Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Many Things Are Partly True

The violent crime rate is higher among African-Americans.  That is simply a statistical fact. People who write or comment about racism, police violence, or state-by-state differences who don't know that are not much worth reading.  Also, there are many who know this somewhere in their brains, but forget it when they try to convince others of their narrative. People like to talk about root causes, or education, or gun control or whatever and blithely ignore that particular elephant in the room. We are, all of us, able to hold completely contradictory thoughts in our heads for long periods.

OTOH, the false detention, false arrest, and false conviction rates are higher for African-Americans. They get worse attorneys, they get longer sentences for the same offense, they get released on parole less quickly. That is also a matter of simple statistics. Ignoring that is not so much a matter of ignoring an elephant as ignoring many hyenas in the room.

If you favor one set of narratives, you believe that the former fact is the dominant one, a big enough elephant to render hyenas irrelevant.  If you favor a second set of narrative, you are sure that the hyenas, collectively, balance out the elephant.

Hyenas balancing an elephant. There's an image, eh? Okay, this metaphor has gone significantly awry, but I'm betting you are still understanding exactly what I mean.

Back to the second narrative, those people believe that the combination of poverty, unemployment, discouragement, lack of fathers/role models, poor policing, rotten public defenders, racist individuals, and institutional racism explain the racial disparity in violence. If you want to throw lead consumption, nutrition, prenatal vitamins, and head injuries in there they wouldn't necessary object.  What is important to them is the faith that there are no intrinsic differences among the races. They take it as an article of faith that this must be true.

Therefore, when there is a noticeable difference in the reporting of crime, the people of the second narrative immediately conclude that this can only be due to racism and ill-will. Cries of double-standard arise immediately, and in attempting to discuss the issue one quickly realises that there is not going to be any discussion taking place.  You are going to have to remove, or at least significantly undermine, an idea that has considerable emotional importance to them. It looks like you are going to have to kick them.

Yet you don't know why they hold that idea. Perhaps there have black cousins or best friends and you didn't know.  Perhaps they work in an urban literacy program and need all the myth they can hold just to get through the day. (And you really want them to be able to continue doing that, whatever the logical cost.)

This set of convenient beliefs also reverses.

Oh, you didn't see that coming?

This tends to be subtler.  *********

Important sidenote, before I proceed on what are the majority of the cases.  There is an important minority view.  It might be blatant, not subtle, in that you or a close family member has been victimised, even repeatedly victimised, by a black person and deeply resent that African-Americans get to claim trauma or prejudice by whites while you get dismissed as unimportant. (Let me assure you that white rape victims of black rapists resent this with unimagined fury, that they are not allowed to react badly to the presence of aggressive black males - in a club, on the street, on an acute psychiatric unit where they cannot get away - but have to put up with Whoopi Goldberg or MSNBC or Salon telling them they are racists, while earnest young black writers get to lecture white people how they just don't know what it's like, and they simply must start listening. Relevant Magazine and Sojourners just had such articles.  Ta-Nehisi Coates has made a career of it.)


The desire to ignore continuing racism also has its psychological origins.  We like to think we have earned what we have achieved.  And that may be largely true. But our long diligent trail of earning things often includes two sets of advantages: first, an accumulation of 1% gifts from teachers who liked you better, networks of friends whose parents owned businesses, increased confidence from moving safely in the world, an availability of an extra $200 at key juncture that the kid downtown didn't have, on and on...; second, a better likelihood of avoiding a catastrophic loss:  your pot-dealing charge was reduced to possession; your Mom's job-loss resulted in a worse job, not APTD.  White people, especially those who legitimately rose from difficult situations, don't like to admit that others had it even harder.

Example: You won't find many Americans who had a worse start than my two Romanian sons.  Lived on lard and stolen fruit when young; didn't go to school because they had to work as shepherds/goatherds at age six; physical abuse routine, and moving to a state orphanage - yeah, those ones you saw on 60 Minutes - was an improvement; a private Christian orphanage later an unimaginable improvement. Yet even in Romania, they weren't as despised as gypsies, and when they got here as teenagers, they were white and had some automatic advantages. Obama writes about dissembling and telling white people what they want to hear - sorry, not all people have that skill, and they're screwed. (Though maybe more honorable.)

