Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

Posts Tagged ‘intellectual dishonesty

Not perfect; ergo, useless

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Quite a few odd human behaviors, especially on the political Left, could be explained by assuming a “not perfect; ergo, useless” principle, be it as a logical fallacy or as an intellectually dishonest line of pseudo-argumentation. (To the latter, I note that this principle seems to be applied hypocritically to the ideas of opponents but not to own ideas.)

A typical use is to find some flaw or disadvantage and use it to discredit the whole. (If a small flaw, usually combined with rhetorical exaggeration.) This without weighing the overall pros-and-cons, without acknowledging similar flaws in other ideas, products, whatnot, and without considering whether the flaw is repairable*. Consider e.g. an infomercial that I watched at a tender age: A hyper-energetic salesman ran around comparing “his” fitness product to the competition’s:** “The X is great—but, unlike my product, you can’t stow it under the bed!”, “The Y is great—but twice as expensive!”, “The Z is great—but not portable!”, etc., without comparing stowability, price, portability, and whatnot, over all products. It was simply not a fair comparison or an attempt to find the best choice, just a series of excuses to “prove” that any given competing product was inferior to the one sold by him.

*As a good counter-example, complicated mathematical proofs often turn out to contain defects. While these are sometimes fatal, they are often repairable and often the proof can still stand by limiting the conclusion to a subset of the original scope. Wiles’s proof of Fermat’s wild claim is a good example.

**This was likely more than 30 years ago, so I cannot vouch for the exact comparisons (let alone formulations), but the idea should be clear.

Or consider the example that was the impulse to write this text: In Hans Fallada’s Kleiner Mann — was nun?, the protagonist (Pinneberg) tries to get a payment from an insurance company, is met with an unexpected request for must-be-provided-before-payout documents, and inquires at some type of supervisory agency whether these were justified. He obtains and sends all the documents in a batch to the insurance company (in parallel). Now, some of these document were obtainable sooner (e.g. a birth certificate); others later. Pinneberg’s actions are then limited by the availability of the last of the documents that the insurance company requested. When the insurance company replies to the supervisory agency, it, among other things, tries to pawn off the delay on Pinneberg: he had the birth certificate at date X and sent it at date Y; ergo, the delay from date X to date Y was his own fault.*

*The book is not sufficiently detailed for me to judge whether these documents were reasonable and exactly how the blame is to be divided. However, this particular reasoning remains faulty, as Pinneberg could not have expected more than very marginally faster treatment through sending in a partial set of documents at an earlier time, and as the extra costs might have been unconscionable. (Pinneberg was a low earner with wife and child in the depression era, and want of money, unexpected expenses, risk of unemployment, etc., were constant issues.)

A more common example is IQ, which (among many other invalid attacks) is often met by e.g. variations of “there are poor high-IQ individuals; ergo, IQ is useless”, “the correlation between scholastic achievement and IQ is not perfect; ergo, IQ is useless”, “IQ is only X% heritable; ergo, we should ignore heritability of IQ”, …*

*Note the difference between these and perfectly legitimate and correct ones, e.g. “there are poor high-IQ individuals; ergo, IQ is not the sole determinant of wealth and income”. These, however, appear to be rarer in politics.

The last points to another common example: nature vs. nurture: too many* seem to think that because “nature” only explains some portion of individual** variation, it can or should be ignored entirely. Note e.g. calls for very high female quotas even in absurd areas, as with a 50% quota within a Conservative party, or various forms of distortive U.S. college recruiting to “help minorities”, unless these minorities happen to be Jewish or Asian. (Or male, for that matter.)

*Even among those who do not blindly deny any non-trivial influence of nature at all, whose position is solidly refuted by the biological sciences. It is rarely clear to me which school any given debater belongs to, which makes the division and the giving of examples tricky.

**This also relates to another fallacy: assuming that a small difference (in e.g. characteristics or outcomes) between typical individual members of different groups implies small group differences. This is sometimes the case, but not always, and especially not on the tails of a distribution.

The possibly paramount example, however, is postmodernism and its take on knowledge and science (logic, whatnot):* because science cannot give us perfect knowledge, science is a waste of time (or, even, quackery). Worse, even attitudes like “because we cannot have perfect knowledge, all hypotheses are equal”, “[…], we can decide what the truth is”, “[…], we can each have our own truth”, are common in, at least, the political and pseudo-academical use. However, even absent perfect knowledge, science can achieve much, say, finding what hypotheses are likely resp. unlikely, what models are good and bad at approximating the results from the unknown “true” model, or increasingly better approximations of various truths. Certainly, I would not be writing this text on a computer had it not been for science and the practical work done based on science.

*At least, as applied practically and/or by those less insightful. I cannot rule out that some brighter theorists have a much more nuanced view.

Excursion on fatal flaws:
Of course, there are cases when a flaw is fatal enough that the whole or most of the whole must be given up. A good example is, again, nature–nurture: if someone wants to base policy on a “nurture only” assumption, any non-trivial “nature” component could invalidate the policy.* A good family of examples is “yes, X would be great, but we cannot afford it”.

*And vice versa, but I cannot recall anyone basing policy on “nature only” in today’s world, while a “nurture only” or a “too little nature to bother with” assumption is ubiquitous. Cf. above.

Excursion on nature vs. nurture and removed variability:
A common error is to assume that the relative influence of “nature” and “nurture” is fix, which is not the case: both depend strongly on how much variability is present. Notably, if we remove variability from “nurture”, which appears to be the big policy goal for many on the Left, then the variability of “nature” will be relatively more important—and when we look at group outcomes, where the individual variation through chance evens out, then “nature” will increasingly be the dominant determinant. In other words, if “nature” (strictly hypothetically) could have been mostly ignored in the Sweden of 1920, a century of Leftist hyper-egalitarianism would almost certainly have made it quite important today. Similarly, note how attempts at removing “cultural bias” from IQ tests have not eliminated the many group differences in test results, of which it allegedly was the cause. Indeed, the group differences have sometimes even grown larger, because the influence of “culture”/“nurture” has been diminished in favor of “nature”.

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July 24, 2020 at 3:58 pm

Tolkningsföreträde

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I find myself, again, wanting to reference the Swedish concept of tolkningsföreträde. To make this easier, I publish this text as a considerable modification of an excursion from an older text:

An apparently international problem with many members of the Left is that they presume to have, using a Swedish word, “tolkningsföreträde”—it is their way or the high way: They decide what a word should mean. They decide what is sexism, racism, xenophobia, whatnot. They decide what is acceptable. They decide what is fair and unfair. They decide what is science and what quackery.* Etc. Often, they even presume to decide what someone else meant by a statement and what his motivations were.** Have the audacity to question this right in Sweden,*** even by pointing to the possibility of another interpretation or by pointing out that their use does not match the established one, and what happens: You (!) are accused of demanding tolkningsföreträde …

*Often mixing the two up in a manner that would be comedy if it was not so tragic, as with the blanket condemnations of anything related to IQ or the influence of “nature”, despite solid evidence, and the blanket acceptance of e.g. “gender studies” claims and a “nurture only” view, despite very severe problems with lack of proof, ideological bias, an adapt-the-facts-to-fit-the-hypothesis attitude, and whatnot.

