Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

Posts Tagged ‘political correctness

Microaggressions

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About a week ago, I found that I had a few old comment subscriptions unconfirmed. Confirming them, I took the opportunity to revisit the respective posts, including one on so called microaggressions that (again) struck me as unusually idiotic. I read up on Wikipedia (Microaggression, Microaffirmation), saw my view confirmed—and saw several independent minor mentions of the (alleged) phenomenon during my readings this week.

Since this concept appears to be of importance to some groups, I am moved to a discussion with the main conclusions (that should be obvious) that much of this is nonsense and misinterpretation, that it serves to create a feeling of hostile treatment where non is present, that it provides further excuses for those who do not take responsibility for their own actions*, and that it is a good way for movements who have accomplished their goals and ran out of targets to pretend that work is still direly needed—and likely unending work at that. The concept and state or research appears to be at best proto-scientific, more likely “gender studies” level pseudo-science. In as far as the discussions I have seen have something to offer, then when we leave the area of what can be considered “micro-”… To boot, it is very vulnerable to the problem of “you find what you are looking for”, likely to the point that a primer on microaggressions can make an easily influenced member of a minority suddenly see evil all around him—making his life and the lives of those who interact with him worse in the process…

*Even when it comes to “ordinary” claims of aggression, discrimination, …, the alleged victims are often just misinterpreting events that would have happened similarly for everyone else or are actually resulting from their own behavior. Was your boss mean to you because you are a woman—or because you performed poorly (or because he is an ass-hole)? Did you not get that job because of your skin color—or because someone else was better qualified (or had better personal connections, or made a better superficial impression, …)? We live in a world where we can count on negative things happening to us on a frequent basis, and if we make the mistake of thinking that we are alone and that it must be because of X, well, that is a recipe for victim mentality. I, e.g., could conclude that Germans must have negative feelings about Swedes—and some kind of “Swedar” to boot that allows them to identify me so easily.

The first Wikipedia article gives the following description

Psychologist Derald Wing Sue defines microaggressions as “brief, everyday exchanges that send denigrating messages to certain individuals because of their group membership”. He describes microaggressions as generally happening below the level of awareness of well-intentioned members of the dominant culture. According to Sue, microaggressions are different from overt, deliberate acts of bigotry, such as the use of racist epithets, because the people perpetrating microaggressions often intend no offense and are unaware they are causing harm. Microaggressions are known to be subtle insults that direct towards the person or a group of people as a way to “put down”. He describes microaggressions as including statements that repeat or affirm stereotypes about the minority group or subtly demean them. They also position the dominant culture as normal and the minority one as aberrant or pathological, that express disapproval of or discomfort with the minority group, that assume all minority group members are the same, that minimize the existence of discrimination against the minority group, seek to deny the perpetrator’s own bias, or minimize real conflict between the minority group and the dominant culture.

Already from this definition at least the following problems are clear: The concept is hard to investigate and leaves very much up to the interpretation, even imagination, of the investigator; a negative proof or an “acquittal” (i.e. “you are innocent of microaggressions”) is virtually impossible to get. Microaggressions arbitrarily only go from the dominant culture towards others*, for no obvious objective reason, leaving us with the need for another concept in the other direction (e.g. a black man showing the same alleged behaviors towards a white man as a microaggressive white man does towards him) and unfortunate room for political/rhetorical/whatnot abuse of the concept. The “aggression” part is a severe misnomer, seeing that these alleged events are often unconscious—or even friendly or positive**! The concept is removed from the intention of the “perpetrator” and (at least when factoring in examples and wider discussions) reliant on the reactions of the “victim”. (In other words, yet another concept that allows criminalizing even people who are innocent based on both their own intentions and the opinions of reasonable neutral observers. The subjective reactions of the other party, even when entirely unreasonable, are the only thing that counts.)

*A common problem: I note e.g. how the Swedish “hate laws” (“hets mot folkgrupp”, roughly “aggitation against sub-population”) arbitrarily adds women to minorities and leaves men out—despite their being more women than men (i.e. men having a greater claim to be a minority). To say “all Jews should be shot” is a violation of this law, ditto “all women should be shot”; however, “all men should be shot” is not. Even if we were to accept the premise (highly disputable when the law was created; indisputably incorrect today) that women are in need of so much more protection than men that minority protections must be extended, there is no justifiable reason to exclude men—there is nothing legitimate to be gained from this special treatment. (And laws should be written to be general, consistent, and not contain weird exceptions. The same applies m.m. to scientific concepts and theories.) Another example is the sometime deliberate misdefinition of “racism” to necessitate a position of power (very much like microaggressions above), with absurd conclusions like “Blacks cannot be racist.”, irrespective of their actual opinions and behaviors—a misdefinition that with virtual certainty stems from a wish to abuse the concept of racism for self-serving purposes.

