Tuesday, May 05, 2015


What to say, what to say...

Everyone is wrong here.

My Bing and MSN news feeds are full of links from liberals commenting on how bad unemployment is, how white people just don't understand the frustration, how endemic the police brutality is, and how unfairly the decent people of Baltimore are being portrayed.  The idea that feelings of powerlessness lead to some semi-justification is common.  Only a few stories that would be cheered by conservatives sneak in.  My FB feed is more mixed, with a lot of the above from my liberal friends, and a lot of complaint from conservative friends that these cities have been run by Democrats for two generations, mayors, councils, police forces, schools, and this is what you get.  Lots of blather from all sides about lack of fathers, lack of opportunity, systemic racism, the nonsense they teach in schools these days...

You can summarise all this yourself better than I can, because some of you have TV and are exposed to the popular culture responses more fully than I am. Takle a moment to recall there standard cliches of the last few weeks.


Two things, one on each "side" irritate me most: conservatives who point to something-or-other and say "I too have experienced prejudice."  No, you really haven't, not so thoroughly, unless perhaps if you have a severe physical or mental disability.  You may have individual incidents of being hated or discriminated against, including prejudice from black people - and you may have lived in an area where some other group was equally ostracised, but the pervasive prejudice experienced by African-Americans is just different. From a hundred meters away people are judging you and you are always trying to get up over.

On the other side, the claim by liberals, especially black journalists, that they understand what the African-Americans in Baltimore are feeling and thinking, is ludicrous.  They are projecting what they themselves are angry about, and assuming that the young men of Baltimore must, simply must, be thinking the same thing.  They are reinforced in this by the genuine downtrodden of Baltimore, and Detroit, and St. Louis, who nod their heads and say "Yeah, that's it."  This gives the journalists the impression that they are giving voice to the voiceless and all that.

It's not true. While there is overlap in the experience of blackness whether you live in inner Baltimore or nicer suburbs, the experience is not the same. Ta-Nehisi Coates does not actually understand that culture.  He could potentially understand it better than I do, but he doesn't because he deludes himself into overlooking the obvious.  That nearly all my life examples of sub 80 IQ are white, I actually have some advantage.  Race is no distraction. 

Let me explain what's different. The people who were able to escape the cities and get a leg up in the world are different from those who haven't managed it. There are a lot of qualities that could possibly go into succeeding in life.  The Dungeon and Dragons categories (following the necessary virtues for medieval adventure) were Strength, Intelligence, Wisdom, Dexterity, Constitution, Charisma. Of these, only three are that measurable: Strength, Intelligence, and Dexterity. All three are essentially genetic.  We don't know about the others so well, but the dial is starting to point that way for those as well.

Strength and Dexterity still have their uses, especially in athletics and the arts, but they aren't worth what they used to be.

Charisma can indeed overcome a lot of obstacles, but it's hard to count on. Wisdom may be mostly ability to keep one's temper and delay gratification, plus some empathy. Those are turning out to correlate strongly with Intelligence.

It's not the only good survival quality, but it is enormously necessary in Western culture (and increasingly in worldwide cultures), and it is very measurable.

But inner-city Baltimore hasn't got it.  The counties around Baltimore include five of the top nine most affluent areas for African-Americans. Many of those folks came out of Baltimore over the last 40 years. Inner Baltimore, according to its school test scores, has an average IQ of 80 (Black 76, white 86). I don't know much about Baltimore, but I know a fair bit about IQ 80. I don't think most people get how low that is, how limited the abilities of people with those scores are. A hundred years ago, there were still plenty of jobs for them to do.

I believe we are moving into a world where fewer and fewer of us will have (decent) jobs.  The citizens of Baltimore are the canaries in the mine.

Remember percentile scores on your gradeschool standardised tests? 86 is 14th percentile.  80 is 9th percentile.  76 is 4th percentile. 80 is about the lowest score where you can graduate highschool - if you have other good qualities like determination, friendliness, resilience.  Without those, you aren't graduating without help. Consider this graph, which shows what the range of IQ's are for various jobs. If you have a large housekeeping staff where you work, a few might be grandfathered in who score as low as 76.  But usually, the knowledge of chemicals, rules, and techniques require more than that. Restaurant dishwashing is barely in range, bussing tables barely in range. At a construction site, IQ 80 is mostly only able to do what is directly ordered.  Being a carpenter is out of range.