**Not to be confused with the often observed (and it self disputable) attitude that it is solely the subjective perception of the “target” which counts to determine e.g. whether a statement is offensive: Here I mean the case of e.g. unilaterally deciding which interpretation of a statement the speaker intended and unilaterally deciding that the speaker was motivated by e.g. racism or sexism—not e.g. by concerns over sustainability of this-or-that or by the wish to make a joke. For instance, someone who says “White lives matter” is actually a racist shit who means that Black lives do not matter—not someone who, just maybe, might try to point to problems with the current attitudes against Whites or who wants to push for a more inclusive approach.

***The principle holds internationally too, if to a lesser degree and without use of the word “tolkningsföreträde”. Consider e.g. the very deliberate misdefinitions of “racism” pushed by some groups, which are simultaneously illogical and contrary to established use, but where even the attempt to push the correct meaning can lead to condemnation.

The behavior often goes beyond what can be taken as good faith based in stupidity and ignorance, and moves into outright Orwellian areas, where deliberate attempts to manipulate the debate and suppress dissent must be suspected. This especially when the Left reverses the accusation by complaining about tolkningsföreträde in others. Then again, the level of hypocrisy and blindness is often disturbingly large, and, even here, I cannot rule out an inability to see the hypocrisy.

The word, it self, means roughly “precedence of interpretation” and originated as a legal term* implying that one person/organization/whatnot has the power of interpretation of e.g. an agreement or a set of rules or by-laws, in case of ambiguity or dispute.

*An English/U.S./common-law equivalent might well exist, but I am not aware of it.

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July 21, 2020 at 10:32 am

Another journalist speaks up / Follow-up: Poor journalism and journalism as a source of fake news (The New York Times)

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About two months ago, I wrote about problems with the New York Times, including criticism by a 16-year insider of that paper.

Today, I encountered another insiders’ view and see a further validation of both my take on this particular paper and the press and media in general (to some degree, society in general). This long resignation letter by Bari Weiss is worthy of being quoted in full and picking cherries out of it is hard, but the below is an attempt to do so:

[Lessons after Trump’s election:] the importance of understanding other Americans, the necessity of resisting tribalism, and the centrality of the free exchange of ideas to a democratic society—have not been learned. Instead, a new consensus has emerged in the press, but perhaps especially at this paper: that truth isn’t a process of collective discovery, but an orthodoxy already known to an enlightened few whose job is to inform everyone else.

Indeed, one of my largest criticism of the press is not that it has the wrong opinions (from my POV), but that journalists see themselves as the “enlightened few” and the rest of us (even those vastly more intelligent, better educated, and well informed) as ignorants who need to be fed pre-processed opinions.

Stories are chosen and told in a way to satisfy the narrowest of audiences, rather than to allow a curious public to read about the world and then draw their own conclusions.

To this I note the two possible interpretations of “BILD dir deine Meinung”, the slogan of BILD, Germany’s largest (and likely worst) news-paper: It could be read as an imperative to “Form your own opinion!”; it could be read as a presumptuous and reader despising “BILD [gives] you your opinion”.

Indeed, the distortions by the press regularly includes filtering out facts that could be interpreted in the “wrong” manner by the readers, leading them to opinions other than the journalists.

My own forays into Wrongthink have made me the subject of constant bullying by colleagues who disagree with my views. They have called me a Nazi and a racist; […] [On Slack], some coworkers insist I need to be rooted out if this company is to be a truly “inclusive” one, while others post ax emojis next to my name.

This repeats the enormous problems that exist e.g. in U.S. colleges, on sports teams, and whatnots. Moreover, note the hypocrisy of using claims for inclusiveness to exclude someone.

Showing up for work as a centrist at an American newspaper should not require bravery.

Note: Not “conservative”, not “rightist”, not “Trump supporter”, but actually just “centrist”. The linked to Wikipedia page says “Bari Weiss describes herself as a ‘left-leaning centrist.’ ”, making it even worse … Apparently, someone not solidly “leftist” is not welcome.

But the truth is that intellectual curiosity—let alone risk-taking—is now a liability at The Times. […] And so self-censorship has become the norm.

But how can a journalist who is not intellectually curious possibly do a good job? One who self-censors? Both are antithetical to good journalism.

Op-eds that would have easily been published just two years ago would now get an editor or a writer in serious trouble, if not fired.

Persons being fired over expressing the wrong opinion is (sadly) nothing remarkable today and not unheard of even two decades ago. There are two particularly disturbing aspects here, however: (a) The short time-span, which points to a disastrous and disastrously fast trend.* (b) That even journalism is affected. Indeed, here and with some other quotes, it pays to bear in mind that the justification for the press is to a large degree to ensure expression of opinions that might otherwise be silenced and to ensure that someone criticizes what is wrong with society, the government, whatnot, even in the face of suppression attempts. When the press cannot do that or, worse, is complicit in the suppression of opinion, something is very, very foul.

*Note that both this resignation letter and the previous insider view seem to see the Trump election as something of a watershed. (But I consider this to be a bit optimistic about the age of the problems.)

Even now, I am confident that most people at The Times do not hold these [PC, Leftist, SJW, …] views. Yet they are cowed by those who do.

I have heard similar claims about e.g. the U.S. college situation (at least outside the social sciences) and e.g. Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton points in the same direction for the overall population. However, this makes it the more important to take a stand, to not bow to threats, to not “apologize” for having said something “inappropriate” (“racist”, “sexist”, whatnot), to not have a “two thousand ants can’t be wrong—this is a great place for a picnic!” attitude, etc.

Written by michaeleriksson

July 15, 2020 at 1:21 pm

Poor journalism and journalism as a source of fake news (The New York Times)

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A while back, I encountered a quite interesting article, in which a renowned* journalist deplores the The 2016 Election and the Demise of Journalistic Standards.

*One Michael Goodwin. While unknown to me, apparently he is “the chief political columnist for The New York Post” and “he worked for 16 years at The New York Times”, among other qualifications relevant for the current discussion.

He is, obviously correct, but too optimistic, e.g. in that he says “We were generally seen as trying to report the news in a fair and straightforward manner. Today, all that has changed. For that, we can blame the 2016 election or, more accurately, how some news organizations chose to cover it.”: The problem in lacking standards has existed for a very long time before that, although it is conceivable that the trend has been slower in the U.S. than in e.g. Germany and Sweden. If the public has acquired a greater awareness of this problem through the reporting around the 2016 election, then this is a good thing—but, make no mistake, many were aware long before that. My own first complaints in writing are likely more than ten years old by now, and I had been an unhappy camper for a long time before that.

A particularly interesting claim:

The [New York] Times’ previous reputation for having the highest standards was legitimate. Those standards were developed over decades to force reporters and editors to be fair and to gain public trust. The commitment to fairness made The New York Times the flagship of American journalism. But standards are like laws in the sense that they are designed to guide your behavior in good times and in bad. Consistent adherence to them was the source of the Times’ credibility. And eliminating them has made the paper less than ordinary. Its only standards now are double standards.