**For instance, one of the examples provided by the above Sue is “Ascription of intelligence: When Asian-Americans are stereotyped as being intelligent or assumed to be smart.”: If such things count as microaggressions, then the conclusion is that we must either (unscientifically) deny any difference between groups, be they cultural, genetic, whatnot, or any type of stereotype must be avoided (even when otherwise justified; note that stereotypes serve a purpose and the problems lie in not considering individual variations).

How absurdly this idea can be applied is shown by another Wikipedia quote of Sue: “[…] correcting a student’s use of “indigenous” in a paper by changing it from upper- to lowercase.” Taken to such extremes, any type of direct or indirect criticism, regardless of grounds and justification, would be impossible; correcting papers would be pointless; and school even more unproductive than today.

Among the more absurd other examples we find e.g. “displaying nude pin-ups of women at places of employment, someone making unwanted sexual advances toward another person”: In the first case, it is not clear what would be negative to begin with*, and we have a weird dependency on external circumstance and/or a definition problem—is this a microaggression when no women are present? If “yes”, how can this be without a “victim”; if “no”, why should e.g. the members of an all-male workplace suddenly become microaggressors when a woman visits? In the second, we have a strong dependency on the reactions of the other party—it is impossible to know in general whether sexual advance will be welcome or unwelcome. Effectively, if I approach a woman and she reacts positively—everything is fine. She reacts negatively—microaggression!

*Feminist clap trap about “objectification” and similar aside: I want legitimate reasons—not empty rhetoric. Besides, the one image in such a category that I have seen in one of my workplaces was showing a man and owned by a woman…

As Wikipedia says in the lede:

However, a number of psychologists and other authors, including Bradley Campbell, Heather Mac Donald, Amitai Etzioni, Jonathan Haidt, Greg Lukianoff, Jason Manning, Ralph Nader, and Christina Hoff Sommers, have argued that the concept of microaggressions is scientifically not well substantiated and may be harmful to both individuals and society. The concept of perceived microaggression has also been described as part of victimhood culture.

Or further down:

Some scholars think that the environment of protectiveness, of which microaggression allegations are a part, prepares students “poorly for professional life, which often demands intellectual engagement with people and ideas one might find uncongenial or wrong”.

Or yet further down:

Kenneth R. Thomas claimed in American Psychologist that recommendations inspired by microaggression theory, if “implemented, could have a chilling effect on free speech and on the willingness of White people, including some psychologists, to interact with people of color.” Sociologists Bradley Campbell and Jason Manning have written in the academic journal Comparative Sociology that the microaggression concept “fits into a larger class of conflict tactics in which the aggrieved seek to attract and mobilize the support of third parties” that sometimes involves “building a case for action by documenting, exaggerating, or even falsifying offenses”. It has been argued that the concept of microaggressions is a symptom of the breakdown in civil discourse, that microaggressions are “yesterday’s well-meaning faux pas”, that it has become “unacceptable to question the reasonableness (let alone the sincerity) of someone’s emotional state”, making adjudication of alleged microaggressions like witch trials.

Or in the section “Scientific status of the concept”:

Some psychologists have criticized microaggression theory for assuming that verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities are necessarily due to bias It has also been pointed out that it is uncertain whether a behavior is due to racial bias or is a larger phenomenon that occurs regardless of identity conflict. In a 2017 peer-reviewed review of microaggression literature, Scott Lilienfeld, while acknowledging the reality of “subtle slights and insults directed toward minorities”, concluded that the concept and programs for its scientific assessment are “far too underdeveloped on the conceptual and methodological fronts to warrant real-world application”. He recommended abandonment of the term microaggression since “the use of the root word ‘aggression’ in ‘microaggression’ is conceptually confusing and misleading” and called for a moratorium on microaggression training programs until further research can develop the field.

Althea Nagai, who works as a research fellow at the conservative Center for Equal Opportunity, accuses microaggression research of being pseudoscience. Nagai asserts that the prominent critical race researchers behind microaggression theory “reject the methodology and standards of modern science.” She lists various technical shortcomings of microaggression research, including “biased interview questions, reliance on narrative and small numbers of respondents, problems of reliability, issues of replicability, and ignoring alternative explanations.”

The post I originally encountered (s. above) is much of the same nonsense. My original comment:

The specific case of “you speak so well” more-or-less necessitates bad faith on behalf of the observer to be considered even a micro-aggression. In all likelihood, it is a genuine compliment (or flattery…)—and not one that can be considered a sign of e.g. racism, seeing that there are easily observed differences in average language performance between various groups. (Differences that to boot are only indirectly race related through the direct mechanism of migration.)

(As an aside, living in Germany where the third language I learned is spoken, I know quite a lot about the experiences of non-native speakers. Believe me: Such statements are quite likely even when both parties are White Europeans of different nationalities who optically easily pass for natives in each others countries.)

Several of your other examples and/or your reasoning could be vulnerable to similar objections, noting observable differences in typical behaviour of groups. This will to a large degree depend on how the various statements were delivered and contextual information not present in the post. Claims of racism are particularly vulnerable, seeing that the examples can typically be seen as related to non-racial aspects or be explained by other phenomena than racism (even when actually micro-aggressions).

