Thursday, July 13, 2017

Social Cost

Watching the Trump/Anti-Trump phenomenon is somewhat interesting in terms of popular culture and serious culture. However, we've seen this before - Sarah Palin making her opponents embarrass themselves hating, and the lack of price they paid with their own people comes to mind. There were few voices to cry halt from the left then.  With Trump, there are some from the right very willing to criticise him.  I'm not sure there are many voices from the left consistently criticising the anti-Trumpsters for going overboard, but then I wouldn't tend to see that in my usual online places anymore.  Alan Dershowitz, maybe.

But that's all be fairly predictable, and will likely continue with nothing new to chew on.  What has been new has been looking at myself and my own reactions. I have not liked Trump, and while his coarseness has been odious, that hasn't been what bothered me most. He lies, and he lies reflexively.  He lies more often than the Clintons (though his style is different). Even habitual liars tell the truth most of the time.  When someone asks "where's the butter?" is is a rare pathology which would attempt to consistently mislead people at that point.  This is in fact part of how liars succeed.  The do tell the truth most of the time and so have a lot of practice looking honest.  They mostly lie by leaving things out. Hillary, John Kerry, and Al Gore had strong tendencies to be bullshit artists, making up stuff to look cooler or more important, but their lying about important stuff was usually far more precise and controlled.  They would choose words carefully, they would answer related questions in order to avoid the point. They would flat-out deceive at times, but tried to avoid it as much as possible. Trump does some of that, but much less.  He is much more blustery, off-the-cuff, and careless.

This bothers me, because you never know how deep this is going to go.  He could do this about something very large. (This next part is not central to my main point, but I think needs to be said just for balance, to avoid giving the wrong impression.) To date, however, accusations against him tend to be big news for a little while, but when you push them for what they definitely are versus what they might possibly be they shrink.  Trump Jr met with maybe a real spy-person!  Therefore, he could have done very bad influenced-by-spy things, and it looks bad! Well yes, that might turn out to be so.  But we don't know it to be so. When politicians lie, we immediately suspect - with good reason - that they are covering something big.  I don't know if that applies with Donald.

Anyway, the point is about observing myself. I find that my default position in such matters is to look for personal cost, especially social cost, and respect the group that is paying that.  Who pays a cost socially for opposing Trump?  Almost no one in my entire circle, including my right-wing friends.  There has been a nice social niche carved out for some conservatives to deplore Trump. Yes, the Trumpsters are louder, and maybe ruder, but there's nothing new here. Liberals, of course get a lot of support from each other, and even some surprising alliance from centrists and conservatives.

They pay no social cost. No new social cost, anyway.

There are families, and districts, and churches where a liberal can be treated badly, and nearly everyone has someone in their universe who can inflict pain on them for their beliefs.  But I don't think being anti-Trump has added to the already-present cost of being anti-Tea Party, anti-Bush, anti-Republican, etc. Being pro-Trump does carry new social costs, however. You get harangued even more than you did for being for Romney or in the Tea Party or whatever.  The liberals hate you more and now even some conservatives are making fun of you as well.

Trumpsters do pay a new social cost.

I knew reacting against social reward was part of my makeup, but I had not realised it was this strong. It doesn't logically extend to the outer limits, because some things are unpopular and subject to social cost for very good reasons, after all. Deploring is a weapon that allows us to forego violence or boycott over every little thing. But I don't think I'm going to back away from this position just yet.  People will land in the places where it is easy to land, yet congratulate themselves on their courage. I find my sympathies lie in the opposite direction. If you are paying a cost, I want to know about that, and I think I am looking for ways to defend you from unfair criticism.

How Will They Look Back On Us?

Twice today I have read someone who is worried what people in the future will think of us.  Have I been seeing this more lately, or is it just an accident?  In both cases, the worrier was and environmentalist. It just seems to both them to think that people in fifty years would look back and not give us a good grade. Some sense of having let the world down, I think.