While I cannot vouch for his estimate of the past of this paper, the trend well matches the problems and trends that I have seen elsewhere. Cf. e.g. portions of the my discussion of the Relotius fraud or my suggestions for a new press ethics [1] (and a number of links from these pages). In fact, if his claims about The New York Times hold true, it can be argued that my new press ethics is on many points just a return to an older press ethics …

Earlier today, I found an article on Minding the Campus dealing with the New York Times, specifically a recent, highly problematic Pulitzer Prize awarded for its highly problematic “The 1619 Project”. As discussed in this article and several preceding on the same site, there are grave problems with historically incorrect claims that even fairly basic fact checking would have caught—and which appear to have been made out of a wish to push a certain political angle relating to slavery, exploitation of Blacks, and similar, beyond what is warranted by actual history. (The alternative is gross incompetence, which, obviously, can never be ruled out when it comes to journalists.)

This, too, plays in well with some of my past writings, including (again) [1] and a portions of a recent text on fake news and COVID-19. In particular, we have here publications that at least partially* are “fake news”, journalistic fraud, “bad science”, or whatnot, yet are not only accepted as “non-fake news”—but actually wins Pulitzers …

*I have not studied the project in detail, myself, and I do not rule out that there is considerable valuable and correct content (but neither do I rule out that there is not). The deficits repeatedly detailed by Minding the Campus are, however, sufficiently extensive and severe as to make the whole irredeemably bad journalism, the type that rightfully should get journalists fired and “you will never work in this town again”-ed. But instead, again, it wins prestigious prizes …

Written by michaeleriksson

May 11, 2020 at 8:03 pm

Escalation of virtue signaling

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The recent COVID-19 reactions by politicians are likely partially a problem that I have suspected repeatedly in the past, e.g. in the context of political correctness, the environment, and, more historically, e.g. religion and Communist dictatorships:

Many are very keen to prove themselves among the righteous/enlightened/orthodox/whatnot (preferably, the most righteous, but the main thing is to avoid condemnation)—and in order to do so, they make sure to go one step further than others: If X says that we should voluntarily abstain from visiting restaurants, then Y says that opening hours must be forcefully restricted to prove himself “better” than X, Z that restaurants must be closed altogether to prove himself “better” than Y, etc.

Obviously, if Z does have the audacity to suggest mere voluntary abstinence when the bar has already been raised, his opponents can condemn him for being too cavalier, ignorant, naive, whatnot. In more dire situations, e.g. Soviet Russia, the epithets could be harsher and the consequences worse.

Broadly, this could be seen as a continual escalation of virtue signaling.

An interesting question is to what degree such behavior would be by conscious decision, as above, and to what degree have unconscious causes, e.g. some type of fallacy or a pathological drive to be the “best” in some area.

(The above was intended as an excursion to [1], but slipped my mind.)

Written by michaeleriksson

March 22, 2020 at 1:22 pm

Some thoughts around a personal anecdote / suppression of information

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Looking over some old posts, I found a footnote dealing with suppression of information from a discussion:

As aside, there might be some PC-extremists that actually deliberately use such formulations, because they see every sign of sex (race, nationality, religion, …) as not only irrelevant in any context, but as outright harmful, because “it could strengthen stereotypes”, or similar. Not only would this be a fanaticism that goes beyond anything defensible, it also severely damages communications: Such information is important in very many contexts, because these characteristics do have an effect in these contexts. (And it is certainly not for one party do selectively decide which of these contexts are relevant and which not.) For instance, if someone cries, the typical implications for a male and a female (or a child and an adult) are very different. Ditto, if a catholic and a protestant marriage is terminated. Etc.

This brought to my mind an incident with a colleague* some years ago, which well illustrates the problems of such information suppression—and does so even in the face of the most stubborn PC objections**.

*And, yes, he was fairly strongly PC. In another incident, he tried to defend the throwing of eggs at immigration critics when we discussed free speech—he did not seem to see the contradiction with his alleged support of free speech…

**E.g. “that the implications of a male crying are different is just a result of societal brain-washing; ergo, it is even more important that we leave such information out, in order to reduce the brain-washing”.

Our discussion (paraphrased from memory and into English):

He: Huh! It says in the paper that a German killed his daughter over pre-marital sex.*

*Or something similar of the “honor” variety, e.g. having the “wrong” boy-friend.

I: Really?!? Was it a “German German” or a Turk* or something?

*Contextually taken to be someone of Turkish ethnicity living in Germany.

He: Yeah, well, um, yeah, I mean, it waaas a Turk, but I did not want to, um, say it like that…

Firstly, such attempts at censorship waste time, can cause unnecessary confusion, and can make something seem more “newsworthy” than it actually is. (Note the idea that “man bites dog” is news, while “dog bites man” is not. In this case: while honor killings are rare even among Turks, they are virtual unheard of among “German Germans”.)

Secondly, and more importantly: by not providing such information, limits on (in this case) the group of perpetrators are removed and a greater number of innocents are potentially implicated. It is true that those uninformed or weak in critical thinking might build an image of the typical Turk as an “honor murderer”, and I can at least understand the PC case for wanting to avoid this.* However, by not keeping the limiting information, aspersions are now cast on the group of men or the group of fathers: if there was a danger before, it remains and it is extended to a larger group—and the proportion of the innocent in this group is higher yet. This is particularly unfortunate in this specific case, because of the great amount of Feminist propaganda directed at painting a faulty** picture of men as abusers of women—to the point that “mäns våld mot kvinnor” (“men’s violence against women”) is one of the most common phrases in Swedish politics, bordering on being a slogan. To boot, this abuse is often implied to serve the deliberate purpose of oppressing women, for which the above killing would have been a splendid example.

*But I stress that I do not agree with it: Presuming to be a filter of information or an arbiter of what others are allowed to know is inherently dangerous. (If in doubt, because it rests on an assumption of knowledge and understanding on behalf of the presumptive arbiter that could be faulty—and, indeed, virtually always is faulty with the PC crowd.) Moreover, I very strongly disagree with denying knowledge (or e.g. self-determination) to those with a brain in order to protect those without one. (And if we try to separate people into groups by e.g. the ability to think, how can we be certain that the arbiter and the criteria are sufficiently good?) Then there is the issue of filtering out information that does apply to a very significant portion of the group. (E.g. through denying that crime rates in a certain group are far higher than in the rest of the population.)

**In reality, women are violent towards men slightly more often than vice versa, and men are far more likely to be victims of violence overall.

From another perspective, if he had been right in censoring the ethnicity of the father, why was he not obliged to leave out “father” (and the implied “man”)? Why not say “parent”? What makes the one piece of information acceptable/relevant/whatnot and the other not?