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Written by michaeleriksson

November 4, 2017 at 1:07 pm

Follow-up: Swedish teletext and PC obsession

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And I visit the teletext again, only to find:

Page 304 and 305 deal with the alleged sending of “penis images” to a female official (?) by three members of the Swedish national soccer team.

Page 306 deals with a claim that FIFA spent about as much money on a celebratory event as on developing women’s soccer. (FIFA retorts that the numbers are incorrect.)

(Remember that these pages are the very first pages of the sport section after the table of contents, the equivalent of the front page of an ordinary news paper.)

This is a truly sickening agenda pushing and abuse of what should be the sports section.

Written by michaeleriksson

October 26, 2017 at 7:03 pm

Swedish teletext and PC obsession

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I have already written repeatedly about incompetent journalism in Sweden (in general) and the teletext of the Swedish national television (in particular, cf. e.g. [1]). At the same time, topics like feminism and political correctness have been extremely common.

Quite often these areas of concern overlap in my daily observations. For instance: Earlier today, I visited the aforementioned teletext online. For the umpteenth time, the sports section had prioritized PC issues over actual sports news.

Pages 303 and 304 (i.e. the first and second article page, after the “table of contents” for the sport section on pages 300–302) dealt with criticism of the nomination of one Deyna Castellanos, apparently an 18 y.o. amateur, for FIFA’s female player of the year award. This is border-line news worthy to begin with, better suited for a single paragraph in an overall discussion of the award—and it is given two full pages* at the virtual front page. I saw no other entry dealing with the awards or nominations in general… Apparently poor Deyna is not good enough for the nomination and this is proof that FIFA does not care enough about women’s soccer**. (Of course, another interpretation is that FIFA does care and wants to increase attention through picking someone young and exciting. Yet another that FIFA simply and honestly thinks very highly of her…) The pages were (justifiably) categorized as “soccer”.

*But beware that the teletext pages are much shorter than regular news paper pages.

**Specifically, a quote by a U.S. player, Megan Rapinoe, is given in Swedish “Det skickar en tydlig signal att Fifa inte bryr sig om damfotboll”, which re-translated into English amounts to “It sends a clear signal that Fifa does not care about women’s soccer”. This would not be quote-worthy for someone not trying to angle this into a “pesky old white men” issue, and that they have to resort to quoting a U.S. player is a strong sign that they either dug deep or deliberately have cherry-picked the topic from an English source. (Which is the case, I can only speculate. Neither case would happen with a news source and individual writer without an agenda, however.)

Page 305 (the third page) dealt with a Swedish cross-country skier (Charlotte Kalla) praising some form of social media campaign (“MeToo”) on sharing abuse experiences. In as far as this is news worthy, it has little or nothing to do with sport and should be put in a more general news sector. This page was very dubiously classified as “cross-country skiing”, likely for the sole reason that this is Kalla’s sport.

Page 307* contained claims by an alleged sports researcher (“Idrottsforskaren”) Jesper Fundberg, who is not surprised about alleged penis images sent by players on the national team… (There is no context given and there is no substantiation that this had actually taken place, but such information might be clear from previous reporting.) He says e.g. “Jag skulle säga att det finns en normalisering av hur män tar plats. Det är en normalisering av mäns sätt att trycka dit, trycka upp och trycka ner kvinnor på olika sätt”—“I would say that there is a normalization** of how men take up space***. It is a normalization of men’s way to press on, press up and press down**** women in various ways”. This page was extremely dubiously classified as “soccer”.

*I am a little confused as to what happened to page 306. In my recollection, these were all consecutive pages. It could be that I misremembered; it could be that page 306 dealt with either the same topic as 305 or 307 and was prematurely closed by me. By the nature of the medium, I cannot go back and check, but have to go by what is in those tabs I kept open. (No, the page is not in my browser cache either.)

**Likely in the sense of having become/begin considered a state of normality, something taken more or less for granted. While this is a legitimate academic and “social discourse” term, I have found it to be rare outside certain circles of ideologically driven pseudo-scientists and propagandists, and to some degree it serves as a shibboleth (at least when used outside an academic context).

***Or, possibly, how men take seats. Either which way, it is a metaphorical expression for alleged male behaviors centering around attention hogging and similar phenomena in the general, highly prejudiced and unfair “men feel entitled, especially when they compare themselves to women” genre.

****The sentence is only very marginally better in Swedish. He appears to invent expressions as he goes along… What he actually intends to say is almost certainly that tired old lie/prejudice that men oppress women.

This is exactly the type of astrology level bull-shit a serious news source should filter out—certainly not feature prominently. He contributes to anti-male prejudices, spreads misinformation, and gives a very distorted view of the world to those too uninformed or too weak at critical thinking see through it. His talk of “normalization” borders on the offensive, considering how heavily tilted large portions of Swedish society is towards women as the norm and/or the “good” sex.