I have children and grandchildren.  Any idea of someone fifty years from now evaluating my performance has nothing to do with any environmental actions. Those are more important evaluations to me. Yet a general grade from the future is not completely opaque to me. Historians, professional and amateur, look at actions of individuals and groups in the past and weigh whether their decisions were good.  One of the problems with this is that we know what happened next and much of what passed seems inevitable to us now.  We have a hard time putting ourselves into the heads of the people fifty or five hundred years ago, when the outcome was not known.  But we like to have the imagined approbation of those who will come after.

Perhaps the two are related?  Environmentalists don’t seem to be people having a lot of children.  Decades ago I read a magazine article (?) complaining that once the faithful had children they didn’t come around to the protests anymore, stopped volunteering, and eventually let their memberships lapse. I wish I could find it again. Perhaps that’s not true anymore anyway, as popular culture has been known to change.  Still, Bill McKibben’s book about having children was Maybe One. The cart and horse may have gotten disguised on this one.  Those who have less interest in having children may go looking for some other way to have a lasting impact.  Those with children are more likely to seek out religious or cultural continuity to give their time and resources to. (Some without children might prefer those as well. The aesthetic pleasure of reducing carbon doesn’t have the same oomph as a library or a chapel, I don’t think.)

Looking back on ourselves from an imagined future perspective would seem to be less self-centered, anyway. It would bring the mind to larger questions, of what’s really important in the long run? Where are the greatest risks and dangers to our descendants? Those seem at least a step up from keeping the focus on ourselves and whatever stuff we can get now. Thinking of others and all that.
Or not. Those questions are variations of what do I want my legacy to be? It depends on what side of the telescope you are looking into. Neither more nor less self-centered as how I might ask the question of myself.  Answering the question in an environmentalist way is a declaration that culture is less important than physical surroundings.  My opinions on that are definite. Imagining a future world that has important Christian values preserved – no, I should be more direct and say a world where there are still Christians - and western values derived from them such as a generalised egalitarianism, charity, representative government, or self-sacrifice, I don’t much care about whether we have “enough” species, or whether there is some discomfort in living because we’ve broken some important pieces of furniture, and not even whether some places are no longer beautiful that once were.  I would prefer to preserve any good things, certainly, but varieties of shrimp or whether some mountains have houses instead of forests are down the list.

Imagining the other future, where we preserved the world to look much as it does now and even reclaimed some places so that they are theme parks to the year 1000 (BC or AD), but there are no churches, no major thirds, no freedom to choose one’s work or mate or reading material, I don’t want it to exist.  I don’t care what happens to a human race which gave all that up, and I don’t care what grade they give me on my carbon footprint or whether we embraced wind power quickly enough.
At the change of the millennium I sealed up a cheap time capsule in a metal bin designed for the purpose. It may preserve the souvenirs, objects, and writings. It includes some things from my own mother and reaching back into my family’s cultural past.  Some things I wrote are already out-of-date and a little embarrassing. My children might still be around in 2100, given improvements in life-extension.  Some of my granddaughters and any later grandchildren will certainly still be here. If my church or some other followers of Christ get to see it it might have value. I did care at the time how they will view these things, and whether I can reach into the future for one last influence. I care some about what grade they will give me.  But all those will be old at that point, not likely to change much.  Any deeper descendants, great-great grandchildren, if they find what I held dear to be unimportant or even occasion for mockery…

Then screw ‘em.  I could care less how they view me looking back. If my morality seems generally wrong  (I don’t quibble minor changes) and their new improved one much better, then they are wrong and are no kin of mine. Is that harsh? Taken live, I might be even more emphatic, if I returned like Jacob Marley to speak to them. If I don’t care about those, even those, why on earth would I care what the Best People might think of me looking back? 

(This is, incidentally, what I think about space colonization as well. The mere perpetuation of my species is of no interest to me, if they aren’t tied to me in culture, especially faith.)