In some cases, information is sufficiently prima facie relevant or irrelevant that a decision is easy. For instance, that is was a parent (or other close relative) has an impact on the type of crime, and that it happened in (or in relation to) Germany made the incident more personally relevant* than had it happened in some random place in the world. On the other hand, the hair-color of the involved persons would almost** always be irrelevant, except in as far as it revealed*** something more significant. More generally, it can be tricky—especially, when different people have different priorities, interests, and “open questions”.

*At least for some people and/or for some types of news.

**I point to The Red-Headed League for a fictional counter-example, and note that there might, in real-life, e.g. be situations where violence involving people of rarer hair-colors might be more likely for personal reasons.

***For instance, if the hair-color is locally rare, it might point to a tourist or an immigrant, either of which has a considerably higher degree of prima facie relevance. (While this is unlikely to apply to Germany, it might very well apply to e.g. Nigeria and Japan.)

While I can see the case against providing too much information, I see a stronger case against providing too little and would prefer if e.g. journalists erred on the side of too much. Say that a man has beaten a woman: What is the effect of just saying “man” and what of saying “an uneducated, unemployed male alcoholic with a prior criminal record”?* Whether that much information will always be relevant, I leave unstated, but more information would help to build a more nuanced world-view and to foil attempted distortions of said world-view, e.g. by countering propaganda claims like** “all men are rapists” and attempts to hide negative information about certain groups***.

*When e.g. “college professor” applies, it is no less worthy of mention.

**Note that this works in the context of Turks too. For instance, the (hypothetical) knowledge that this was a first-generation immigrant would have lessened the risk of unfair suspicions against those with a longer familial history in Germany. An (equally hypothetical) knowledge of alcoholism would have lessened the risk even for many first generation Turks. Etc.

***For instance, hiding the ethnicity of criminals does not just protect the innocent members of that ethnicity from unfair suspicions—it also creates a too positive view of the group as a whole. Such a view can lead to poorer decision making, especially in politics. To boot, it can lead to unnecessary personal or group conflicts, e.g. when person A has access to information that person B lacks and B incorrectly assumes that A bases his opinion in the overall issue on bigotry/racism/sexism/xenophobia/… or lack of information. (Ditto, m.m., for groups A and B.) I note that both the Swedish and the German press appear to systematically suppress the ethnicity of perpetrators and suspects.

From yet another perspective, these tactics need not be very helpful. For instance, above, I immediately considered it more-likely-than-not that a non-Western immigrant was involved—even in the face of an explicit mention of “German”*. I asked; many others would have jumped to the conclusion and kept it to themselves. Moreover, even I might have asked the wrong question… Was ethnicity the core issue or might it have been religion (or yet some other factor)? Here I saw another case of a Turkish honor killing, where it might (or might not) have been better viewed as a Muslim or a Turkish Muslim honor killing. Having more information, e.g. not just whether the father was a Turk but also whether he was a Muslim, would, again, have given me a more nuanced world-view. This applies the more to those who jump to the conclusion, because even when their conclusions are correct (e.g. “was a Turk”), they need not hit what was actually important.

*While the use of “German” (or “Swede”) to refer to ethnicity is increasingly (and irrationally) frowned upon, the context made ethnicity more likely than nationality, because the clear majority of all people in Germany are German citizens, leaving ethnicity as the natural intention with cases within Germany. Similarly, I suspect, an “Italian-American” is more likely to spontaneously mention that he is Italian (even when not a citizen) than that he is a U.S. citizen (unless he is abroad).

As to what to do instead, if the PC fears are valid? Focus on developing critical-thinking skills, raise awareness of fallacies (e.g. “confirmation bias”), and further the understanding of some very basic ideas like “what applies to some group members do not necessarily apply to all group members”, “that most members of group A are also members of group B does not imply that most members of group B are also members of group A”, “individual variation very often trumps group membership”, “correlation does not imply causation”, and variations. A greater ability to discriminate would also be positive, notably in knowing what criteria are important and what unimportant—but also including ensuring that everyone knows some basic differentiations, e.g. that “Arab” and “Muslim” are not synonymous, that neither (ethnic) Turks nor (ethnic) Iranians/Persians are Arabs, and similar.

Excursion on information and identification:
One concern with being liberal with information is the increased risk of someone intended to be anonymous becoming identifiable. This is a legitimate reason why e.g. journalists should show some restraint, but they should do so on a case-by-case basis. (And I cannot recall ever having heard either the PC crowd or a journalist raise this concern as a reason to censor ethnicity.) For instance, the number of Swedes living in Wuppertal is unlikely to be very large, and just combining “Swede” with “Wuppertal” would limit the candidates correspondingly. Throw in just one or two additional facts and that might be enough to pin-point me—and if it does not, the number of candidates will be small enough that each of them could be considered the match by third parties. I point to the case of a physically assaulted innocent man as just one example of why this can be dangerous.

Written by michaeleriksson

July 6, 2019 at 1:23 pm

Bad-faith assumptions in debate / allegations of e.g. sexism

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Accusations of e.g. sexism are often entirely unwarranted and accusations (in general) from the PC crowd are often exaggerated in a highly distortive manner, often involving undue speculation about motives or the assumption of a hidden agenda, e.g. in the form “criticizes immigration policy” => “must be a racist”.

In the border-areas of these two problems there are some interesting special cases that I have seen repeatedly over the years,* often involving clear non-sequiturs and/or bad faith. The latter in two variations: Firstly, in that the attacker can be acting in bad faith, e.g. maliciously distorting for rhetorical purposes. Secondly, in that the attacker assumes that the attacked spoke in bad faith, making the attack a case of incompetence. (I also point to Hanlon’s Razor and the standard recommendation for Wikipedia editors to assume good faith for further thought.) While I will not necessarily point explicitly to these complications below, they are almost always present to some degree, and I ask the reader to actively consider them when reading the reminder of the text.

*Because I have learned my lesson and try to stay away from Feminist debates, they have been much rarer to me lately than in the past. For this reason, I have few specific examples and links. Similar topics have occurred implicitly in a few older texts, however. I point e.g. to [1] and to my conflicts with and concerns about German blogger Antje Schrupp, discussed in e.g. [2] and [3]. An old debunking of a “male privilege checklist” is likely to contain some examples and/or some material overlapping with the below items.

A few (likely incomplete) examples:

  1. Interpreting criticism of Feminism as misogyny or as having an anti-woman agenda.

    Even if Feminism was a true equality movement (it is not, outside its own propaganda), criticism of it must be allowed. Jumping to (or, possibly, pretending to jump to) conclusions beyond the criticism it self is almost always unwarranted. Equating anti-Feminism with e.g. misogyny is comparable to equating anti-Communism with hatred of the working class.

  2. Interpreting opposition to equality of outcome as misogyny.

    Apart from the renewed non-sequitur, equality of outcome is not equality at all—true equality is equality of opportunity.