To boot, he does not at all appear to be a sports researcher: Going by an Internet search, he is more of a gender studies guy to begin with, and I saw no signs of sports research. His own web pages calls him an ethnologist and consultant, and puts down his field of business as gender, equality, and diversity. (In the Swedish original, respectively “etnolog”, “konsult”, “genus”, “jämställdhet” and “etnisk mångfald”.) In other words: He is not only a gender studies guy, with all what that implies, but he actually makes money from spreading this type of misinformation and relies on the continuation of such prejudices for his livelihood…

(Note: Using “post by email” I originally managed to publish a version in which some changes were not yet written to disk. That version has been deleted.)

Written by michaeleriksson

October 23, 2017 at 11:58 pm

Who cries the loudest wins

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Something I have seen again and again is that issues are not judged based on the facts at hand, factual arguments, comparisons with other issues, or similar—but on who cries the loudest and who has the best sob story, greatest scare factor, whatnot. (Of which almost all are exaggerated, most are misleading, and many are detached from reality.) In a bigger picture, outside the scope of this post, what amounts to popularity contests are all too common (c.f. e.g. my discussion of Harriet Tubman and the twenty-dollar bill or any number of TV shows following a certain template).

This is particularly dangerous when combined with opportunistic politicians (of which there is no shortage…) who are keen on keeping the majority and/or those most likely to switch allegiances happy*. Similarly, it is a major contributor to some problems like athletes being sanctioned or people being fired for having the wrong opinions or saying the wrong things, because many decision makers fear landing in the cross-hairs of e.g. the politically correct or whoever cries “offensive”** the loudest. Another recurring problem is the common case of “apologies” being issued for which no apology should have ever been needed, as with the recent Denise Young Smith incident***, or the absolutely horrifying Larry Summers’ incident****.

*An interesting, but slightly off-topic, example is the issue of migration, which within my life time has moved from an issue like any other to a taboo, where to even mention any opinion other than politically correct orthodoxy was grounds for a shunning even among those parties who have a history of skepticism—but where the public opinion and the success of political new comers (e.g. the German AfD or the Swedish SD) is now making the topic acceptable again (outside of the Left). Of course, this is all for the wrong reason: They are not standing up for their ideals or what they believe is good for the country—they are, by all signs, just fishing for votes.

**To which I note that many of the allegedly offensive things are not so to a neutral and rational third-party, that offensiveness is inherently subjective, that I consider much of what happens in the PC movements offensive—including, among many others, the presumption of defining what is offensive, the obsession with avoiding it, and the too common accusations towards others. As Eminem put it: You find me offensive. I find you offensive for finding me offensive.

***A black woman (!) claims that a group of white men can be diverse too—and is shouted down and vilified for it. Her claim, however, is 100% correct: The problem is that her new enemies live in a world where any difference in outcome is seen as ipso facto proof of differences in opportunities, cultural indoctrination, or whatnot, in a severe case of reality detachment—and often where women, Blacks, Hispanics, gays …, all magically have some talents or abilities that no straight White man has. To boot, it is highly naive, as some do, to see it as an automatic positive to have a certain mixture of people in a certain setting: Positive is to have people with the right capabilities and sufficient motivation in the right place—even if this means that we have e.g. more male engineers and more female social workers.

****He mentioned the possibility that some of the differences in outcome between men and women could be based in different abilities (in both case referring to groups or distributions, not individuals)—a claim with scientific support that explains the results that we actually with great economy (while e.g. feminist theories fail to provide such explanations without going through extreme contortions and making unproved and often implausible postulations). It followed a protest campaign of great hatefulness, irrationality, and ignorance—and repeated apologies from Summers. Apologies from his persecutors would have been far more called for. (As an aside: In the past, I have repeatedly referred to his being fired over the incident, and originally intended to give him as an example one sentence earlier. There is a fair chance that this is true, in form of a forced resignation, which would make the situation all the worse; however, based on “common knowledge”, it is at least possible that he resigned for other reasons.)

To look at some examples:

  1. Breast-cancer campaigns: While the noise has died down over the years, it was not that long ago that breast-cancer campaigners had celebrities lined up, everyone and his uncle was carrying pink ribbons, and breast cancer had gained an image as possibly the most important health issue around (in at least some circles).

    Now: If these campaigns had been directed against cancer (in general), I would have had no beef and be short one truly excellent example. So, why were they not? (Even though cancer is necessarily a bigger problem than any single special case of cancer; and even though breast cancer has one of the highest survival rates.)

    Similarly, why has there been so great an emphasis on mammography, to the point that I have repeatedly heard claims that the rate of mammographies is too high*?

    *I lack the expertise to judge this issue and do not necessarily say that these claims are correct. However, arguments around cost effectiveness, the number of false positive, and the relative benefit of testing for one specific type of cancer and not another, do not seem obviously unreasonable. If I do not misremember, I have also heard similar claims about prostate-cancer checks.

