Ulrich Baer is Destroying America

Who is Ulrich Baer, you ask? He’s a university professor and administrator at NYU. According to his faculty web page, part of his job is to “strengthen NYU’s ongoing effort to create the most diverse and inclusive community of outstanding faculty, students, and staff.” Put another way, he’s one of the high priests of the diversity cult.

This may seem like an extreme characterization, but it’s accurate. If you follow this blog, you may remember that I unsubscribed from the New York Times after they published a whole host of op-eds that were not fit for publication. The one that pushed me over the edge was Baer’s argument in favor of censorship.

This morning I watched the recording of a discussion held at Kenyon College between Baer, Charles Cooke, editor of National Review Online, and Stephanie Fryberg, a psychology professor. The topic was free speech. Baer and Fryberg both argued that there need to be more limitations on free speech, while Cooke argued that the robust speech protections in our law ought to be maintained.

Fryberg’s line of argument was the stuff you’d expect from a left-wing academic who is committed to creating social justice at all costs. Native Americans such as Fryberg need to “develop a voice” in isolation from oppressive speech from more privileged groups. If they aren’t given space to develop in this way, then they’re effectively being deprived of their free speech rights. This is a stupid argument. None of the greatest minority advocates in U.S. history relied on censorship of the oppressive majority to “find their voice.” Figures such as Frederick Douglass, Martin Luther King Jr., and Thurgood Marshall rose to the challenge of an overwhelmingly hostile majority and worked to enact justice. But today’s minorities need to be shielded from bigoted words? Absurd.

But as bad as Fryberg’s arguments were, Baer’s were even worse. At least she was making claims, albeit dumb ones. Baer, on the other hand, refused to say anything substantive, which demonstrates the weakness of his position. Cooke would repeatedly point out that no one person is competent to decide what kind of speech constitutes hate speech. But then Baer would respond that someone is, although it may not be him or anyone else on the panel. It’s not particularly reassuring for the person making the pro-censorship argument to say, “I’m not sure who is competent to censor, but there’s gotta be someone out there to do it, right?”

Later, Baer was pressed by an audience member to be more specific about what kind of speakers he thinks should not be allowed to speak on university campuses. This was in response to claims from Baer that universities ought to be more discerning when it comes to giving platforms to speakers. He basically responded that he could name names, but he wouldn’t do so in order to avoid dignifying the people by acknowledging their existence. Of course, the consequence of his refusal to say just who he thinks should be censored is that we actually have no idea what his position is—maybe he just wants to keep David Duke off of campuses, but maybe he also thinks that Charles Murray and Ben Shapiro are hateful bigots who should be kept as far away from impressionable young minds as possible.

And that’s the problem with these anti-free speech arguments. When taken to their logical conclusions, they quickly lead to absurdity. I can imagine Baer as a character in a Socratic dialogue. Socrates pushes him into a corner, but Baer just keeps doubling down on his claims without clarifying them or supporting them until he angrily storms away, saying something like, “I don’t know how to answer you, but you’re wrong, and I’m right.” Eventually, of course, he will conspire with his fellow citizens to have Socrates killed, because that’s what you do when people are “corrupting the youth.”

The utter spinelessness of people like Baer is what has allowed destructive illiberal tendencies to flourish in our universities.  By refusing to talk specifics, they obscure the debate, making it harder to see what’s really going on. And what’s really going on is that people are becoming increasingly pro-censorship, albeit for different reasons than in the past.

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Apology to Jess Mathews and the EST

After talking to people and taking another look at all the things I said on Twitter and on this blog, I’ve realized that I was really cruel to the EST staff and especially to Jess. I deleted the post. I’ve deactivated my Twitter account. I’m taking a break from social media to think more about what possesses me to say such awful, unkind things to people. Sorry to everyone that I put down.

Jess has been very gracious to me, and I’m thankful for that. I would certainly not have been so gracious if someone else had done the same to me.

To whoever reads this: please pray that I stop being such a shitty person.

Why Sexual Selection Matters and Why Cordelia Fine is Wrong

Yeyo's Corner

Last week The Royal Society awarded the polemic writer Cordelia Fine with their Science Book of the Year award for “Testosterone Rex”. The central thesis in the book is that the behavioral differences between men and women are better explained by culture than by testosterone and that the theoretical framework that evolutionary scientists regard as the root cause of several of the robust cross-cultural sex differences we see, namely Bateman’s principle and sexual selection, have been largely debunked, at least when it comes to humans. Since this runs pretty much contrary to the broadly held consensus in evolutionary biology the choice has naturally elicited criticism from both biologists and evolutionary psychologists.

