
Media poison about Israel: Why?
In the last few weeks since the cease fire between Hamas and Israel in Gaza many journalists and other media commentators have started to argue over whether or not the Associated Press, The New York Times, the BBC and so on have been engaged in deliberate acts of distortion in order to present Israel as the villainous aggressor and the people and government in Gaza as the innocent victims of this excessive and criminal violence.
Most of this debate, if one can call it that, focuses on an essay written by Matti Friedmann who used to work for AP. Claim and counter-claim have been tossed about, some people, including his former bureau chief, arguing that there has been intimidation and coercion from the Hamas-run officials inside Gaza and from their politically-correct sympathizers around the western world, and other reporters working with other agencies and networks have reacted with shock, dismay and anger at being accused of such things, assuring everyone that they are honest, objective, professionals. But then a few of Freidman's fellow journalists at AP, such as Stephanie Butnick, have backed up his story, even adding some further charges of their own. Is this just a matter of he said/she said and everyone is entitled to their own opinion?
Although I am of the opinion after months and years of scrutinizing the news media, comparing the different sources, and coming to realize the amount of distortion and manipulation involved in demonizing Israel and hushing up the perfidy and fanaticism of the Hamas cause, I think the current debate on the intentions and integrity of the press agencies misses the point. Everyone believes he or she is right. It would be invidious to say otherwise or, rather, to collect all the data, make a chart, and draw logical conclusions. That is not the point.
What is the point?
It is certainly not a question mainly about conscious rational decisions. In many, if not most instances, the insulted editors and directors of the media probably do believe in all sincerity that they are carrying out their tasks with tact and integrity, while the reporters with a great deal of courage to point their fingers at their (former) colleagues and bosses honestly think they were forced into presenting lopsided versions of the events in the Middle East. As the old proverb has it, the proof is in the pudding: or, in a more recent formulation, if it looks like a duck, waddles like a duck and quacks, then it is a duck. The question has nothing-or rather very little to do with conscious intentions, let alone with beliefs and feelings.
If the proof is in the eating, the pudding has not been cooked well: the ingredients are a poisonous mixture of half-truths and outright lies, as well as of omissions and irrelevant side-issues. This apparently sweet-looking image of poor suffering Palestinians and blood-thirsty Zionists is a disgusting mess. Yet the bakers and chefs, along with the waiters and busboys all truly assume that they have been serving up precisely what their public wants and needs.
Overwhelmingly (to lapse for a moment into impressions and statistical charts) the western press has misrepresented the events of the fighting in Gaza-in fact, has not seen the fighting but presented the actions as a lopsided, disproportionate attack on the poor innocent civilians of Gaza; with the score-card of dead, injured, and homeless won by the Gaza people hands down. Provocative acts in the way of rockets and mortars shot into Israel, tunnels built with funds sent for humanitarian aid used instead for infiltration of Israeli territory, hiding of control and command centres, and storage of weapons and ammunition, and the actual number and identification of body-counts and causes of Palestinian losses all downplayed, if not manipulated, omitted or denied. Evidence of private dwellings booby-trapped so as to cause maximum secondary explosions, schools and mosques turned into munitions depots, hospital rooms devoted to military functions and a dozen other acts of perfidy have either been airbrushed away or trivialized.
Why can't the major media smell the stench or taste the noxious substance they have concocted? Why do most readers accept what they are served without objection?
First of all, it is because they are operating in an atmosphere of self-delusion, using discourses that do not allow their common sense to function properly, and are caught in a vicious circle of self-fulfilling prophecies. Post-modernism has provided the media moguls with a texture of specious reality in which to collect the news, process it through distorting lenses, and created as a set of so-called authorities to which they can measure and verify what they have confected. But this is still on the superficial level of words and images that are constantly rearranged and given new colours and tones, or new artificial flavours to return to our kitchen metaphor.