    The explanation is the mixture of scare factor and symbolic appeal: Very many women do not primarily see the risk of death, but the risk of losing their breasts. This hits home harder and opens the road for manipulators, both well-meaning and more sinister.

    (Many charities and other forms of campaigns are similar, e.g. in that an “aid to Africa” charity is unlikely to cite facts and extremely likely to show an image of a black child on the verge of tears, preferably an emaciated one: Emotional connection over intellectual connection.)

  2. Nuclear power: For decades, nuclear power has been commonly seen and treated as a great evil. In Germany, there is a long history of active and destructive, sometimes even violent, protests; some parties (in at least Germany and Sweden) have had the fight against nuclear power as a central item for years; during my school years, we were basically told* to be proud that Sweden was the first country that had decided to abolish nuclear power; …

    *Generally, my Swedish school years contained a lot of indoctrination of a type I (as an adult) consider unethical. Notably, topics like nuclear power, at least before high school, were treated in a black-and-white manner, without a presentation of positives and negatives: This is bad. This is good.

    At the same time, fossil fuels kill more people and do more damage to the environment each and every year than nuclear power has throughout its entire history.

    Nuclear disasters and radioactivity scare people in a very different manner than does the continual damage through fossil fuels, likely aided by the association with nuclear weapons* and many inaccurate fictional depictions. There is a lot of concern about various types of pollution and their effects, but there is nowhere near the type of fear and urgency so many people appear to suffer from with nuclear power.

    *In turn sometimes, in some contexts, vilified out of proportion: Consider e.g. that the conventional bombings of Japan during WWII killed more people than did the two nuclear—yet the former is almost without exception consider merely war and the latter very often a war crime.

    To boot, the image of nuclear disasters is often horribly distorted: Even a far worse disaster than Chernobyl would be highly unlikely to cause any type of rapid death outside the plant it self, likely even outside the immediate vicinity of the reactor. (In fact, I would be unsurprised to see radiation risks lose to e.g. risks through steam and steam explosions on the day of an accident.) The reactor will not explode with the force of a hundred Hiroshima bombs. The nuclear core will not travel through the earth and re-surface in China. Etc. For that matter, I would rather see a repeat of Chernobyl at my city of residence than I would a Wanggongchang or a Bhopal disaster.

  3. The Israeli–Palestinian conflict* (and many others through the years): There are a great many examples of some Palestinian group provoking a situation and then casting blame, fishing for sympathies from the international community, or similar, in a grossly intellectually dishonest manner, similar to the way some children manipulate their parents vs. their siblings: Punch the other kid—and when he punches back, go crying to mother. Cf. e.g. the Mavi Marmara incident.

    *Note that this item deals with a particular aspect of the argumentation around the conflict. I do not claim that Israel would be guilt- or flawless. This particular behavior, however, is comparatively one-sided.

  4. The Left and the extended PC crowd provide many examples, including scenarios* like the Zimmerman–Martin tragedy and the Jason Stockley situation , the drive for “equal”** rights for transgenders, or the whole recent “kneeing sports people”*** phenomenon. See also above and many past articles.

    *These cases are picked because the latter is a recent article and the former covers the same recent theme on this blog. They are not necessarily prime examples in other regards.

    **Which often have nothing to do with equal rights and a whole lot with prioritizing the special interests of one group over another, as e.g. when transgenders want to use another bathroom than they biologically would (what about the women/men who do not want to share a bathroom with biological men/women who might or might not be honest about being transgenders?), or when biological men want to compete against women in sports (despite having a massive unfair advantage).

    ***In many or most cases “useful idiots” who pledge themselves to issues they have a simplistic or outright faulty understanding of. More generally, it is quite common for celebrities to be loud in their support of issues they simply do not understand, often based of injustices that have been exaggerated/misrepresented or do not even exist (especially in the area of feminism).

As an honorable mention*, what prompted me to finally write this post: The claim (by German TV sender ARD’s video text) that European courts had decided that it would be “discrimination”** to apply the same size standards to male and female police applicants. This is wrong on a number of levels. Most notably, this amounts to requiring that a different standard is applied to men and women when judging whether they are capable of performing a particular job duty***, unethically and unfairly skewing the process in favour of women—and doing so at the potential cost of the citizens. This is just one example of how laws against unfair discrimination is arguably used to institute exactly unfair discrimination. An earlier example that ticked me off very badly was a German ruling, some years ago, that it is illegal to apply different health-insurances fees to men and women, even when the actual payouts show statistically significant differences.****

*It is not a perfect topic match, but is at least over-lapping.

**Presumably of the illegal type: The utter inability of e.g. journalists to understand what discrimination actually means and implies is astonishing.