Sunday, July 09, 2017

Ignoring Race

In dealing with psychotic people, I have almost got it into my head that one does not put the energy into contradicting a delusion or misinterpretation.  It is wasted energy.  A favorite psychiatrist was explaining to a beleaguered wife of a veteran with schizophrenia "Let him walk the boundaries thinking he's protecting the family.  Your children have grown, your neighbors understand, and he isn't hurting anything. You only have to step in and forbid him when he says he's going to go down to the town hall, or the police station, or those bastards at the VA and going to do something about it.  You may think you can nip those situations in the bud by intervening when he's just grousing or complaining.  That may work with children.  It usually doesn't work with children (he had five) but sometimes it does and it's our job as parents to try.  But it almost never works with adults.  Postpone all confrontations until you have to."

I still yearn to nip those situations in the bud, because as a person who wants to be reasonable and see the world act reasonably I want to change someone's thinking that 15 degrees that makes all the difference.  But my psychiatrist friend was right, it doesn't work.  Nor does it work very often with people who aren't psychotic, but have long ago made up their minds.  Which includes me, and perhaps you as well.

So I think ignoring the race-IQ, race & violence, race and impulsivity, or race and any ability is the way to go.  Liberals may focus on group outcomes, but libertarians, conservatives, and all true children of The West focus on the individual.  We should try to maintain that focus as long as we reasonably can.  This holds true for male-female, straight-homosexual, Christian-nonbeliever, old-young, and ethnic differences as well.  Insofar as it is possible, we should push all those thoughts aside.  Absent any solutions that are real rather than theoretical, there is simply no point.  There is no need to waste the energy.  The worldly world values intelligence, wealth, education, charm, beauty, connections, athletic ability and other values which the Christian is supposed to enjoy but regard lightly.  We are supposed to prize generosity, kindness, faith, wisdom, chastity, courage, hope, honesty, and a dozen other virtues instead*. To use Jesus's calling-on song Let he who has ears hear: the worth of a woman or man is not in these things.

The crunch comes when the discussions turn into actions.  When innocent police officers, or teachers, or school administrators, or employers are being blamed because the explanation for individual behavior is placed on systemic bias or residual racism, then we have to rise up out of the tall grass and cry False! **  As with the veteran with schizophrenia above, only when such things come to action - when they are going into the textbook (or from the textbook to the student); when they are going into legislation; when they are going into a public shaming of a decent person doing his job should we be bound to intervene.  In public debate we should be willing to match arguments when others have introduced race or gender or religion (even while pretending not to), but we should not be eager to bring these up. We should go down those roads when we have to.

I reluctantly think it is fair to bring up when racism accusations are part of campaigning.  I have lo0ng said "If we aren't racist.greedy/sexist then they have nothing to campaign on."  I suppose we should try and take anme-calling away from them as much as possible.

*In the scout law we see Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean, and Reverent.  I don't see wealthy, educated, intelligent, or charming in there - though the real virtues may produce the worldly ones at times.

** I am not claiming that systemic bias or residual racism are never present.  It's just that they are too easy to appeal to without warrant.

Friday, July 07, 2017

Untouchable Subject?

This opinion piece came in over the transom and it looked worth commenting on.
 I love McWhorter, and have a few of his books. I also like where he starts this argument: suppose it’s true. I used to love to see that with Bill James about baseball clichés. Pitching is 90% of baseball. What would flow from that?  Wouldn’t pitchers command higher salaries, then, as quarterbacks do in football? Or perhaps, a few would have the bulk of the biggest contracts? In fact, this does not happen.  Therefore, our first conclusion is that whether or not pitching actually is 90% of baseball, no one is spending their money as if that were true – including the people who made the original claim. This freed up a lot of space for the statistical and reasoning arguments he wanted to examine next.

The problem is, McWhorter doesn’t quite examine his supposition.  He looks at parts of the issue but evades others, or at least, does not answer them here.  He moves to the question of Why would people want to talk about it? This overlaps with the question What if the race-IQ gap is at least partly genetic? But it is not the same question. He discusses what motive people could have for discussing the issue (paragraphs 22-25).

You know how much I love discussing motive before establishing  facts.

