Wednesday, August 16, 2017

SJW's and Some Math

The math giveaway: if A is really likely to be true (say, 90%) and B is very likely to follow from that (say, 80% likely), we feel very confident that B is true.  Thus, when we learn that C is a very probable outcome of B (say, 70% likely to follow), we feel pretty secure in stating that C is very likely to be true.  Wrong.  It's only 50-50 at that point.

bsking's younger brother, Tim ("okay, I'm not that liberal") King brought an interesting observation to beer night tonight: liberals and conservatives mean different things when using the same terms.  Yes, that may not seem surprising, but bear with me. Or with him.  Conservatives tend to use political terms in a more narrow, specific way; liberals understand a term to include its downstream and related effects. Example: Conservatives understand racist to mean a somewhat measurable refusal to grant a person of another race their obvious rights and due.  That is, to deny a person a job, or apartment, or award, or opportunity based on their race.  This is also why conservatives believe that reverse racism can and does exist. Conservatives hear the word "racist"and hear only a single note.

Liberals hear the term racist to include the way we designed our schools, and elections, and rules of commerce, and cultural norms, and a hundred other structures a century ago and more.  Not all liberals go very far down those roads - in fact, the JFK's and Hubert Humphreys and Jimmy Carters and even Bill Clintons didn't go very far down those roads at all.  But they went farther than conservatives did then.  About as far as conservatives go now, in fact.  Ignore for the moment that Carter and Clinton, being deep partisans, have gone further down those roads since first being elected president.  Conservatives like to notice, and even sneer, that Kennedy would be closer to the conservative platforms now. The flip side of that is that Kennedy or Johnson or Humphrey would be candidates conservatives would vote for now. (But not McGovern.  Let's not get crazy here.)

Those liberals, when a note like "racist" was played, would hear a harmony note, or even a chord. There was considerable acknowledgement among them that merely looking at what had happened to Kaitlyn versus Keisha was inadequate. Notes have harmonics; notes strongly played fit into only a few chords, so those chords are likely; chords occur in sequences, so the elements of some song are bubbling up. The story of why Kaitlyn got the job but Keisha didn't was not written just this afternoon.  That story started before they were born, and the first sentences need adjusting even now.

The people we call Social Justice Warriors go very, very far down those roads. They hear an entire song, and some hear a symphony. I was going to post a few weeks ago on the expansion of the phrase "white supremacist," but I figured that was rather a niche item and a passing fashion.  Tim specifically brought that phrase up tonight as one that is being greatly expanded by liberals but remains very narrow and specific to conservatives.  So much for my ability to read the culture and predict its fashions.

Let me state at the outset that I have a lot of sympathy for the early stages of this argument.  When I hear a note, the accompanying thirds are not far out of my hearing, even though no one suggests them to me.  Yet no song occurs to me from a single note, and certainly not any symphony.

I think it is ridiculous when conservatives try to maintain that nothing flows from individual racism.  I get it that they are using this as a tactic, trying to get liberals to prove  each step along the way, because accusation is easy but proof is hard. Yet still, I think the racism of my ancestors (I'm thinking of my grandmother here) likely did have an effect on how our systems were designed, and those favor folks like me. Probably true.

Yet not definitely true. There's some doubt here. Some cultural choices might be obviously Swedish or Scots-Irish, yet not actually favor those groups more than a percent or so. They might actually very fair and neutral standards.  That is one of the claims of the defenders of Western Civilisation, actually, that we chose those standards but they are actually pretty neutral and fair.  If your group thinks they aren't maybe you're just projecting what you'd do in our shoes.  One of our cultural things is bend-over-backward neutrality, in fact. We don't fully succeed at it, but we come darn close.

But let's grant that downstream effect arguendo. What next?

Well, we think that C pretty obviously follows from B.  And D is pretty darn likely once we get to C. 

And let me guess:  L is really, really likely to be true if K is true.

Well, yeah.

This is why I think the earlier liberals - the Humphreys and O'Neil's and early Bill Clinton - were sometimes wrong but not always crazy. The chords were actually possible, though not definite, from the notes given. I do think that conservatives, and especially libertarians are wrong when they calim that nothing flows from any note but the note itself.  But not everything that has a C# in it is Mahler's Symphony in C# Minor. It might not even be "Mary Had A Little Lamb."  It might just be an F# chord.  It might just be that one note.  I can go down that road a little, but not much. 70% times 70% is less than 50%.