To those believers in the second narrative, who prefer to think their opponents must be racists and evil, because really what else could it be?  You assume they don't think, just don't get it.  Oh they get it.  A few of them rejoice, because they are indeed exultant racists. But most know exactly what you feel, exactly why you don't like this, exactly why it seems unAmerican and unChristian and unrighteous to even think such things. Which is why, incidentally, why we react badly to your self-righteous posing as a better person because you prefer a different reality.  We all prefer that reality. In fact, a lot of conservatives do hold to it, because they want to believe if those black people just tried harder it would work. For most people, that may be true.  But the small minority of pathological people in all races seems to be higher in African Americans.

So here's the hard truth: our present understanding is that the environmental factors are not so important as both liberals (poverty! racism! opportunity!) and conservatives (fathers! expectations! accountability!) keep saying. The hyenas do not defeat the elephant.  Not even a baby elephant. Not even if there were more hyenas.  (I really wish I had picked a better metaphor.) The dial is pointing hugely to genetics at this point.  That could change, science always does.  But science is not mere fashion, there is some cumulative gain. All the root causes and racist legal institutions only explain about 25% of the discrepancy between white/asian crime and black crime (native and hispanic in between).  You might stretch to 50%, if you squint hard. And that's all.

Is the rest genetic?  Looks like, but as I said, science changes.  I know of no set of facts that has undermined my faith in the goodness of God more than these.

As Francis Schaeffer asked years ago, in a series my two oldest sons grew tired of in Men's (11th-12th grade) Bible at Concord Christian School,  How Should We Then Live? I don't know. I don't know what to tell you. I do know many of the voices that are not heard here are the older black people who want to live in safety, and the poor black parents who want to raise their children in a decent neighborhood. They don't hate strict policing, thank you very much, they like it.  The people who hate it are young black males ( not often criminals, remember), noisy expressive black people (also not often criminals), and white people who want to show how really, really, not racist they are.

If you want to read how decent people live in fear in the ghetto, and desperately wish that the police could wrest control from the gangs, you have to balance your reading of Just Mercy -  a description fo several of the hyenas currently very popular and deservedly so - with Ghettoside: Investigating a Homicide Epidemic. The latter tells the story of the real black victims, whose daughters get raped and sons shot in the crossfire, rather than the incendiary stories that make it to the news.  You can read a review of it at one of those horrible racist sites that of course couldn't possibly have anything important to say.

It's not a choice between the blue pill and the red pill.  Try both pills.


james said...

Racial or ethnic? Murder rates vary quite a bit in the statistics from Africa, though sometimes that may be a matter of reporting.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

True. Our current understanding is racial, but it might become more granular. I would say that the Asian populations would be even more divisible.

Good pickup.

terri said...

Your "hard truth" is still speculation. You throw out percentages of 25-50%...based on what? Your opinion. Your personal sizing up of that matter that you insist is just facing the truth.

The truth is we don't have any way of knowing something like that objectively unless you want to have a 100 year experiment raising babies in a controlled identical environment to see what happens.

The difference may be ethnic, cultural, or even partly genetic, more likely the combination of many factors. The problem is that every time you link to the people who want to promote this "hard truth" they almost always seem to be overtly racist. They possess a certain amount of glee in their opinions.

Texan99 said...

I'm really, really skeptical of genetic explanations for issues that pervade whole communities, especially when the way they pervade communities alters rapidly over a moderate distance in space or time involving roughly the same genetics. That doesn't mean I think the answer is simply racism on the part of the people outside the genetic group--or inside it, for that matter. It can be cultural: some cultures don't work for beans in a particular setting, even if there may have been excellent reasons for those cultural traits in some other time or place. It could even be mistaken notions on the part of outsiders about the effects of their kind-hearted interventions.

Take crime rates. They're a sign of a kind of collapse, and there's a nasty feedback loop. Police behave differently toward a neighborhood with a lot of crime, not just because they're heartless troglodytes, but because they play the odds, like anyone. People behave differently, in turn, when they learn to expect a different kind of behavior from police. The court system is less lenient, fewer people are willing to give a guy a second chance, a guy has a weaker support system, judges and juries respond differently depending on whether they see a support system handy. People who are unlikely to be able to find jobs more readily to turn to predation of the legal or illegal variety. For that matter, different issues show up in the court system in the first place depending on what cultures typically do about someone who begins to cross the lines.

There could be a genetic component in all of that. If there isn't some racial or at least ethnic animosity to start with, there will be before long. It won't necessarily take the form of traditional racism in the sense of an outright refusal to believe anything good about any member of a particular race. Sometimes it's just an readier resignation to someone else's failure, which overcomes the countervailing impulse to help because "that could have been me/my son." Sometimes we call it "burnout."

jaed said...