Ad Hoc Hypotheses and Occam’s Razor

In her quest to deny that biology is responsible for sex differences in behavior Cordelia Fine has a huge advantage, she benefits from that fact (which the award has made clear) that…

View original post 3,503 more words

Don’t Defend Trump

I’ve seen people try to, and it doesn’t work.

Just in case there’s any confusion, this was after Trump walked back the statement he gave on Monday by saying that many of the participants in the Unite the Right rally were “fine people.” Bold, yes. Truthful, no. Any fine person with an ounce of sense would have bolted the moment the anti-Semitic chants started.

For those who do not know, “Alt-right” is a term coined by Richard Spencer. You know, the guy who throws up Nazi salutes, won’t condemn Adolf Hitler, and wants to get rid of the Jews. The alt-right is Spencer’s movement. Steve Bannon, Trump’s Chief Strategist, bragged about making Breitbart a platform for the alt-right. Trump knows who these people are. He just doesn’t want to condemn them because he’s a vile human being.

Sean means here that Trump rightly placed some of the blame for the violence on Antifa (the “alt-left,” as Trump called them). He loves it whenever the left gets unhinged. Unfortunately, he’s also a hack who doesn’t care about the truth unless it serves his agenda.

A common trend you’ll notice with these people is that they sold their souls to the Trump cause long ago, so it’s not too surprising that they’re fighting to the death to defend his utterly indefensible conduct. Unfortunately, these people still have some credibility, and I’m sure that there are many decent Americans who point to Jerry Falwell and think, “look, a good Christian man who thinks Trump said nothing wrong!” Not good. Not good at all.

Equality: a Poor Substitute for Justice

Equality does not matter. Without further context, the mere fact of equality or inequality has zero moral implications. What actually matters is justice. When people talk about the importance of equality, they’re trying to talk about justice, but they’re doing so imprecisely.

It is obvious that different people should be treated differently. A high-achieving student should be given admission to a prestigious college, while a mediocre student should not. To treat the two students equally would, in fact, be unjust. Give to each what he is owed. Through her achievements, the high-achieving student has demonstrated that she is owed something which the mediocre student is not.

There are many ways in which you can be owed something. Personal merit is one of these ways. Another way is by being wronged. If someone steals from you, then they owe you what they stole from you. You can also be owed something by entering into and fulfilling your side of a voluntary exchange with another person. I work for my employer, and as a result, they owe me my salary.

Certain people would have us believe that unequal outcomes between groups are prima facie evidence of injustice. These people are relying on our failure to properly distinguish equality and justice to further their political agenda. A good example of this is the so-called wage gap. We are told that the average woman makes 77 cents per hour for every dollar per hour the average man makes, the implication being that we’re a misogynistic society that values female labor less than male labor. In reality, this gap is more reasonably explained by how women, on average, are less motivated in their career choices by salary than are men, on average, as well as by how women, on average, are more agreeable and therefore less likely to ask for increased pay than are men, on average.

The same people who hold up the “wage gap” as an example of systemic misogyny point to underrepresentation of certain groups in certain sectors of society as further evidence that we are evil. Google engineers are mostly men. This must be because Google hates women. African-Americans are underrepresented at elite undergraduate universities.* White supremacy. We don’t even question the inference, because we don’t understand the difference between inequality and injustice.

And yet, when other inequalities crop up that don’t fit the narrative of the oppressive patriarchy, we ignore them. Far more men than women are incarcerated. Women now earn a majority of academic degrees. The NBA is disproportionately African-American. Does the justice system discriminate against men? Do universities favor women? Is the NBA racist against white people? No, no, and no.

If your goal is really equality, then you should be just as concerned about the inequalities in the last paragraph as you are about the “wage gap” and Google’s sex ratio. But the absurdity of casting the examples I just gave as examples of injustice should lead you to instead reject the goal of equality and put justice in its place. Sometimes, outcomes will be unequal, but if these outcomes are the result of just processes, then there’s no reason to worry about them.

*I recognize that, to a significant degree, this is a result of past injustices. Jim Crow, racist housing policies, and the refusal of local governments to protect blacks from racial violence have had an enduring effect on African-Americans, and I believe that justice demands a remedy. My point, though, is that it is these injustices that are relevant to deciding who is owed what, and not the fact that African-Americans are underrepresented in colleges. Even if they were overrepresented, they would be owed something because of the gross injustices perpetrated against them.

Highlight of My Day

It’s early, but I doubt the day will get better than this. I commented on a Simple Justice post on affirmative action. Scott (author of the blog) responded as I would expect him to (basically, “I don’t care what you think and neither does anyone else”). But then this other guy, Miles, comes in.