When you get through all the on-the-one-hand, one-the-other-hand caveats that he puts in to show he really is listening to all sides, and he really is trying to be fair, he gives us the following: we shouldn’t talk about it because no one is going to accept it.  Nice people think the possible responses to believing there could be more than a small genetic component are too deplorable, so there will be no practical effect. I think that is both true, and a terrible, evasive approach. It likely is true that no one is going to believe it so just shut up. However, liberalism in the post-enlightenment sense has scored its cultural victories by doing just the opposite: yes we will too talk about women being able to vote/hold property/go to college/fly jet planes, whether people want to hear it or not. Yes we will too challenge public schools leading children in prayer even though it enjoys 90% approval rate.
BTW, as I said, I like McWhorter and I don’t think his boilerplate niceness is insincere. He makes good points about non-black populations showing some of the same patterns, also attributing those to culture.* He has been friends with Charles Murray (who, despite his reputation among liberals, believes that culture is an influence in behavior, and genetics are only a portion). Yet he doesn’t answer the core question, “What if it’s at least partly true and we’re just stuck with it?”

If it were simply a neutral, where everyone could just look away and pretend there is nothing to see, I have no problem with just ignoring the issue. I generally do, because there are many things it doesn't affect.  The problem is that the people who want the Charles Murrays, and certainly the Greg Cochranes of the world to just shut up do themselves talk about race and IQ all the time.  They talk about it by denying it, and insisting at every grade level through college and most graduate schools, and at every major magazine and news source, that environment is the cause of the gap. Our public policies in education, in job training, affirmative action and discrimination, are entirely founded on that assumption. Sometimes it is explicit, as in social science courses where the lack of genetic connection will be expressly asserted, but more often it is just part of the furniture. Making an assertion that something is not racial is just another way of bringing up race.  It's unfair to then accuse others of "bringing race into it all the time." 

So the answer to McWhorter’s question, a challenge to those who are “obsessed” with race and IQ, “What, precisely, would we gain from discussing this particular issue?” is We are already discussing it, all the time, but only one side gets to speak. The correct translation of McWhorter (though he likely doesn't intend it that way) is “What, precisely, would all of us gain from letting you talk back?”**   

Let us here pile on and note that when they speak they offer the insult of "racist" about anyone who disagrees. It’s not a neutral discussion where one side is politely and reasonably avoiding confrontation, clucking at those "obsessed" fire-breathers who keep bringing up hurtful things all the time. There are some who do inject race into any discussion, who may fairly be called "obsessed." They seem about equal on all sides. 

It gets worse, as this discussion usually does.  McWhorter believes, and hopes very much that the science will eventually bear him out, that “culture” is a major driver of the gap, specifically “orality” versus “literacy.” (See first footnote.)  He argues that culture persists over time, even when the reasons for it have vanished or even reversed. An oppressed group, especially one which came from a non-literate tribe, might regard literacy as less-important even when the oppression has lifted and incentives for literacy are great.  That sounds very believable. It could well be so. Conservatives are actually very big on believing that cultural factors are a big deal. Many more of them tend to those explanations of fatherlessness, expectations, future-orientation, and diligence than to genetic explanations. 

So now try to take that culture discussion national, hmm?  When you open up the door that says “culture,” once you have gotten past the Originally Comes From Oppression part, you can’t say anything else.  Let me correct myself.  One can also say “If only those black children could be encouraged to understand that it’s worthwhile to do well in school.”  Gosh darn it, why didn’t I think of that? Beyond that, "culture" is becoming a radioactive subject.  Try and go public with what is essentially a “black people have to raise their kids different” answer. I don't want to go there myself, but it's sort of hard to avoid at that point, even though we didn’t mean to go there. 

Try and have a discussion about culture that doesn't involve parenting.
It wasn’t where anyone wanted to go, but it once could be said by black people to each other, and the very liberal Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson used to do that.  I’m not sure you can do even that now.  I think that experiment has been run. If you want to go "culture," then Theodore Dalrymple, Thomas Sowell, and a dozen other guys you want nothing to do with are suddenly on the scene.  Oh, and Charles Murray. I think that dog won't hunt myself, but you're welcome to try.