The other factor here is that genes express themselves through the filters of culture, surroundings, and upbringing. Let's say (for example) that a certain part of the population has a much, much higher violent-crime rate. Let's say that investigation shows this population is predisposed genetically toward greater aggression. Obviously there is a relationship here.

Now let's say that a certain part of the culture, or a certain cultural shift, results in paying a lot of attention to teaching this part of the population self-control as the signal virtue. The churches they go to emphasize religious concepts that pertain to controlling one's temper. The schools stress the importance of planning and decision-making in cool rather than hot blood. Parents of children in this population reinforce these lessons. All children are taught self-control and self-mastery, of course, but especially those in this group, and there is general social knowledge that these lessons are particularly critical for these children, because self-control doesn't come as naturally to them as it does to others.

(By the way: there is such a population. And it's not a race. Two points to those who guess.)

Result: the violent crime rate among this population is still greater, but the differential is much less, and the overall violent crime rate is down.

The bottom line for me is that 1) genetic explanations are seldom one-sided: a gene that causes increased criminality is likely to also increase desirable traits, and 2) we can't do much about genetics in any case, but we can do some things about culture. (And not just culture in the sense of "in the home", but things like government policy and the bad positive-feedback loops Texan99 points out.) Because genes express themselves through environment, not in a vacuum.

RichardJohnson said...

No simple answers. From my time teaching and substitute teaching in urban black schools, my conclusion is that black youth culture has a strong bias against behaviors which result in success in school. As a black teacher said to me, they hate teachers, not just white teachers. He was correct. With such an attitude, low test scores are not a surprise- which doesn't mean that scores cannot be improved. Over 6 years, one school improved its pass rate on the state math exam from below 20% to ~65%. So, the anti-school bias can be finessed, to a degree.

By comparison, the family of a Tuskegee airman in my hometown had no such hostility towards school. A child and grandchild of the airman have made their living by writing.

james said...

IIRC Albion's Seed didn't include statistics for the murder rate for the borderland section, but it couldn't have been low. Unless that weeded out the violent from the gene pool very rapidly, their descendants seem relatively peaceful for the same genetics.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

terri, simplest answer.


I resisted this knowledge for decades. I can point you to all sorts of data, and it's not speculative. It's not opinion. The fact that racists obviously love this data does not make it untrue.

You can learn plenty of things without 100 year controlled environments.

Start with the FBI homicide rates. That's the base number, because you can't easily inflate or depress the presence of a corpse. Then take all the explanations, and see how much each actually affects.

terri said...

My comment was not a denial of the statistics about crime. It's a denial about your interpretation's certainty. You throw out those percentages of 25-50%(at most) of the situation being attributed to environment/circumstances/etc. What are those percentages based on? Your opinion.

You start with an argument that many things are true and by the time you get to the end, you have declared that genetics are directly responsible for 75% of the problems faced in black in communities. Though you imply that you are willing to stretch it to 50% for the sake of the argument...though it's obvious from your wording that you don't personally think it's 50%.

You have made a bare assertion that the majority of problems are race related. You may have reasons that you believe are sufficient to make that assertion. You may feel that there is no other response to the statistics you've read than to make such an assertion. However, you have no way to prove it. No studies that can directly show it. No widespread consensus from the scientific community who actually study in these fields--biology, genetics, evolutionary biology--that it is a valid model that can make accurate predictions.

You admit as much when you put in qualifiers about how "science may change" in your post.

And...most of the time that you write on this topic...you link to people like Sailer and Derbyshire, neither of which are actual scientists in any of these fields. You may respect them and buy into their point of view, but they are hobbyists in this field.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I hope it's 50%.

There are 3,000 counties in the US. In all of them (except, I recall, 5 or so) black crime is higher by a factor of 4-16x. So I usually work from 8x as an average. The numbers are worse in blue states, ironically. So there's something to learn there, something to study, something we should know. I don't know what, but I'd love to know. 3000 counties is rather a natural experiment in itself. To attribute that difference to some environmental factor is to believe that all police departments and judicial systems are equally discriminatory against minorities. Rich counties, poor counties; white police, black police; southern, western, midwestern, northern; well-trained, poorly trained. All the same, makes no difference.

That makes no sense. If there are environmental factors that are real, you'd think they'd be showing up in that 3k. Or in national demographics somehow. But they aren't. Rich suburbs with high education have much lower crime rates. Yet there is still a large black-white difference. That's not Derbyshire, that liberal Robert Putnam.