  3. Interpreting the belief in physical differences, be they speculative or well-documented by science, as misogyny.

    We must try to see the world as it actually is—not the way we want it to be. This includes being open to possibilities that do not match a preconceived opinion or an ideological agenda, and to respect that others might have a deviating opinion for a non-misogynistic (non-racist, non-whatnot) reason. (It does not include agreeing with that reason, but I would welcome it if e.g. Feminists were to take the trouble to actually research matters with an open mind, instead of blindly believing claims by other believers and the pseudo-scientific field of gender studies—they would find reason to modify a great number of opinions.)

    As an aside, a common sub-problem is that members of the PC crowd fail to consider individual variation, or that their opponents understand individual variation, resulting in absurd conclusions like the opponent who says that the average X of group A is better than that of group B being taken to imply that every single member of group A has a better X than every single member of group B. This including implicit variations, e.g. that the existence of one single member of group B of who excels in X is taken as counter-proof. (Where “X” can refer to a wide range of measures, abilities, whatnot, e.g. IQ or the ability to play chess. Height and the ability to long jump are good examples of similar measures that do not usually* receive this misinterpretation, and that implicitly show why the misinterpretation is idiotic.)

    *Exceptions can exist. Apparently, e.g., the opinion that Serena Williams would not be competitive with even fairly low-ranking male tennis players has been condemned as sexist—without bothering to actually investigate the factual correctness or faultiness of the claim. This shows an element of wishful thinking that is common in PC circles—I want the truth to be this-or-that; ergo, the truth is this-or-that.

  4. Interpreting criticism of an individual woman as criticism of women in general. For example, the claim “Hillary Clinton would be a useless President” has been extrapolated to “Hillary Clinton would be a useless President because she is a woman” (implying “any female President would be useless”)—where the speaker is far more likely to have his eyes set on her weird opinions, disputable morals, relative lack of qualifications, … More extreme extrapolations like* “women are useless in politics” or even “women are useless” are not unheard of.

    *I do not recall whether I have seen such in the case of Hillary Clinton, but similar extrapolations have definitely occurred. I use examples on the same base for consistency.

    This item (and the following) is outright baffling, and one that makes me believe that these interpretations are often either deliberately dishonest (to allow e.g. an ad-hominem attack) or based on the (horribly misguided) blanket assumption that a significant portion of the male population is deliberately trying to oppress women.

  5. Interpreting factual and valid criticism of an individual woman as being motivated by misogyny, a wish to put women in general down, or similar. As a special case, (typically incorrectly) assuming that a man who had displayed a similar behavior would not have been criticized in a similar manner.

    (See preceding item.)

  6. Interpreting any and all mention of women’s looks, irrespective of reason, as misogyny (cf. excursion). Slightly off-topic, we also have the related problem of taking any and all depiction of women that could be seen as sexualized as misogyny, objectification, or whatnot. In rare extremes, even the depiction of too good-looking women is deemed unacceptable, e.g. through “setting unrealistic standards” (cf. another excursion).

    See below for a more specific example.

    This item is not just a non-sequitur, but also often paradoxical in that implies that praising a woman for some aspect of her being would diminish her. If an accomplished women is also good looking, what is wrong with enjoying her looks—especially, when she is obviously deliberately trying to look good? If anything, the implied assumption that men would not be able to appreciate a woman for her brains or her accomplishments is the true sexism… For that matter, I suspect that more women appreciate men for the “wrong” reasons than vice versa.*

    *This is speculative, obviously, but no more so than corresponding claims by e.g. Feminists. More generally, I have the personal impression that men might e.g. like a beautiful actress because they enjoy looking at her, but leave it at that, while women are more likely to jump to a broader admiration of handsome actors, assuming that they are handsome and X, Y, Z even when the evidence is scant or outright contradictory.

  7. Interpreting any negative treatment, any treatment construable as negative, or even the lack of preferential treatment, as misogyny.

    For instance, just a few days ago, sexism accusations were raised when Australian TV failed to interrupt the broadcast of an on-going men’s game in favor of a women’s game about to start ([4]). True, one of the women, Ashleigh Barty, was both Australian and the women’s world number one—but also true: both men were Australian; their match was hard fought, while Barty’s was expected to be (and, indeed, was) a formality; their match was already far progressed, while the women’s were about to start; the men’s match was likely to end before the women’s, had the women’s match been hard fought, implying that the most interesting part of the women’s match could still have been shown; and viewer interest* appears to have favored the men’s match. Even those who would see the case for the women’s match as stronger would be hard-pressed to make a convincing argument for sexism as the motivation—not e.g. someone simply coming to another conclusion based on objective criteria.

    *Of course, some Feminists appear to reason that this disparity in interest is it self a sign of sexism, in need of intervention…

    I have found it a useful exercise to just reverse the roles in a situation and see how the interpretation changes. Assume that the sexes above were reversed and that the broadcast had been changed—would this have been OK or had loud accusations of sexism still followed? My money is on the latter, because in situations like these it is rarely a matter of what is fair on objective grounds—it is a matter of what is to the advantage or disadvantage of women. Generally, this exercise is excellent in revealing the enormous hypocrisy that applies pro women, e.g. behaviors that are tolerated when they would be inacceptable from a man, claims that would or not would not be OK with the roles reversed, etc.

Notably, such interpretations are typically made in a blanket manner, in an obvious assumption of “bad faith”, and without considering whether there might, e.g., be a valid reason for a given criticism. Consider e.g. the poster “Gabriella2” on the Track and Field News forums, which I have occasionally visited: I have noticed him* going off on absurd “bad faith” tangents on a number of occasions. Finally, in what was the trigger for writing this text, he seems to have gone too far and actually received a ban.** The originating*** incident is “bambam1729”, a physician, making an aside remark that he is concerned about Konstanze Klosterhalfen, a very thin female runner, being anorexic. This sets Gabriella2 of again, with claims likes “And then attention is turned to Klosterhalfen. Women are either too muscular, or too thin…Jesus give me strength!”.****

*According to mentions in the linked-to thread, despite the name, the poster appears to be male. While I am myself skeptical, both because of the type of the repeated accusations and because of style of writing, I will use pronouns based on this claim. Certainly, there are plenty of men who are similarly stupid.

**Note that this thread originated as posts in another, likely for a Diamond League event, and appears to have been split-off after the fact. Further note that some of Gabriella2’s posts might have been deleted by the moderators, as is often the case when a ban occurs.

***There was some prior discussion not included here that might have set the mood or agitated people in advance. Parts might be present in another split-off thread (but I have not tried to track what of the original discussion eventually went where).

****I note that phrases like “give me strength”, “here we go again”, “not this shit again”, and similar, are quite common with this type of debater—but that it is usually the rest of the world that needs strength to put up with them and their ever-recurring crap.

Well-reasoned posts by others have no effect, including:

(By bambam1729)

I brought up Klosterhalfen, and if you think that’s inappropriate you have never treated a 20-25 yo woman with stress fractures in their hip, or operated on hip fractures, and seen all the problems that are caused by the female athletic triad. As I said, it was my doctor coming out. I don’t give a shit what she looks like from an appearance point of view, I do care what anorexia does to a female body. The loss of bone strength from it at her age is not recoverable.

With “female athletic triad”, a term not previously familiar to me, he likely refers to something discussed in [5].