Conservatives have to stop saying that it's just a matter of expecting more from people and not rewarding pathology.  Incentives do work in the real world, but they have to be attainable. I have no idea what will work in Baltimore in the short or long run, but just  being stern and having good role models or higher standards is not going to work.  It's just cruelty.

Liberals need to stop pretending that racism is the cause of failure, just because it sounds more encouraging.  Racism is real and has some effect, but it's not the main cause.  Racism was far worse 50 and 100 years ago, and the more able have benefited from its reduction. But that reduction has not benefited the left half of the bell curve.  It just hasn't. I don't know what will.  But having more blacks on the police force, teaching in the schools, being on City Councils, or getting elected mayor has not had any noticeable effect anywhere on crime rates or test scores.  There are 3000 counties, each with different cultures, demographics, salaries, training, and expectations, and they all have much higher violent crime rates among African Americans.  They can't all be equally racist.


Bonus understanding:  John Derbyshire got in trouble a few years ago for what he called The Talk: Nonblack Version. Derb is a better mathematician than I, but I think he misread the data and got his numbers wrong.  He focused on the 1SD lower score of African-Americans in general, and just assumed that this leftward sliding of the curve applied automatically to the black people he meets. It doesn't.  John Derbyshire does not meet that many African-Americans from the left side of the Gaussian distribution. (Ta-Nehisi Coates doesn't meet that many more.) So when he meets a black waitress, she is not, on average, 15 points down the scale from the white waitresses.  5 is more likely, 10 at most.  Within range so that other factors, such as charm, experience, attention to detail, and effort could outweigh the disadvantage.  And when we are considering individuals rather than populations, even that much assumption is as likely to blow up in your face as prove out.

Friday, May 01, 2015

Art Is Manipulation

I posted on FB when I got back from a production of Les Miserables last night.  My brother, a lighting designer who has forgotten more than I ever knew about theater, commented that it is a very manipulative show, and very good at it. I responded that art is pretty much manipulation.

I still think that this morning. Theater, painting, music, writing - all are attempts to move us or convince us of something in a non-logical manner.  I do not say illogical, because there are artists who are able to defend with reason the ideas they put forward, or at least, there are allies who can do so even if the artist himself cannot. I mentioned CS Lewis and the ideas of afterlife in the previous comment section.  What he illustrated in The Great Divorce and parts of other works of fiction he lays out as theology in his nonfiction. The successive schools of painting, now devolved into an irritating low-intensity warfare, were about ideas, not just technique: how Jesus should be portrayed, who is important enough to be painted, what is the nature of reality, what is worthy of our attention.

Manipulation is a loaded negative word, and if you wish to substitute another I don't much mind.  I did not seek a milder synonym myself, as I wanted to keep the arresting quality of the word. We complain about manipulation when we disapprove of the idea and appears to be working on others. Jaed mentioned "Jesus is my boyfriend" worship music, which is not that different from the poetry and diaries of medieval mystics, or even Song of Solomon. I find it uncomfortable, which allows me to notice and dislike the manipulative quality. Yet all other worship music is manipulative, just a different brand, appealing to a different taste, and highlighting other aspects of God.

That's what music is. It is true of comic songs, celebratory songs, patriotic songs, despairing songs - all tweak emotions and associations via shortcuts. A playwright focuses on a single individual to tell the story of many people, even a whole nation.  But he can manipulate the action on the stage to "prove" that virtue is rewarded, or that it is not. I thought of Philip Yancey's The Jesus I Never Knew (or was it What's So Amazing About Grace?) even before I got to the theater last night, because the episode of Bishop Myriel forgiving the theft of silver by Jean Valjean figures prominently in Yancey's exhortation that we should do likewise. I remember being irritated at the time at Yancey's treating the episode as if it were a real incident. Hugo can make Valjean learn and repent, or not.  (Jesus tells us to forgive because we have been forgiven, not because it is a strategy that works to improve others.  It might, but that is barely noticed.)

Our films come out of a particular culture, and so things get thrown in that seek to influence us. I recall how much my gay friends in college liked the changes in Cabaret from the stage to film versions, in that homosexuality is treated as the major subtheme. The regarded the lines "Screw Maximilian.  I do.  So do I." much as others would regard hearing mention of their hometown. Multiply this by a hundred movies (100 plays, 100 novels, 100 TV episodes) and the culture views homosexuality differently now, especially among those who follow those particular arts closely. If you approve, you see it as good advertising, or accurately reflecting reality, or advocacy. If you disapprove, you see it as manipulation.