But I grant there must be some pervasive, national prejudice, because those numbers are also consistent across states and counties. As I noted, false detention, false arrest, false conviction, longer sentences are much more common for blacks. Not double, but adding up the bits, approaching that. It's a helluva lot, when you think of individuals caught in the system. Round numbers, 50-100% more. White privilege is real, and is shameful in 21st C America.

So that would mean it explains 12.5% - 25% of the total.

I fully admit I am doing mere back-of-the envelope calculations. African-Americans have 13% greater lead exposure (some immigrant groups have even more.) So there's another 3%. Head injury estimates vary wildly, from 10% to 60% more. So 2-15%. And so on. Fewer fathers, fewer years of education, more drugs...yeah, let's keep that in mind, but aren't those co-occurrences rather than causes? I can give a few percentage points for that, but really, by strict standards, it may be only cart instead of horse.

Here's the background for my post: my FB feed is full of people making political statements blaming society's ills on the racism of their opponents. I'm betting your FB feed includes a lot of the same. I have no particular interest in kicking black people. Working in a psych hospital I know way more black people than most people in NH, but that's still not a big number. I'm a typical oblivious northern white person. I don't notice. I don't care. I think they've got sucky unfair disadvantages and we should find a thousand things to do to fix them.

I think affirmative action is completely fair, even though it's clearly unfair. But I start caring when it comes to blaming policemen. Blaming teachers. Blaming racist employers. Blaming churches. Because when folks make accusations, someone has to be on the receiving end. Quietly and politely ignoring the disparities in crime rate means that when some policeman gets death threats, we quietly and politely ignore that too. It's not cost-free. Someone pays. (Continued)

Assistant Village Idiot said...

All this comes up not because it would be of the least importance in itself, but because of the political fallout. If it were simply unfortunate variation, it would be polite and kind to not even mention it.

But the misunderstanding is a key item for political rhetoric, and the electoral consequences are very, very real. Gun violence? Oh, we need more registration and restriction. Education? Oh, it's those schools and teachers that aren't serving the needs of minority communities. The AG of the United States just released a report that the Ferguson PD is racist, acts in a racist manner, and is prejudiced against black people; the numbers of his own report show the opposite. Ferguson detains, arrests, prosecutes, and convicts blacks at a rate that is better than the statistical likelihood. Given that the white people are older folks who raised their families there, while the black people are younger and newer, it is likely that Ferguson PD is far better than the national average. Holder knew this going in, but knew he could get away with lying because most people believe that unequal levels of detention must, simply must, mean prejudice. So decent people get blamed and punished, and decent black parents now have to bring up their children in more dangerous conditions (the crime rate has soared there).

So maybe there are other explanations. Maybe there is a threshold amount of crime where things suddenly start spiraling out of control, and if we can just bring minority crime down a little bit we'll get a virtuous cycle. Could be. No evidence for it yet, but it is possible and would be wonderful. Maybe there is a style of policing that helps more local witnesses testify against gangs, and we can get some sharp drops. I'm just saying the other things haven't worked, even things that we heartbreakingly wish would work, and goddammit should work, like Big Brothers/Big Sisters, Head Start, CASA, juvenile court diversion.

I've got a FB feed full of people who keep saying that all this would be better if Republicans were less racist. You bet I resent it. We are a divided country and elections are close.

james said...

I think the slum culture that develops when you pass that "threshold of crime" makes a vicious circle. The fact that in some areas things have gotten significantly worse, and that other areas with initially similar cultures didn't, seems evidence for that. Whatever the baseline crime rate, people can make it a lot worse.

It is harder to figure out how to step the ratchet backwards. It may be possible--London used to have some extremely violent neighborhoods--but I haven't seen any thorough explanations of how things changed. (And in the current academic atmosphere I'll not give authors the benefit of the doubt about lacking political bias.) I don't see how to break a slum culture without a multi-pronged approach, one prong of which involves permanently removing the worst actors. (And do we bail out the families of the feckless or violent? We don't seem to have any state options between support and neglect.) Then maybe in a couple of generations... or maybe not.

If the baseline crime rate for some ethnic group is higher, even outside of the slum culture, as some of the references indicate, then that group will be significantly over-represented in crime (tails of the distributions). We either recognize and live with that, or we have to push moral education far harder with that group.(*) That gets into pretty dicey territory. Or we can do kabuki theater and pretend everything will be OK real soon now.

(*) "Let me write the songs of a nation, and I care not who writes its laws."

james said...

To expand what I mean by dicey: not every evil is a crime.