Second of all, there are layers of contextual history to be folded back and depths of unconscious motivation to be plumbed. In other words, the pudding has to undergo a chemical analysis and run through a physics investigation. Not only do they not believe they are doing anything wrong or unprofessional. In their own eyes and minds, they have vehemently doing precisely what they ought to do, what they have been taught to do, what they feel their readers want and need to know. You can't argue with that. In fact, they won't allow you to argue with them or to criticise their reasoning powers or their sense of common reality.
Still, deep down, the reality they operate from is not the same as the one most Jews and most Israelis, from personal and family history, from private and public experience share. Many psychohistorians, historians and psychologists who have been able to engage with terrorists, fanatics and suicide-killers point out-these excitable, traumatized and deluded persons operate within hallucinations and fantasies against projections of their own dysfunctional infancies and childhoods, respond to abusive parents, strict religious upbringing, loss of identity through migration and conflictual socializing. What they don't react against at the core of their being-though they use these other superficial hurts and humiliations as the rationalization for their violence-is "the occupation," poverty per se, discrimination or prejudice by neighbours, teachers or government officials. We know that Hamas, ISIS, Al-qaida, and a myriad of other militant, murderous organizations and pseudo-states are, as one says, in a "Bad Place," a confusing and confused place in their own minds. If they threaten or attack, you don't reason with them: you protect yourself, you attack them, you destroy them.
But-and this is the point we are getting at-what about the journalists, academics, intellectuals who support them, feel they should give them a voice, present not so much their side of the story as their narrative as the replacement for the privileged, colonialist, imperialist, aggressive, demonic other side? They are "our" journalists, academics, journalists, intellectuals: they are us. And yet the way they "frame" the news justifies our defeat, or at least the obliteration of Israel, all Jews everywhere, Americans and their allies in Europe and elsewhere. That is what we can see them doing, but that is not how they see themselves.
To us they are condescending, that is, we are fools and dupes of our own apocalyptic narrative, our lachrymose sense of history, our irrational refusal to accept what we read in the newspapers, see on television, hear them say. Accused, they are defensive, go into denial, and cry victimhood: The big bad wolf is after them. The troll under the bridge is lurking to grab them and gobble them up.
Why? God knows! Is there a solution? A new recipe to follow?
I dare not psychoanalyse people I have never met. The group behaviour does mark out the symptomatic behaviours that seem to justify their willingness to turn against western enlightened values and Judeo-Christian traditions, as well as overlooking manifest signs of evil and psychotic political actions. For some reason they are duped by the false and manipulated versions of the events in Gaza which non-western journalists, from India, for example, were able to see and then report. They have somehow or other become susceptible to the suggestions of a sentimentalized and infantilized of the passive Palestinians, and yet seem able, at least partly, to see what ISIS does in Syria and Iraq. Yet even there we can see hints, clues, symptoms, somewhat blurred versions of the mental disease: the journalists who sympathize with the fanatical causes, who even convert or work for the Islamicist or left-leaning radical networks, who identify with the so-called downtrodden and exploited-at times marry into the clans. Is this similar to the Laurence of Arabia love-affair with the exotic Arabian cause or the Stockholm Syndrome?
To reverse some of the effects of the post-modernist malaise (or psychosis), it would be necessary for them to climb out of the moment and (re)gain a comprehension of the complexities of life. The reduction of complicated and significant versions of the Truth to nothing but diverse, competing and equally meaningless "positionalities" requires practice in analytical skills-knowledge of many languages, study of the dynamic interaction of different kinds of cultures, (re)training in the elements of classical logic, Renaissance rhetoric and comparative jurisprudence, as well as studies in the history of religion. Instead of being satisfied with superficialities and sound-bites the journalist should learn to keep probing, seeking hidden motivations, unseen and often unconscious powers in the otherwise inexplicable and self-destructive behaviour of most peoples. One is tempted to say, "Give them an old -fashioned education and a good dose of practical experience in the real world" but at least to understand their manifest failures to approach what they say and do with caution.
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Posted by JR at 12:35 AM