What has come from the culture emphasis is a rejection of the norms of success because those are called arbitrary white norms.  That is partly true. But showing up on time is intimately related to a view of time that allows space launches, round-the-clock coverage for firemen and hospitals, paying people accurately, or the transportation of millions of people. The qualities one must learn to be a shepherd might be just as honorable, to man and to God, as the qualities of an accountant. But there just aren’t that many jobs for shepherds, and they don’t pay that well.

*But again - group IQ  could be a sufficient explanation for orality versus literacy in both those instances. While culture looks like a possible explanation at first glance, we get into a cart/horse problem.  The average white IQ in West Virginia is estimated at 95.1.   We get into complicated discussions of what IQ actually measures, and how sensitive it is to whether your culture wants you to go to school, try hard on the test, or not. It may not be that low, and Massachusetts may not actually be as high as 104.4  (For reference, #5 - #47 is only a  4 point range, 98.4 - 102.4). The Uzbeks have been isolated since the Silk Road became obsolete when the Europeans got their sea-trading going, centuries ago. But McWhorter has already ceded those grounds for purpose of this  discussion in his early paragraphs. Culture may derive from intelligence more than drive it.
**The answer might actually be “nothing.” The Assistant Village Idiot has no so-obvious-but-unspoken-advantages to point out.  But I would like the question to be framed that way before answering, to illustrate that is what we are really talking about.

Wednesday, July 05, 2017


Did NPR tweet out our primary secessionist document on July 4 for the years 2009-2016? Of course they didn't.  They are trolling Trump and his supporters and feigning innocence. They tweeted it rather than simply reading or discussing it in the hopes of catching people with the out-of-context 140-character sections. They didn't (and won't) tweet the Constitution, they chose a document of a specific political act and context, which refers to a foreign ruler. The principles in it do indeed apply to every subsequent age, including ours, and every president and party in power should read it and tremble. NPR has the right to make these points and connect them to the present day. In fact, somebody should every year. They just don't have the right to pretend otherwise, selling the idea that they were merely doing their usual patriotic celebration by tweeting out the Declaration of Independence, when these ridiculous Others took it entirely the wrong way.

That said, some Trump supporters and conservatives - groups with some overlap - were trolled effectively. They might not recognise fragments of the Declaration as they go by, but they should have been suspicious of the the slightly-archaic wording and vocabulary, and they should have smelled a rat. This seems related to the Premature Expostulation that Bethany has been talking about and it's lead-in essay. A moment's googling of any of the tweets would have revealed the truth. They got taken in and deserve their ridicule. I will grant them this, though.  They did penetrate the real intent and responded to it. Just not effectively.

Sunday, July 02, 2017

Pacifism, Militarism, and Jesus.

I dislike the Fourth of July sermon about religious freedom that is preached every year, though today's was better than others.  While we should cultivate gratitude for any good thing which comes into our lives, individually or corporately, Americans, especially evangelicals, too easily equate freedom of religion with the gospel. It has been going on for decades, maybe centuries, and I see no way to undo it.

The opposite error, that Jesus was rather obviously pacifist and nationalism an especial danger irritates me as well, and I have discussed it here before.

Rather than just taking potshots at other people's ideas, however, I think I should make some statement about what the real Christian doctrine is.  It is always easier to criticise others than it is to craft a postion oneself, which then becomes subject to analysis by others.

Today's text was from Psalm 144
Praise be to the Lord my Rock,
    who trains my hands for war,
    my fingers for battle.
He is my loving God and my fortress,
    my stronghold and my deliverer,
my shield, in whom I take refuge,
    who subdues peoples under me.

Yet Jesus said to turn the other cheek. We could multiply examples on both sides.  We often quote the verse about beating swords into plowshares in our current thinking.  Yet there is also a verse about beating plowshares into swords. (Joel 3:10) The issue is not simple - reality seldom is - neither historically nor theologically.

I believe that the Gospel is pushed forward in the long run by the counter-intuitive, self-sacrificing aspect of Christian teaching. However, that may only be in the longest of long runs, and in a fallen world we should not assume that God has left that open to us in every situation.  And especially, we should not assume that those who do not take that route are less pleasing to God.

