It’s fascinating to watch the American left in action, especially since until recently I counted myself among their supporters. Their political MO has been to take perceived flaws and elevate them to actual flaws of the opposite kind, in some sort of noise-cancelling effect on the level of the Ancients versus the Ori. But how can this actually work?
1. Affirmative Action
AA has been a bugaboo for righties for a long time. My own problem with it is of a different sort, but it walks a very fine line of hypocrisy. In the parlance of 2015, the perception of institutional racism must be countered by actually instituting racism. The perception of institutional sexism must be countered by actually instituting sexism. This is affirmative action.
I want you to consider for the moment the possibility that people are unequal in fact; I don’t mean before the law, I mean just plain old unequal—there are some people who can achieve specifically or broadly things that others cannot. If this were true, but you did not know it, it would appear that the institutions created exclude some people from genuine participation. In other words, one would perceive imbalances. And if this effect was pervasive, then along any axis you looked—say, race, sex, or religion—you would find evidence of bias. In this hypothetical reality, you might wish to rectify these imbalances. In such a world, institutionalizing bias cannot ever eliminate bias because the bias is built-in to us, not our systems. Particularly hysterical members of society would seek ever-expanding actual institutionalized bias in an attempt to root out ever more devious perceived bias, but each attempt would be almost magically thwarted. Ask yourself what the social outcome of this would be.
In a different hypothetical scenario, people are statistically equal enough for our differences to not really matter, but due to the plinko game of evolution and nation-building, some people just happened to make the institutions we live with today, and they favored themselves in subtle but effective ways: free the slaves, recognize that women have the right to vote—what does it matter? The institutions protect their own. In this reality a countervailing bias is established: discrimination is blatantly institutionalized in an attempt to undo the prior subtle institutionalized discrimination. In such a case, there is plausibly some measure which could be used to trigger a cyanide pill in the mouth of regulation: eventually, through chance or effort, the right amount of overt bias would finally overwhelm the subtle bias and we’d be free to live our statistically equal lives and dreams.
Take a look at Affirmative Action-style programs and ask yourself which world the authors believe in. Where are the measures that ensure we’ve not gone too far? Where are the indicators which tell us when to stop? If I accept that there are too many female nurses and not enough female engineers, what is the right number? OK, maybe even “the right number” is too Brave New World-y for even the most staunch AA fan; what’s the right deviation from the ideal mean of 50/50 male/female split? When can we say, “There, the bias is finally gone”?
If we cannot say that, then I propose that proponents of such a system do not think bias is institutionalized, they think bias is inherent. This is a political doctrine of original sin: women are born into it by being born inferior, and men are born into it by their unstoppable urge to exploit their superiority. Or whites versus blacks.
2. Campus Rape
According to some, it’s a veritable epidemic; according to others, college campuses are safer than ever before. I am sure if you’re at all even slightly interested in the topic you’ve heard point and counterpoint to this entire discussion.
Again, consider both possibilities, one in which campus rape is out of control and covered up by institutional bias, and another where rape is well-controlled relative to crime in general and there is no institutional bias, and put the same characters in both worlds. How do they behave? I leave it as an exercise for the reader.
In practice, what we have today is an extra-legal world where campus administrators can decide young people’s futures without anything resembling due process. It slips by because no one goes to jail, they just get kicked off campus or have “convictions” on their college transcripts. But rape is a crime. So why are the anti-rape activists (where are the pro-rape activists they protest?) looking to solve this problem outside the legal system? Because, again, we have the perception of bias—administrators brushing “boys will be boys” rape under the rug—fought with the overt bias of extra-legal institutional proceedings created to counter the threat. And when have we succeeded in countering the subtle bias built into these institutions? What measures are in place? If the crime of rape is so heinous, then the false accusation of rape is the worst false accusation there is—it’s important to get this very right. But how can this be done without the institutions created to ensure justice is done right, namely, the court system and its demand of evidence?
Of course, some people have that covered, too. The request for evidence itself has been called out as supporting institutional bias against women; as Emma Sulkowicz said, “If we use proof in rape cases, we fall into the patterns of rape deniers.” So we don’t need proof only in the most heinous crimes of rape and murder? Of course a murderer is going to deny he did it, we can’t fall into that pattern.
This is the pattern consistent with someone who believes rape is out of control. Moreso, it is consistent with someone who believes that the crime of rape cannot even be brought under control—but at least the rape incidence on campus will go down, I guess.
Interlude: The Pie Rule
There is a famously clever method of fairly splitting a pie between two people: one person makes a cut, and the other is free to choose either piece. It only really assumes that both participants want a lot of pie. It might not work when one is a diabetic and the other is not.
But, exceptions aside, the pie rule is underutilized in political discourse. I think it would be an effective tactic: each time your political opponent proposes some imbalance, offer to accept their solutions if you get to choose the measure. Everyone agrees rape is wrong; so, you decide what the punishment is and I’ll decide how people are found guilty. Or, you decide how people are found guilty and I’ll decide the punishment. The jury system is a sort of pie rule, whereby elected officials decide what counts as a crime and juries decide who is guilty of them. It is a basic tenet of jurisprudence today that these roles remain distinct, and in a Coasean kind of way it could be reversed. The observation that someone wants to sidestep the pie rule is probably a good indication that they want all the pie for themselves.