***It can to some degree be disputed whether a size requirement makes sense in this particular instance; however, either it does, and the application of different standards is wrong, or it does not, and then size limit should be removed completely. In other cases, e.g. when actual physical performance tests are concerned, the question is quite clear. (Consider, for instance, the U.S. controversy over criteria for firemen and soldiers.) To boot, if the principle is taken to its natural conclusion, it would also have to apply to any ability test or performance evaluation where there was a difference in results between men and women, including e.g. that women are admitted to college with lower SAT scores (or men with lower GPAs, except that discrimination pro-men would likely be unacceptable).

****Another instance of “either it makes sense or something else must be changed”: Either insurance companies are allowed to use statistical group criteria (e.g. sex, age, education level) when setting fees or they are not—end of story. There must not be a rule “you may use such criteria, except for sex” (or, worse, “you may use such criteria, but only if specifically women have no disadvantage”).

Written by michaeleriksson

October 22, 2017 at 7:46 pm

Taking my grandfather’s axe to the politically correct

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Among the many things that annoy me about the politically correct is their wide-spread inability to differentiate between word and concept/intent/meaning/…. At the same time, I have long been annoyed by the pseudo-paradox of the “grandfather’s axe”. Below I will discuss some related, partially overlapping, points.

One of the most popular “pop philosophy” questions/riddles/paradoxes is (with variations):

This axe belonged to my grandfather. The head has been replaced occasionally and so has the handle. Is it still the same axe?

At the same time, we have the old saying “you cannot cross the same river twice”. How then can it be that I have crossed the Rhine hundreds of times? (Not to mention many crossings of other individual rivers, including the Main and the Isar.)

In the first case, we have a question that simply cannot be resolved by logic, because it is ambiguously formulated; in the second, the apparent contradiction arises out of a very similar ambiguity:

The meaning of “same”* is not defined with sufficient precision, because “same” can be used to refer to several (possibly many) different concepts. When we say “same axe” or “same river” do we mean e.g. that it is the same basic entity, although changed over time, having some constant aspect of identity; or that it is identically the same without any change? Something in between? Looking at the axe example, it might actually be too unrefined to bring the point over, because it only has the two parts (with some reservations for the type of axe) and it might not be obvious that more than one interpretation is reasonable. Consider instead the same example using a T-Ford: Someone has an old T-Ford standing in a barn. His great-grand-parents bought it, and several generations have made sure that it has been kept running over the years, be it through sentimentality, interest in old cars, or hope for a future value increase. By now, every single part** of it has at some point been exchanged. Is it still the same car? If not, when did it cease to be the original car? Similarly, is this still the same hands I am typing with that I used seven years ago***? Fourteen years ago? That I was born with more than 42 years ago?

*Alternatively, the ambiguity could be seen to lie in “axe” and “river”, or a disagreement about what part of an entity carries the identity. In the case of river crossings this might even be the more productive point of attack.

**Assume, for the sake of argument, that this happened a single part at a time and that any part that might have been taken to carry the identity of the car was not changes as a whole in one go—if need be through intervention by a welder.

***Assuming that the common claim holds true that all cells are replaced within a space of seven years. (This is an over-simplification, but could conceivably be true specifically for a hand.)

As is obvious, understanding what someone means by a certain word, means understanding which concept is intended. Conversely, it is in our own best interest to avoid such ambiguities to the best of our abilities*, to be very careful before applying a word in manner that implies a different concept than is normally intended, and to prefer the use of new words when a new differentiation is needed.

*Doing so perfectly is a virtual impossibility.

To exemplify the last point: In today’s world, words like “man”, “woman”, “male”, and “female”, that used to have a clear meaning/make a differentiation in one dimension, can be used for at least two meanings/making a differentiation in one of two dimensions. It is no longer necessarily a matter of whether someone is physically, biologically a man or a woman—but often whether someone self-identifies as man or woman.* Now, this in it self is merely unfortunate and a cause of confusion—the second differentiation should have been done by adding new words. The real problems arise because some groups of politically correct insist** that the new*** meaning is the proper meaning; that other uses would be “sexist”, “discriminatory”, or similar; or, with a wider net, that the concept behind the new meaning is what should dictate discussion.

*For the sake of simplicity, I leave e.g. post-op transsexuals and unusual chromosome combinations out of the discussion.

**See the excursion on “Tolkningsföreträde” below.

***Whether “new” is a good phrasing can be discussed. A possible interpretation of events is that these potential concepts happened to coincide sufficiently in the past that there never was a need to differentiate. If so, which concept or word should be considered new and which old? There might well exist situations where this question cannot be fairly answered or the outcome is a tie. In this specific case, it seems highly plausible to me that e.g. a nineteenth century human would have taken the biological as the sole or very strongly predominant meaning; and the use of “new” seems reasonable. (However, the point is mostly interesting because it gives another example of how tricky word and meaning can be. No reversal of which meaning is old and which is new will change the problems discussed in the main text—on the outside a marginal shift of blame can take place.)