(By DrJay, presumably also a physician)

[…]

And I share bambam’s concern about anorexia, and had the exact same thoughts about Klosterhalfen. And take note that posters on this board have not been pointing at the many, many other female (or male) middle or long distance runners about their slender or skinny builds, i.e. Klosterhalfen is an exception and looks like stress fractures and more waiting to happen. Has nothing to do with some sort of “ideal” body, but everything to do with a sometimes fatal mental illness.

(By DrJay, replying to Gabriella2’s accusations of hypocrisy in treatment of male and female athletes)

Most (all?) world class male shot putters are overweight, carrying a lot of extra body fat. Most world class distance runners, male and female, are skinny, underweight by many standards, and I don’t recall seeing concern or criticism for that here before. The difference is that Klosterhalfen, anthropomorphically, is an (extreme) outlier among outliers. She is, as bambam said, cachectic.

Maybe you should start a thread discussing the health risks incurred by the body habitus of male shot putters. I doubt any of us would argue that they are not at increased risk for cardiovascular disease later in life.

As for bambam1729, he finally had enough of Gabriella2 and his nonsense:

OK, Gabriella, that’s it. Call me at [number*] and we’ll discuss this like adults.

As for the message board, that’s it for me. Its been a fun 10 years or so. Don’t care to deal with people who tell me my medical license should be taken away, or I don’t know anything about medical journals, when the people telling me that don’t know shit about medicine.

I’ll await your call.

*The original post does contain the real number, but I prefer to remove it on a “just in case” basis.

Excursion on attention to women and misogyny:
This is possibly the largest non-sequitur of all.

For instance, why should attraction to a woman be something negative?!?! Why would it diminish an accomplished woman if people who appreciate her accomplishment also take note of her looks? If people who do not care for her field* appreciate her for another reason than her accomplishment? This especially when it comes to women who obviously strive to look good.

*A particular common variation is someone who does not care for women’s sports, but who still can appreciate a good looking female athlete. Another is someone with only a casual or an “Olympics only” interest in sports in general, who takes note. (Based on age and physical training, athletes are, obviously, more likely to be admired for their looks than e.g. physicists.)

Why would it be wrong to (as above) raise concerns about a woman potentially being too thin for her own good? Similarly, too fat for her own good? Etc.

When it comes to negative opinions about optics, I can see a partial point along the lines of “if you cannot say anything positive; do not say anything”*; however, while a violation of this principle might be rude or insensitive, there is nothing misogynous about it.

*But I would limit the validity of this principle to specific circumstances, to the degree that I support it all, e.g. when speaking directly to the potentially insulted party and having no specific reason to say anything hurtful. (A specific reason could be e.g. a sub-standard piece of work that needs replacement.)

Talk of “objectification” is particularly absurd: Either it is nonsense or such an everyday matter that it cannot be considered bad, because, by the same standard, admiring a singer for his voice would be worthy of condemnation—as would seeing a baker as a source of bread, without bothering to build a personal relationship.

Excursion on “setting unrealistic standards”:
This is something that has long puzzled me—why should the average woman be depressed because she cannot match a “professional beauty”? Someone who has not only had great luck with genetics, but also has had that more time to spend on her looks, access to better advice and helpers, is wearing professional make-up, and has been photographed (or even re-touched) professionally? (And if she is, why should she not feel the same way when e.g. hearing of a Nobel Laureate?) Would this not rather point to a problem with e.g. the self-perspective in the individual woman than to a problem with modern media? A more rational attitude is to take things for what they are, understand that not everyone can be good at everything* and that looks are not all that matters, use the professional beauties as inspirations or a means to find ways to improve one self (should this be wanted), etc.

*In contrast, if someone dedicates years of work to excellence in a particular area and then falls short of the original hopes, then I would have larger sympathies.

By all means, I too was fairly insecure when I was a teenager, but (a) I grew out of it, (b) I never saw e.g. Schwarzenegger* movies as a problem that put me down, (c) by and large, media influence was a positive, because it contributed** to moving me to improve myself (and even at that, I trailed most of my male class mates by years). If anything, seeing that I was (then) considerably below average in athleticism, my class mates were a greater source of insecurity—and should we then go down the road of “Harrison Bergeron” to protect the feelings of teenage boys and girls***?

*To boot, as an adult, I consider him too bulky for my own preferences.

**To what degree depends on how inclusive “media” is taken and the exact intent. Movies certainly were a part; fashion magazines were not. Certainly, the brain-washy aspect often implied in Feminist rhetoric was not present—but an aspect of seeing e.g. how the same actor could come across extremely differently in different roles, or in the same role in different seasons of a TV series, was.

***Absent fashion magazines and whatnot, they will still have comparisons in their vicinity—taller girls, girls with bigger breasts, girls with better faces, girls who are slimmer, girls with more muscle, girls with more expensive clothes, …

From another point of view, should we deny others the right to look at depictions of beautiful women or muscular men? Should we ban magazines from using images that people want to see, even at the risk of damaging their profits? Should we force advertisers* to use images that are hurtful to product sales?

*Note that I am generally negative towards modern day advertising, and would be open to some legal restrictions, including on the amount of advertising, the use of animations, and profiling. Beautiful women are one of the very few positive aspects about advertising, however. I also note that some attempts to use “real” people have been less than appetizing, and are better avoided out of concern for the viewers. For instance, during my visits to Sweden, I was repeatedly exposed to an advert of an old crone lying in a bath tub—WTF! I did my best to look in other directions and do not even know what the advert was for…

Written by michaeleriksson

July 5, 2019 at 8:01 am

Plato’s cave and the dangers of a limited world-view

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Plato’s famous cave provides an excellent illustration* of the dangers of e.g. censorship (cf. any number of previous texts), opinion corridors, distortion of literary works, echo chambers, and other limits on thought and perception.

*Not necessarily one intended by him, but it still fits well.

Consider someone (for now, voluntarily) sitting in a cave, facing one sole direction, and attempting to understand the world based on the shadows that move on the cave wall: How is this supposed to work? What is there to lose by turning around and trying to catch a glimpse of what happens in another direction? A glimpse of the actual objects, instead of their shadows? A glimpse of the fire? A glimpse of the other walls? Why not climb out of the cave for an entirely new set of perspectives and information? How can the wall-facers even know the extent of their knowledge and ignorance, let alone actually learn something beyond the limited and often distorted information of the shadows?

Yet, exactly this wall-facing is what many people do—most, in the case of the strongly religious or ideological (notably Leftists/PC-ists/Feminists). Indeed, they are similar to the prisoners of Plato’s cave even in that they often react negatively towards those who have seen something else or suggest other truths (also see an excursion below). The condemnation of the unseen without bothering to look at it first, is a recurring theme.

Now, I am not saying that those who do expose themselves to other walls, the world outside the cave, whatnot, will necessarily change their opinions—nor that they necessarily should (this will obviously depend on how well the old opinion fares compared to the alternatives; also cf. e.g. [1]). However, their opinions afterwards will be better—be it because they have replaced a flawed opinion with something closer to the truth, have modified the old opinion to be more nuanced, or have a greater legitimacy in believing the old opinion (should it have panned out, after all).