I really think this is a problem of the Arts and Humanities, especially Journalism, stereotype.  They don't do math.  They only dimly understand such things.  They are comfortable moving from island B to C and D and on to H and I, each looking likely, not seeing that they are now hopelessly off course.


jaed said...

Not sure it's so much lack of math as lack of groundedness, lack of the instinct to check one's deductions against the real world occasionally. That's a scientific bent of mind, I think—to make a theory and then check it by observation or experiment.

If your theorizing gets to the point where you conclude everyone who is against affirmative discrimination in college admissions is a white supremacist, it might be a good idea to talk to some of those people and determine whether that is in fact right...

...but then, if you 1) don't know any of these people; 2) do know some, but the zeitgeist has them terrified to speak openly to you for fear of losing their jobs, being expelled, having their children shunned at school, and so on; and/or 3) have been rendered emotionally incapable of discussion on this point because any dissent terrifies you past the point of reason, then you won't be able to check your conclusions. And eventually you'll go so far off the edge of rationality that you'll join a howling mob destroying a peace monument because it's in the South somewhere and it has a rifle in it, and you're just sure that makes it racist.

For me, I'd be content with saying "Punishment may be inflicted only for the note someone has actually sung, not other notes that we theorize might harmonize with that note." I think that urge to punish people, not for their own deeds but for the fantasies of the punisher, and not the fairy-castles nature of some of the reasoning, is the source of conflict.

Boxty said...

I think you're observing your preference for dialecti versus the left's necessity to use rhetoric because they don't have a logical argument to stand on.

Trump is fully capable of making well reasoned arguements. But he recognizes that rhetoric beats dialectic 100%. When the left starts attacking traditional conservatives with rhetoric, the tradcons respond with more dialectic and lose. But not Trump. He whips out the fire and fury and blasts them with weapons grade rhetoric. It helps that the truth is on Trumps side and the majority of Americans support his position to begin with.

GraniteDad said...

"They don't have a logical argument to stand on."

Boxty, can you expand on this a bit more? I'm not sure I understand what you're driving at. Also, I'd avoid sweeping statements like "the truth is on Trump's side" but I know we've argued on this one before and I'm unlikely to change your mind on that.

Christopher B said...

My imagery is seeing a photo and imagining an entire motion picture, including the backstory of every character. And Boxty's point about the preference for dialectic (narrative) is spot on.

Jonathan said...

I think lack of math skills and limited historical knowledge. Together these limitations might be called lack of groundedness, or poor judgment.

Human nature is bad with probabilities, especially at the tails of distributions and with conditional probabilities. One has to learn some math to compensate for this natural bias. It helps also to study history, to get an idea of what is possible in many kinds of situations, since many people's experiences are inadequate to familiarize them with, say, the long-term results of govt policies that may not have been tried where they live but have been tried many times in other places.

Boxty said...

GraniteDad: According to Scott Adams and Theodore Beale, only a small percentage of the population can be persuaded through logic alone. Emotion (rhetoric) is more powerful. Conservative philosophy is grounded in Enlightenment philosophy, or the search for truth and beauty, is it not? And then you have these postmodernist liberals that reject objective truths, beauty, and even science.*

Listen to Scott Adam's interview with Sam Harris. Harris is one of the "new atheists" along with Richard Dawkins and the late Christopher Hitchens. I think you will find it interesting. Scott Adams is closer to what AVI was saying about Trump's "lies", but I doubt AVI or Adams listens to Limbaugh or even Dennis Prager or God forbid, black conservative Larry Elder. I think AVI is more attuned to NPR's narrative than conservative talk radio, Breitbart, etc., which is why you guys often think Trump is lying when I think you guys just are uninformed.

How many of you know that the guy that ran over the crowd in Charlottesville only accelerated after his car was surrounded and hit by a baseball bat swung at full force? Or that the same group have held other rallies where the communist Antifa showed up but there was no violence because the police weren't forced to stand down by local politicians? How many of you know that Julian Assange has repeatedly said that the DNC leaks were given to him by a source inside the DNC, not Russia? These are things you won't hear on NPR.


jaed said...