In many cases, words are redefined in such a grotesque manner that I am unable to assume good faith, instead tending towards intellectual dishonesty as the explanation. A prime example is a sometime use of “racism”* to include a strong aspect of having power—with the ensuing (highly disputable) conclusion that black people, as a matter of definition, cannot be racist… At extremes, this can be taken to the point that all white people are, !as a matter of definition!, racist. Similarly, some feminists redefine “rape” in a ridiculously manner, notably to arrive at exaggerated numbers for rape statistics in order to justify their world-view. At the farthest extreme, although thankfully very rarely, I have even seen the claim that if a woman consents today and changes her mind tomorrow (!!!) then she has been raped…

*Generally a very abused word, including e.g. being used as a blanket replacement for “racial” or as a blanket attack against anyone who even contemplates the possibility of racial differences.

Quite often lesser distortions take place (often driven by a general tendency in the overall population), including the artificial limitation of “discrimination” to mean e.g. unlawful or sexist/racist discrimination: Discrimination is generally something good and positive—there are only rare specific types of discrimination that are problematic. Hire someone with a doctorate over a high-school dropout and you have just discriminated—but in the vast majority of circumstances, no reasonable third-party will take offense.

Yet other cases go back to simply not understanding what a word means or through having been so overwhelmed by figurative use that objectively perfectly fine uses are unfairly condemned. There is nothing wrong, e.g., in calling a tribe that still lives in a stone-age society primitive—it is primitive. (In contrast, calling someone with a different set of ideas primitive is either an abuse of language or an insult, depending on preference.) This phenomenon is reflected in the concept of “euphemistic treadmills”, were one word is replaced by a second to avoid demeaning connotations (e.g. through school-yard use), then a third/fourth/fifth/… when the resp. previous word also develops demeaning connotations (or is perceived to have done so). The problem is, of course, not the word it self, or the connotations of the word, but the connotations of the concept—changing the word is a temporary band-aid, and in the end it does more harm than good. To cruel children, e.g., it will not matter whether that other kid is formally classified as a spastic, as a retard, as being “differently abled”—he still remains a freak to them. (Or not, irrespective of the word used.)

The last example brings us to the related issue of word and intent: There is, for instance, nothing inherently racist or otherwise “evil” in the word “Nigger”. The word might very well signal a racist intent (especially with its current stigma), but, if so, it is that intent that is problematic—not the word it self. That “nigger” is not an evil word is, in doubt, proved by its common use by black people without any negative intent, possibly even with a positive intent. Other uses can have yet other intents and implications, including (like here) the purposeful discussion of the word it self. Still, it is quite common that politically correct extremists want to, even are successful in, censoring this word it self in works written when its use was accepted or where its use reflects what a character would realistically have said—not just a negative intent, or even an “outdated stereotype”*, but the word it self. This to the point that similar attempts have been directed at the cognate Swedish word “neger”, which never had any of the implications or the stigma that “nigger” had, nor its historical background**—until some point in (possibly) the eighties where it suddenly grew more and more “offensive”. (No doubt under the direct influence of the, strictly speaking irrelevant, U.S. situation.) Similarly, “bitch”*** is not inherently sexist: There is nothing harmful in my referring to my dearest childhood friend, Liza, as a bitch—it is an objectively true and value-free statement****.

*I strongly disagree with any later interventions into literature, even children’s literature like “Tom Sawyer” or the various “Dr. Dolittle” books, considering them a fraud towards the readers and a crime against the original author. However, that is a different topic and censoring based merely on words is more obviously wrong with less room for personal opinion.

**In my strong impression, even “nigger” only took on its negative connotations over time: There does not seem to have been an original thought-process of “I hate those damn blackies and I want to demean them; ergo, I’ll call them `niggers’.”. Instead, as in an earlier paragraph, the word was in use, just like “lamp”, by people by a certain attitude, speaking with a certain intent, and that intent over time came to dominate the connotations. However, there was at least a somewhat rational and understandable process in the U.S.—in Sweden, it was just an arbitrary decision by some group of political propagandists.

***To boot, “bitch” (and many other words) do not necessarily fall into such categories, because they do not necessarily make statements about e.g. women in general. Often, they are simply sex (or whatnot) specific insults used to refer to an individual woman. Similarly, “son of a bitch” is usually simply a sex specific insult for men. A rare instance when “bitch” could be seen as sexist is when referring to a man as a bitch (“Stop crying, you little bitch!”), because this could be seen to express that his behavior is simultaneously negative and feminine (“only weak women cry—are you a woman?”).