I clicked on your link and read your post on this issue. Two thing, one of which SHG alluded to and another based on reading your comment here and your post.

First: you are taken with yourself as a pundit, as if your values are somehow inherently important enough that merely saying “I believe” is a good enough reason for anyone to care or agree with you. Who are you that anyone gives a damn what you believe?

Second: When I read your comment, I was prepared to forgive you for being shallow. It was just a comment, so how deep could one expect you to get? But now that I’ve read your post, you are shallow. That’s fine, as most people lack the capacity for deep thought, but for crying out loud, man, keep it to yourself and don’t broadcast it to the internet.

I guess I’m a self-absorbed, shallow fool. This is the post he’s talking about, by the way. Funnily enough, he doesn’t give me an argument for why my thinking is shallow. He just expects me to take his word for it. And for that reason, I don’t care what Miles has to say, much as he doesn’t care about what I have to say. Everybody wins.

I responded as follows:

I’m not as taken with myself as it may seem. I’m attempting to catalog my thoughts online. No one is required to read them. I recognize that I’m not important enough for my opinions to matter. Plus broadcasting my opinions at people who will call me shallow for them is a good way to toughen myself up to prepare myself for the world. So thank you, kind sir.

And then Scott came back!

You’ve won me over. I suggest you consider how you frame your ideas to make them stand alone rather than dependent on you, but your willingness to take a punch is admirable.

Thanks, Scott!

Even if I am an idiot, I’m at least an idiot who isn’t afraid of criticism, and how else am I supposed to stop being an idiot? So I’ll keep vomiting my half-formed, terrible ideas onto this blog for the whole world to see. Keep the criticism coming. You’re only making me stronger.

How Not to Argue

I got into a Facebook argument with a stranger about gender dysphoria and its classification as a psychological disorder. His rhetorical strategies were, to say the least, not good.

I began by arguing that there are normal and abnormal ways to be, hoping that he would agree with me on that one point (as any sane person would) and then we could determine which ways of being should be considered normal and which abnormal. His response:

ken1

(Note: homosexuality came up because he earlier mentioned that it used to be included in the DSM, and part of the argument was about whether the inclusion of gender dysphoria in the DSM implies that gender dysphoria is a psychological disorder.)

My response:

davis1

Reasonable question, right? Apparently my interlocutor didn’t think so.

ken2

He dodges the question and appeals to his own authority(?). I add the question mark because he’s not really an authority on anything. “I suffer from depression and I’ve taken a handful of undergraduate level courses in psychology, so you should listen to what I have to say.” No thank you. Please give me reasons.

This is pretty much the entirety of what takes place in this discussion. I continue asking for him to give me reasons for his beliefs, explaining why having reasons for what you’re trying to argue is important. He keeps on trying to convince me to give a crap about his being a depressed psych major. Alas, we both fail.

TL;DR Appealing to your own authority is a stupid way to argue, especially if you’re not a real authority on anything. Majoring in something in undergrad is insufficient to make you an authority on something, and if you think that your undergraduate degree obliges other people to take you seriously, then nobody will.

Why Subscribe?

I used to get my news mostly from the New York Times. However, I cancelled my NYT subscription when their editorial board published a terrorist’s Anti-Israel propaganda and a defense of censorship. Nowadays, I learn about current events mostly from my Twitter feed. You can pick up the important details that way, pretty easily. And it makes it really easy to make sure that you find all the good commentary. Just follow the people who have good things to say.

With so much free content on the internet these days, it just doesn’t make much sense for me as an individual to pay for a newspaper subscription. Twitter is good enough for me.

I still subscribe to the NYT crossword, though.

Is America Great?

Every Independence Day, there are people who go on Twitter to tweet about how the United States really has nothing to be proud of. We’re a sucky country because of poverty and racism and sexism, all of which other countries have apparently managed to do away with. Obviously, I support the right of people to express their stupid opinions, but the opinions are still stupid. E.g.:

As I see it, there are two varieties of anti-Americanism on display here. First is the bland liberalism of people who think we should be living in some kind of socialistic utopia. Second is the anger of black Americans who rightly recognize the extent to which our country’s history is drenched in institutionalized racism, but refuse to acknowledge that such racism is a direct violation of our country’s founding principles.

The bland liberalism in the first tweet is less of a concern to me, because I think there’s not much to it. Of course we have people in poverty. Of course we have people that are hungry. But our poverty line is a heck of a lot higher than what counts as poverty in the rest of the world. And should our greatness as a nation even be based upon our material wealth? I’d rather live modestly in a free country than live lavishly in one where individual rights are routinely violated. To be sure, reducing poverty is a good goal for us to have. But the fundamental role of government is not to reduce poverty, but to preserve liberty.