In contrast, the opinions of those who refuse to expose themselves to other ideas, perspectives, whatnot are next to worthless, being steeped in ignorance and too weakly tested—and those who deliberately constrain themselves prove their anti-intellectualism and misology, no matter what they might claim or believe themselves to be.

Then there are those (again, notably in the Leftist/PC/Feminist area) who deliberately try to chain others in front of that one wall. They try to censor or libel dissenters; force curricula to have an ideological character with a fix world-view; re-write children’s literature; promote ignorance of and/or distort history and scientific findings; … My feelings for them are better not put into words.

I have no objections to people who fairly promote their own opinions (world-view, ideas, whatnot)—this is the equivalent of describing the advantages or contents of a particular other eye direction or the surface world. I also raise no objections to those who attack other opinions with reasoning, factual arguments, sound science, and other intellectually honest methods.

However, very many chose very different methods, aiming at, directly or indirectly, preventing their victims from exploring other sources of information, other perspectives, etc. This is not limited to actively preventing access to these information sources and whatnots; it also includes unfair attacks (e.g. most cases of ad hominem), “science” hell-bent on proving a certain point,* indoctrination of those too young or feeble minded to think critically, and “channel flooding” through ensuring that all** channels that might reasonably be encountered by most people are filled with content supporting or pseudo-supporting the same idea. (These channels would then be akin to the wall, and the “flooders” to the movers of shadow-casting objects, who can further control and distort the perception of the world.)

*Legitimate scientists will often approach e.g. an experiment or a survey with the wish to see a certain conclusion; however, they try to build it fairly and are willing to adapt their opinions, should the results not be the hoped for. Illegitimate ones will often build the experiment/survey/whatnot so that the “right” result is bound to manifest, irrespective of the truth, and/or interpret the results in such a manner that it supports their thesis (even when someone more objective would come to another conclusion), and/or report their findings in a highly misleading manner.

**For instance, school-children will be so disproportionately exposed to the channel “school” in many areas (including history and social sciences) that agenda pushing among teachers or text-book publishers can do severe damage; college is not as extreme, with adults having more options, but poses a similar danger. For instance, until the 1990s or even later, the single most important source of news for most people in e.g. Sweden was the few state-owned TV channels, and anyone controlling these also controlled a disproportionate part of the information flow. Websites are mostly a contrast, seeing that anyone can chose to simply visit a different set of websites; however, if e.g. Google and Facebook selectively promote or penalize certain contents based on opinion, this could be seen as a further example.

Excursion on Swedish anti-Feminists and similar groups:
A particularly strong parallel can be found in the journey and treatment of most Swedish anti-Feminists: These, like I, usually grew up with a considerable amount of Feminist indoctrination (through school, news papers, political propaganda etc.), they eventually found that the Feminist world-view, even Feminist self-portrayal, did not pan out (by a mixture of critical thinking and exposure to alternate opinions/non-ideological science), and were then derided as ignorants in need of enlightenment by the Feminists when they tried to point out the many Feminist fallacies to others… This matches the scenario by Plato of a former wall-facer who is moved to the surface and considered deficient upon his return—for his failure to see the world in the same way as the remaining wall-facers.*

*A minor flaw in the analogy is Plato’s description of the returning explorers as being temporarily limited in sight until their eyes have adjusted to the darkness again. I am far from certain that I agree with this portion of his (metaphorical) discussion in any context, and it is likely intended to apply only in the context of education and politicians (or possibly the ideal vs. the mundane, or similar) to begin with.

Excursion on Plato:
At least the linked-to piece (covering Book VII of his “Republic”) is yet another example of writing that is poor, long-winded, and has a too low information density. The ever repeating, mindless, agreement by Glaucon is a particular nuisance—not merely introducing noise, but also being outright annoying after a while.* A much better approach to the dialogue format (if such a format is used at all) would be to have Glaucon go into opposition and force clarifications and/or stronger arguments. As is, such opportunities are limited to variations of him not understanding or understanding incorrectly—and even those drown in the constant amens.

*In a twist, this type of agreement is contrary to the spirit of the above. It is also a long way from the reputation of the Socratic method… (The rest of the “Republic” is on my short-term todo list, but I have no other direct experiences with Plato’s writings.)

Written by michaeleriksson

December 26, 2018 at 10:43 pm

What the PC movement gains from silencing Dead White Men

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A very dangerous aspect of some modern excesses of political correctness is the almost whole-sale rejection of anything “Western”, “traditional”, “classical”, … The danger is not* because of typical Conservative counter-arguments about having a common frame of reference or cultural understanding, knowing where we came from, … No: The two much worse, overlapping problems are the following:

*While I do not consider such arguments without merit, they are, with reservations for history, a lot less relevant today, with changing norms and societies, rapidly changing cultural (in senses like fiction and who-is-who) frames of reference, heavy migration, whatnot. For instance, my native Sweden and adopted Germany have very different sets of authors that one “should” know about—and to have a discussion with a modern German teenager, I might be better off knowing something about “Game of Thrones” or Kanye West than about Goethe and Schiller…

Firstly, there are enormous amounts of insight to be found in older works—and, unlike modern works, they have typically been strongly pre-filtered for quality and long-term relevance.* It is neigh on impossible to come up with a thought so truly original than no-one else has published it in the past. Many are even so old and established that they are anonymous adages.** Similarly, more or less any event of today can find at least an approximate parallel in history, making a solid knowledge of history an immensely valuable tool for understanding the current world, including seeing potential dangers. A related issue is that ignorance of history makes it impossible to view historical events, persons, ideologies, whatnot in a reasonable light, especially compared to other events, persons, ideologies, whatnot of the same or another era (including today). Those who denigrate old thoughts, the teaching of history, whatnot, just “because it is old” (“[…] Western”, “[…] by Dead White Men”) slow their own intellectual growth, hinder their understanding of (even) modern society, and are often unable to understand the past in a reasonable context.

*Similarly, that the music of a few decades back appears to be much better than today, is partially a result of the weaker music of then having been filtered out much more strongly over the intervening years than has the weaker music of today.

**A common problem, independent of the PC crowd, is that these are often viewed the wrong way: A proponent might try to “prove” a point merely by citing an adage; an opponent might denigrate them indiscriminately, seeing that they often focus on only one aspect of an issue or a special case. The best gain, however, is when they are seen as “food for thought”, as pointers to some aspect of an issue that we might have overlooked or not considered sufficiently. Generally, the point of exposure to others ideas is not to adopt these ideas—but to use them as stimulation for the development of an own web of ideas.

Secondly, this rejection is a vital part of the survival of the PC movement: People who are well-read in the “forbidden knowledge” are much more likely to see the dangers and errors of the PC crowd than others. A particularly interesting aspect is repeated warnings against censorship, poor reasoning, intellectual dishonesty, and similar. For instance, this text was prompted by encountering a statement by Goethe:

Gegner glauben uns zu widerlegen, wenn sie ihre Meinung wiederholen und auf die unsrige nicht achten.