Yes, even messageless music has a message: let's forget about all that and just dance, just have fun, just have sex. That particular manipulation seems to be working pretty well these days.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The Afterlife In Popular Opinion

I told a story to a friend/acquaintance about a person who had done wrong but was now deceased. "Boy, his wife is going to have a few things to say to him when she sees him, huh?" came the head-nodding comment. The acquaintance is not any kind of churchgoer, as far as I can tell. I concluded that his comment is something close to the American Average.

I tried to tease out what was in this.  He sees the afterlife as a place where one primarily sees the people known here.  All truths are now laid bare. You receive an accurate judgment of your actions. But the judgment does not come from God, it comes from other humans. Perhaps God is in the background as a sort of backstop to the whole affair.

From what I read in the American Average, those who suffered, suffer no more. Their bodies are strong and healthy, their evil oppressors have no more power over them, their weaknesses are turned to beautiful strengths. But God is rather absent from this as well.  Every tear shall be dried, but by whom? Deity implied at a distance perhaps. As with Christmas and Easter, some of the essential themes are recognisable, but the major player has been removed.

Apparently God is too intense, and we prefer to look away, put on sunglasses. In that, the rest of the world is only exhibiting in exaggeration what even the best of Christians cannot help but do. It's all very CS Lewis and The Great Divorce.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Additional Cause of CAGW

In answer to the obvious question, of course I remembered the theme song. Got a few words wrong, though.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Minor Update

(Bumped because of Comments)

I am set on my heels in the evaluation of "Darn Nice People."  I have learned more than I am willing to share, but one important point:  There is a continuum of underdog rooting that eventually gets to the pathological.  Yet underdog rooting is in itself a good human quality.  It is along this axis that part of the trouble lies.

As with most other sins, this is virtue out-of-control, unchecked. I am tempted to say that in half-measure, this would be good.  But I have read enough Lewis (and Tolkien, Chesterton, Solzhenitsyn, Orwell, MacDonald) to suspect first that this is a quality that has evil in it down to the root, which only manifests as quantity increases.  Dangerous territory, of course, because that is easily said about the virtue of conservatives as well. Subtle dangers cut to the bone.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Life Begins At Conception

I don't find abortion mentioned often in HBD writing, except occasionally in the context of sex-selection or speculations about selecting for other traits at some future date.  If I had to guess, I would say that few of that crowd are strongly pro-life, simply because 1) it's never mentioned and 2) there is a slightly lesser percentage of religious people, and Catholics and Evangelicals make up most of the strong pro-lifers.

It is interesting then, that they are coming to a very Catholic position in one small part of the discussion: who you are is very much more determined at conception than the rest of the culture believes. I don't know what comes of it.  Perhaps nothing. But it's interesting.

Japan 2013 = USA 1963

I am listening to all fifty songs in the mix. I love them and want to take them all home.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Family-Friendly Church

There is much deploring going on about the unbearable lightness of the gospel in America. Well, it's what we teach the children, certainly, so if you don't attend church after age 12 or so, you will not ever hear much else.  Children's sermons are about being nice to others, seeking to do a good work for any sad or downtrodden person, or praying when you are scared.

That is hardly a terrible thing.  We teach what can be learned, what is appropriate for their age and circumstance, and what is likely to have some reality. Though I suspect that in countries where Christians are persecuted the lessons might be different.  We don't really want to teach those lessons here, because they awaken fears of trials and dangers that are not likely to come to pass anytime soon. Most experienced adults have encountered bright children with strong imaginations who were caused unnecessary pain by sharp lessons.  Those children are particularly good at accusing the church when they grow up and leave it as adults, which puts us back on our heels even more.

Yet children encounter danger in books and movies with great pleasure. (Or do they?  Troubling images stay in the mind for years.) Perhaps we are too timid.

Not only the children.  Because at least the older children remain present at most family-friendly worship services and church events, their parents don't get exposed to much that is alarming either. It is not just that the theology is streamlined - the reality of pain and suffering in this life is politely ignored as well.

Times of public prayer offsets this somewhat.  Even if the requests focus largely on the medical, the military deployments, and the job searches and marital problems (of the extended, not nuclear family), we all get to be reminded that it's not all cakes and ale.  Small groups provide this as well.

Still, I wonder what they teach in Syrian and Indonesian Christian churches these days.