Which relates to a broader point I want to make: America should be judged on its principles more than on the outcomes of adhering to those principles. The right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness means that not all of us will be equally wealthy. But it also means that no one can be another man’s slave (sadly, it took our country a long while to bring itself to admit this). Due process of law means that the guilty will sometimes go free. But it also means that the innocent are less likely to be punished for crimes they did not commit. Should we discard these principles because they sometimes lead to outcomes that we don’t like? Of course not. Likewise, our adherence to the founding principles of America will not make this country into a utopia, but rejecting them would be far worse.

But what about slavery, you may ask? The angry tweets from black Americans above seem to be focused more on racism than on the unavoidable inequities that characterize a world in which not everyone is equally talented or intelligent. Some inequality is natural. Racial inequality is not. How, then, do I explain the racist history of the United States in light of our founding principles?

Put simply, we’re hypocrites, and we’ve always been hypocrites. It is obviously impossible to justify slavery in light of the statements made in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.” The racial injustice of slavery, as well as all the injustices that followed its abolition, are a result of rejecting the founding principles of America, not adhering to them. Slavery, lynchings, ethnic cleansing, segregation—can anyone doubt that each of these violates at least one of the fundamental rights referred to in the Declaration?

Of course, racial injustice did not end on July 4, 1776, so it makes sense to question why we should dedicate this day to celebrating our freedom. As Frederick Douglass famously asked, “What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July?” He supplied his own answer to the question: “[A] day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim.” In the face of persistent injustice and tyranny, it is cruel to behave as if we have achieved freedom or equality. We had not adhered to our founding ideals, and that was obvious to Douglass.

But still, insofar as those ideals have become realized, we should celebrate the day on which we enshrined them in the Declaration. We have done away with slavery. Both legally and socially, equality of the races has been almost universally accepted in America. To be sure, we’re not a post-racial society. We still have significant problems. But racism is no longer a fundamental feature of our national existence—our Congress does not pass laws protecting the slave interest, and our state legislatures do not mandate or permit racial segregation. The seed planted on July 4, 1776 took far too long to bear fruit, but borne fruit it has, and we who enjoy it today should recognize where it came from.

The greatness of America lies in the greatness of its founding principles as set forth in the Declaration of Independence. Insofar as we adhere to them, our nation is great. But when we reject them, we debase ourselves and make ourselves contemptible in the highest degree. The Fourth of July is a day to remember and celebrate our founding principles, to consider how we have implemented them and how we have failed to do so. To some degree it requires that we mourn our country’s many egregious failures at guaranteeing liberty and equality to all. But even more, it demands that we recognize that liberty and equality are the bedrock on which our nation is built, and that whatever rotten structures may have been built upon them before, the foundation is firm. It is our task to continue building a just and virtuous republic on the foundations of liberty and equality. To reject the foundation is to reject the task, and that is not something we are free to do.

Reparations

Last night, I watched the documentary film Banished: How Whites Drove Blacks Out of Town in America. I recommend seeing it. The film discusses how some American communities in the early 20th century purged themselves of black families. The land that had been owned by those driven away was stolen by white families, and some of these communities remain all-white to this day.

What’s particularly interesting about the events described in the documentary is that they occurred fairly recently. The descendants of those who had their property taken from them are able to quite easily trace their ancestry back to the original victims. And there is legal documentation that shows that title to the land never legitimately passed from the victims to their victimizers, but somehow ended up being owned by the victimizers anyway. The injustices that were done are concrete, and we can put a name and a face to those who were wronged. We can even, with some degree of accuracy, put a price on what was taken from them, i.e., the value of the land.

Reminders of such concrete injustices are helpful in an era when much of the discussion about racism revolves around abstract concepts like “privilege” and “implicit bias.” When the discussion is too abstract, it’s unclear to me what there is to be done about anything, or even that anything needs to be done. I’m not convinced that the difference in wealth between the average black family and the average white family in America is primarily a result of a persistent and widespread implicit bias against blacks. It is far more convincing to me to say that the differences in wealth persist because many black families were forced off their land, preventing them from passing it down to future generations.

In other words, I think that concrete instances of racism in the past are more to blame for current inequities than is privilege. One implication of this view is that the way to make things right is not by attempting to correct for privilege by giving people a boost based on the color of their skin. After all, not all dark-skinned populations are having trouble in America. Black immigrants, for instance, are generally doing very well. Rather, justice requires that we make amends for the specific  wrongs that were done in the past. We must return what has been stolen from these communities.