Which pacifists do, as you may have noticed. Even more, those whose god is internationalism are very prone to disdain for those who defend nations. That may be a deeper darkness and hypocrisy.

War is a holding action, in terms of the gospel.  It does not advance the faith, except in a superficial sense.  But it can prevent the faith from being overrun in the short term.  We all live in the short term, after all.  If I seem to be damning militarism with faint praise by calling it a neutral, a stop-gap, a Plan B or C, understand that medicine is also a holding action.  Firemen, mechanics, policemen, nurses, EMT's, counselors, occupational therapists, and editors all fix things rather than build them, and are analogous to those who go to war to prevent evils from growing.

This is not pure, certainly. Surgeons deal with pathology, obstetricians help life come along; there are plumbers who fix and plumbers who build; military special forces try to win hearts and minds but are prepared to destroy things. Fixing fairly often means destroying before building. Still, while there is a distinction between fixers and builders, both are worthy. God does not seem to have forbidden any type of fixer, even if destruction is part of their deal.  Nor does He seem to have singled out builders for especial praise.  Educators, engineers, artists, parents, inventors - these are not described as closer to God.  St Paul does tell us that some parts of the body have greater honor than others, but is a bit vague about exactly which those are.

When we picture soldiering as one of the fixing professions, we see that even aggressive military action might be justified, or even commanded by God. Modern Christians tend to shrink from this idea. Doubly so since our opponents might possibly be socialists. If Communism is essentially a Christian (or possibly Jewish) heresy, it is revealing that some Christians are quite sure we must be wrong if we want to fight them.  As the old criticism goes, perhaps they are not really neutral, but just on the other side. (Ron Radosh on Pete Seeger.)

I believe that religious freedom ultimately doesn't get us anywhere, if no one is there to preach about Jesus.  Being free to believe mostly-untrue religions does no man good.  In the short term of our 80-year lives, I suppose it's better to have freedom than not, but it's ultimately for nothing. Nor is an American Christianity likely to be less of a heresy than German Christianity was, if allowed to go where it pleases. We started higher and closer, perhaps, but our fall would therefore be greater and more tragic.  I believe that the message of the martyr is ultimately more powerful, and earnestly to be desired. Yet not in all times and all places.  It is good to preserve good, and evil to throw goodness away unnecessarily, for an idolatry of martyrdom rather than the cause of Christ Himself.

God may call one person to war, and another to forego war, even in the same household.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Keeping Up

It's important for Christians to keep up with current events, so that we spend our compassion on the right cause.  It would be a shame to waste it on the wrong people.

You can tell it's one of the rotating causes of the month when you get lectured about how so many people don't have the right attitude about it (implied: like you ), and developing a good attitude seems to be taking precedence over any concrete help you might be giving. Less-fashionable causes, representing the other billion or so people who need our help, tend to emphasise what they are doing and what the people they help actually need.

Not always.  I oversimplify.  Yet I don't think I'm wrong.

I think we are about due for a new popular cause to get harangued about, but our attention span is short.  It will in all likelihood be one of the causes in the current rotation that waits for a tragedy to push to the front again. The wheel changes slowly over time. Republican congressmen  aren't on that list, so that one's off the front page.  Other causes lie in wait.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Critical Periods

Montessori teaching, at least where we were in the 1980's was very big on "critical periods" for learning tasks.  There is a sweet spot where a child can learn things with ease, but when the time is past, it's an uphill battle.

The strongest example is foreign languages, where everyone in America has dozens of examples of children who picked up a language they were exposed to without conscious effort, but teenagers are reduced to tears trying to learn German and adults don't even bother to try unless they absolutely have to.  This is supposedly true of music, math, drawing, and penmanship as well, though less strongly.  But I don't know that the evidence for any of those is that strong.  Everyone is exposed to some music and some mathematics just by walking around, even if they aren't taught any at school, so I'm not sure it's a clear measurement.  They would learn different aspects of music and math, not none at all, and this might be enough to build the proper brain structures.