A fantastic piece on how to speak properly at the University of New Hampshire exists: https://archive.is/4kkt3. In it one can find a carefully drafted sequence of paragraphs explaining how you can avoid using words to hurt people. And in it we find again the pattern of trying to put standards in place which actually do the thing they are meant to correct.
Universities are places to look at the world in new ways…. An integral part of UNH’s mission is to continue to build an inclusive learning community, and the first step toward our goal is an awareness of any bias in our daily language. As we begin to understand bias, we explore the truths of hierarchy and oppression.
If you’ve been following along, then you can already expect that in an attempt to remove bias from language, there will be a preferred method of speaking—a “bias”, if you will—which will serve to nullify bias. The entire piece struggles under this impossible burden by simultaneously stressing the value of diversity while undermining the value of diversity by quashing expression of it, except in cases of narcissism. But really, how are you supposed to express your identity (“It is important to realize that each person will define their own identity.”) without microaggressions? We are all floating in space, there is no up or down, we define ourselves by pushing against each other. How can a Muslim explain anything without “us versus them” language that’s so decried? The very act of assuming an identity is the most extreme form of “us versus them” there is, when “us” is an army of one.
At the end they give a list of preferred terms and examples of biased ones. These are always so fascinating to read. The struggle to maintain polite modes of speech is a quest that’s been going on for as long as people have been speaking. But to see a medical term like “obese” thrown out for “people of size” is just absurdity. Derision is in the face and tone of voice. A hateful person can make “person of size” sting just as much as anything—and someone struggling with weight may find it shameful or not, depending on their “identity.” Equally absurd is the exclusion of the word “rich” which somehow implies “a sort of omnipotence;” please use “person of material wealth” instead.
There’s no question that people can hurt each other through speech. But here’s the thing, if something like “a sort of omnipotence” got tied up with rich, then that’s because people wanted to express this correlation. You know, something like “privilege.” When we discuss wealthy people with derision, we fully intend this privilege to be brought forward—the silver spoon, unearned respect or authority, and so on. The association isn’t accidental. On the other hand, when we aren’t speaking derisively, we may also want that association—the idea of earned respect afforded with the work done that earned them their authority or material wealth. In what world can these be separated by a primer by some college administrators? The whole point of going to college is to better oneself through hard work and determination. And finally, there will be times when we don’t want either association—for instance, a lottery winner.
The ideas we wish to express are bound in the way we use words. A corrective bias to the bias in uncorrected speech will not remove the underlying bias. For instance, as people were worried that reporting the race of criminals would bias people against blacks too much, reporters managed to just say something like “teens” or “youth.” But all this has done is make “youth” a code word for black teen criminals in people’s minds. So what was accomplished? We define the inch in terms of millimeters but the length of the object didn’t change at all. There are ideas we wish to express and, unlike the often derided Sapir-Whorf hypothesis alluded to in the opening of this work, the words at our disposal do not affect our ability to express these things.
Unlike Turing Tarpit languages like brainfuck, we can just make up new words if we’re not allowed to say the old ones. Witness #cuckservative for the most recent example. Of course, there’s always hate speech.
America is pretty much the last country in the world where you can say you want to gas the Jews, metaphorically speaking. Nearly every country in the world has more or less pervasive laws against “hate speech.” Again, the pie rule never applies—much to people’s dismay, when the very hate speech laws they enacted to punish their political opponents are turned against them. When people propose to pass hate speech laws, it’s like they are of the opinion that their political adversaries will finally be crushed and could never use that very legal framework for their own ends. In the most drastic case you can mention on the internet, Nazis themselves were persecuted under such laws. How did that work out?
But the eradication of problematic speech is not done just so; instead it is replaced with its own hate speech in its place. To a political centrist like myself, the opposite of a bad thing is almost always a bad thing, in law and civic culture. Hate speech proponents wish to eliminate something like cartoons drawing pictures of holy men, while simultaneously instilling talk of “white privilege.” The white, Christian bias must be opposed by any means necessary. So here’s the pie rule: I’ll let you pass hate speech laws, if I get to decide how we determine what hate speech is. Any takers?
Well, that’s always the bargain, because until we eliminate representative democracy or republic or whatever buzzword doesn’t trigger your internet autism, the people in power change and they inherit all the powers your favorite party gave themselves. If you wouldn’t take the pie rule deal today, you shouldn’t take it at all. The idea of limited government interference isn’t some kind of meme, it’s a realization that we’d rather not cut into that particular pie. To mix metaphors, it’s very hard to put the genie back in the bottle. And anyone who wants to cut the pie and then distribute the pieces is sure to be a terrible person.
I don’t think there’s any shortage of injustices in the world. I don’t understand all the forces that have aligned to bring them about, either. But I do know that when my doctor says he can cure a disease that we have a means of verifying that he’s done so, and that’s an important part of being a good doctor. Why isn’t an important part of legislation or political discourse? We debate the merits of this or that; I think all we have to do is ensure that some kind of sunset clause is always built in.