You may want to try painting with a less broad brush there. I know all those things; I would be surprised if AVI didn't know all of them as well. (Particularly considering that we've discussed some of them here.)

I also know that the driver in Charlottesville was clear of any attacking antifas by the time he accelerated down that hill. (We don't actually know whether the attack on him took place just before he rear-ended the other cars at speed, or some time before.) Flight from immediate danger is not a defense available to him for his actions.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Boxty - you have guessed entirely wrong about me, enough so that the people who know me in the flesh are having an uproarious time exchanging emails about it. Stop guessing.

Trump has indeed hit upon something in the art of persuasion by recognising what politicians have always known - that being right and winning debate points with reason is often futile in an election - and taking that to the next step and not worrying about it at all. I still recall listening to Dan Quayle debating Al Gore on the radio and being certain that Quayle had demolished him, refuting every point. It was a lesson in media bias that no commenters the next agreed with me because they were focusing on other things - like whether the people thought he "looked presidential" - and not on the content. Similarly, I have heard that those who heard Nixon debate Kennedy on the radio thought he had won. I don't know what the data is on that point, but it is plausible.

Nonetheless, I do believe that reasoning does matter eventually, as does truth, however much they get overturned in the moment. That may be naive: there is much false history that is still taught and has not gone away. I choose to be on that side anyway, even if it loses, rather like the Norse,doomed to be destroyed at the end of time by the Giants defeating the gods, but being on the side of the gods anyway.

james said...

Remember Name That Tune? "I can name that tune in one note!"

On the other hand, do you remember Gene Kelly on the Muppet Show?

Boxty said...

Well, you certainly mention NPR on your blog more than Rush Limbaugh, AVI. Sorry if my impressions of you based on a long time readership are way off.

I feel the same way about Biden/Palin you do about Gore/Quayle. Biden has a long history of being a liar and a blowhard. He can lie smoother and more confidently than almost any politician out there.

Jaed: I'm not good at analyzing grainy video, but it seems pretty clear that the driver's car was attacked right before he accelerated into the cars in front of him:

Supposedly there was a reporter on scene that reported the same thing and also reported that the police told her that the driver was reacting out of fear.

Philip Sells said...

That analogy of note vs. chord vs. symphony is quite nice. I think I'll hang onto that and consider it some more.

jaed said...

Boxty, someone definitely hits his car with a stick or something as he approaches. But he was accelerating at a fast clip all the way down the hill. (I've seen several videos from several angles. The full version of the one you linked to shows the start of his run, quite a distance away, maybe a block or a block and a half up the hill.) So the stick hit may tell us something about the temper of the crowd, but it didn't cause him to do what he did.

The reporter later clarified that she'd been talking about the other car, the one trapped in the crowd that he rear-ended. The police she was talking to were at the station, not on scene, and hadn't yet seen the videos.

Philip Sells, I liked that too. Singing a note can cause a structure to resonate, and reply with other notes, as well.

Laura said...

Coming in late, to a thread that's gone seriously off-topic... but I guess I'll jump in anyway.

The big problem with the "chord progression" concept is that it can easily morph into somebody singing "LA LA LA I CAN'T HEAR YOU!!!" as they walk past things that make them uncomfortable. It's comfortable to blame those big, bad, evil racists way over there in the out group that I can ridicule... not at ALL comfortable to talk about black-on-black crime, perverse incentives in the welfare system, and cultural glorification of very dysfunctional behavior (misogyny, drug use, promiscuity, etc.) Happy to talk about yet another way to find the genius-in-the-ghetto and get him to Harvard; DEFINITELY not wanting to talk about, OK, so what kind of future does an IQ-85 man have in front of him (i.e. the lowest 15% of the population, of any and all races)? And what does the ghetto look like, after you've hoovered out everybody with an IQ above 110 and sent them to college out of state?

I also think everybody who's writing about "dog whistles" should get a screening for tinnitus before they go any further.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Laura, related to that - Michael Bennett of the Seattle Seahawks - a bright and funny guy, I like him - has said, in relation to the protests, "I want you to have an uncomfortable conversation about race." No, Michael, I think it's you who needs the uncomfortable conversation. You're getting the easy one.

Compare "honest dialogue," which seems to mean "deceitful monologue."