Translation: Opponents believe that they refute us, when they reiterate their own opinion and ignore* ours.

*Depending on exact intent, especially with “achten” not being a likely modern formulation, I am hesitant in the exact translation. Possibly, e.g. “do not pay attention to” or “do not respect” comes closer to the original intent. The overall sentiment remains the same, however.

This so well matches so many encounters I have had, especially with Feminists, who (a) appear to consider it more important to suppress dissenting opinions* than to give arguments against them and in favor of their own, (b) often argue by mere assertion (or mere slogan), (c) seem to believe that a lie repeated often enough is the truth. Large parts of the German Left appear to believe that the best way to push an opinion is to march along the street and scream it at the top of one’s voice. Excesses in U.S. colleges include systematic disturbances and sabotage of speeches given by not-sufficiently-kosher guest lecturers, including such absurdities as circumventing a ban on disturbances in the lecture hall by using strong loud-speakers immediately outside the same…

*In a parallel to the contents of this text, I have often noted that even perfectly factual statements run a severe risk of being censored on e.g. Feminist blogs, for no other discernible reason than mere dissent. Factual arguments, statistics, etc., appear to increase the risk of censorship.

What if these people stopped for a minute to think about the above quote, draw appropriate conclusion, and adapted their behavior correspondingly? Clearly, it is better for the success of such movements to prevent exposure to such thoughts—or to discredit them by Goethe (or whatever author) being a Dead White Man.

Or consider history: It is so much easier to be on the far Left, when all one knows is the atrocities of Hitler—but not those of Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot. It is so much easier to paint Blacks as disadvantaged and slavery as a White-on-Black atrocity, when comparing the U.S. Blacks of 1840 with modern society instead of the Whites at other times in history, when not making comparison to other historically disadvantaged groups (notably the Jews), and when not being aware of the greater history of slavery (be it concerning Blacks or generally). It is so much easier to propose censorship, restrictions on occupations, indoctrination, whatnot, without having to make comparisons to e.g the McCarthy-era or any number of dictatorships (not to mention “Nineteen Eighty-Four”, moving on to literature by Dead White Men).

The simple truth is this: If people are exposed to “heretical” ideas, allowed to read “dangerous” books, take the time to think for themselves, …, a certain type of movement will be very hard to sustain. Examples include large swaths of the Leftist and PC movements in e.g. the current U.S., Sweden, and Germany; various (past or current) dictatorships, notably the Marx-inspired ones; various religious organizations and sects; …

Excursion on alternatives:
Could not the same insights be gained from other sources? Often they can; however, why go looking for something that is already under our noses? Especially, when that already available will in most cases be objectively superior to the replacement? For instance, when we already have a certain college course, taught for decades and based on an even longer academic history, why throw it out? If we have a literature requirement, is it not natural to focus on those works actually available natively and in the local language?* If we want to draw general lessons from history, why not look to countries** where historians have gathered detailed knowledge covering a long period of time? Etc.

*Not only will the availability of material in the local language be far larger where local authors are concerned, but we also have to consider that even a good translation is invariably different from the original, that even a good translation will leave issues of prerequisite cultural/societal/whatnot knowledge, that even a good translation is usually inferior to the original, and that most translations are not good… To boot, leaving the Western world, most countries have weaker or considerably weaker literary traditions.

**In addition, it is usually preferable to have a stronger focus on the local country, seeing that the local history will often contain information more useful in understanding the current local society. (Benefits from being local will, obviously, require different choices from country to country, from area to area, from cultural sphere to cultural sphere—and are only a pro-something-Western in the case of a Western country.)

If it turns out that this-or-that other source provides some alternative insights, there is nothing wrong with using it in addition. If it turns out to be better, it might even be used instead—I do not advocate a focus on the Western for the sake of having something Western, and a study of e.g Chinese history, literature, philosophy, …, might give equal benefits*. However, the same cannot be said when we look to e.g. Nigeria. Moreover, this is nowhere near what many of these extremists suggest: They appear to start with the assumption that anything related to Dead White Men is evil, and see its abolishment from e.g. school curricula as an end in it self, giving preference to untested and very likely inferior alternatives.

*Barring pragmatical issues, e.g. the aforementioned translations, or local relevance.

Written by michaeleriksson

October 3, 2018 at 11:27 pm

Aldi screws up / Follow-up: That noble cause / Follow-up: Plastic bags, the environment, and dishonest companies

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Shortly after finishing my last post, I went to buy some groceries—and promptly encountered another cases of a misguided noble cause:

The Aldi Nord store that I visited had decided to discontinue disposable bags entirely, with the pretext or under the misguided opinion that this would benefit the environment. (See a previous article on a closely related topic for a skeptical discussion of this idea.) The result was that I was forced to buy a 49 (!) cent bag for frozen goods that used several times as much plastic as a normal bag, would pose a far greater threat to nature if ever left outside, and which I am unlikely to ever be able to re-use without considerable extra effort: The walls are very thick and there is a stiff handle over the width of the entire bag, making it impossible to e.g. fold it and carry it in a jacket pocket. There were other alternatives that might or might not have been more suitable for re-use; however, they were even more expensive. This included textile bags for roughly EUR 1.50 that optically seemed to be of the same quality as textile bags I have bought elsewhere for twenty cents… (Please refer to the earlier post and my suspicion that the true drive is money-making—not environmental protection.)

Well done: The environment has just been harmed in the name of the environment.

The highly dubious pro-environment arguments aside, what are the effects of the discontinuation of disposable bags? More costs and efforts for the consumers!* For instance, in the past, I could just go by the store on my way between work and home—no preparation needed. Now, I have to either bring a bag with me to work (must remember to do so in the morning or even carry a bag as a matter of course); go home, collect a bag, and then go back to the store (or to another store not on my way); or visit the store as normally and pay a severe markup for an even more anti-environmental bag. Well, there is one other alternative, at least for now: Just avoid Aldi in favor of more customer friendly stores…

*A common issue with “causes” is that extra costs and efforts are put on third-parties that have little or no practical say in the matter at hand, making the cause cheaper to implement for the decision makers, but still costly to society as a whole. Cf. e.g. the smoke alarm discussion in the post on noble causes.

Trying to find some information on the topic I encountered one (German) article* that compares the new situation to the old GDR (in this one aspect). It also makes several good points, including that the new policy is mostly a symbolic, feel-good action—not something that truly benefits the environment.

*While the article is dated in July, it remains current. The process from first announcement to final implementation has apparently taken quite some time.

Fortunately, at least for the time being, most other chains still provide disposable bags, but I fear that the writing is on the wall. For one, there is an opportunity to earn* more money; for another, the other chains will suffer in image among the environmental naive, should they not follow suit.

*Or at a minimum having a higher ROI, depending on how high or low the old net profit was and how customers adapt to the new situation.

Written by michaeleriksson

December 11, 2017 at 11:20 pm