****She was, after all, the family dog…

Excursion on “Tolkningsföreträde”: A very common problem in Sweden is the incessant assumption by groups of politically correct, feminists, …, that they have tolkningsföreträde—originally a legal term, assigning a certain entity the right of interpretation of e.g. a contract in case of disagreement. (I am not aware of a similar term in e.g. the U.S. legal system, but it might well exist. A similar metaphorical application does not appear to present, however, even if the same attitude often is.) Its their way or the high way: They decide what a word should mean. They decide what is sexism. They decide what is acceptable. Etc. Have the audacity to question this right, 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… (And, yes, they appear to be entirely and utterly unaware of the hypocrisy in this—or possibly they use the claim as a deliberately intellectually dishonest means of undermining opponents: I sometimes find it hard to resist the thought of there being some form of commonly taken course or set of guide-lines for the politically correct in how to sabotage one’s opponents…)

Written by michaeleriksson

September 10, 2017 at 9:09 pm

Google employee fired for questioning … intolerance of opinion

with 2 comments

I have repeatedly warned against the dangers of the anti-democratic, unscientific, and destructive trend towards extreme measures against those with the “wrong” opinions. (Cf. e.g. [1], [2].) This week, a particular atrocious case appeared on my radar screen: A Google employee was fired for writing a well-reasoned memo titled Google’s ideological echo chamber. A particular sad twist is that one of his main points in this memo was the dangers of
intolerance against “wrong” opinions…

This behavior is utterly inexcusable and reprehensible, worthy of all condemnation we are capable off.

Below I will discuss some parts of this memo, with a particular eye on how its contents fit in a bigger picture. Before I do so, a brief side-bar:


Looking into the situation around the memo, I stumbled upon a Norwegian TV production Hjernevask* (“Brainwash”), that I recommend very highly. It makes many of the points I (and the memo) have made in the past, largely by comparing and contrasting statements by various gender “scientists”, social scientists, and the like with those by e.g. biologists and evolutionary psychologists—the latter providing data and arguments, the former unsubstantiated opinion.

*The link, hosted by Google’s (!) own YouTube,
purports to have English subtitles. For me, they only appeared on the last episode; however, much of the contents are actually in English to begin with, especially the parts dealing with actual scientific opinions (as opposed to what journalists like to claim is scientific opinion). Even those who do not understand Norwegian will be able to profit. (Being Swedish, I could understand most of the Norwegian parts.)

It was particularly fascinating to see academic adherents of e.g. “cultural constructs” having to defend and explain their ideas on screen (as opposed to on paper), especially when confronted with claims by scientists: Virtually no arguments, vague and evasive claims, blanket denial of “heretical” claims (even when backed by numbers), …—basically the same behavior that I have seen e.g. ESP claimants display in similar contexts.

A particular problem seen in the series, matching my own experiences very well, is
that many believers in social constructs simultaneously a. deny any biological influence, b. raise the straw-man accusation that their opponents would deny any non-biological influence. In reality most opponents simply say that we have to also consider biological influences. Many (including yours truly) believe that these influences are quite strong (in at least some areas); but hardly anyone claims that they are the only influences.


On with the main topic (quotes from the link above; some reformatting has taken place for technical reasons; beware that the discussion only goes through a subset of the claims made):

> When addressing the gap in representation in the population, we need to look at population level differences in distributions.

One of the central points the PC crowd seems unable to understand: Anyone claiming e.g. a difference between men and women as population groups is more or less automatically accused of considering women to
be inferior or even of claiming that all men would be better than all women in some regard—a grotesque distortion. At the same time, differences between groups, averages, distributions, whatnot, can have a massive effect on societal outcomes, especially when looking at the extremes. For instance, a slight difference in math ability (or interest!) will not matter much when looking at a high-school math grade—but could have a massive impact on the distribution of math professors*.

*But also note that when looking at individuals the proportion of math professors in e.g. the groups of men and women, will be very small: The size of the effects also depends on what populations are viewed from what perspective.

> If we can’t have an honest discussion about this, then we can never truly solve the problem.

And the poor author immediately becomes yet another example of this lack of honest discussion…

I have complained about this again and again: View-points that are not considered sufficiently conformant are rejected out of hand, censored, persecuted, belittled, or otherwise mistreated in a virtually religious manner. To boot, this is done without investigating the correctness of these opinions (often even without verifying that the opinion was correctly understood…), in a manner entirely lacking in scientific and intellectually honest behavior. When people are being fired for having the wrong opinions, how can we have freedom of speech in any sense that is practically useful? How can we have scientific progress? How can we question the status quo?

Even if he had made claims that were in drastic opposition to the scientific consensus, this is not a legitimate reason for a firing. (Unless those claims showed a clear unsuitability for his work, e.g. a physician claiming that Homeopathy is a good cure for cancer—and even then work performance should be
given priority: She* might still keep to the text book when it comes to actual treatment.)

*Homeopaths are overwhelmingly often women.

As is, those of his claims that are scientifically investigated* are not in drastic opposition to the scientific consensus—only to the make belief and pseudo-knowledge of some groups of social scientists, politicians, journalists, … On the contrary, they are closer to the scientific consensus than the beliefs of these groups.

*For instance, claims relating to the internal culture at Google are not a natural target for scientists. However, if anything, he has been overly optimistic, as proved by his fate. Other claims, e.g. relating to biological influences, have been researched by scientists and the verdict is, by and large, in his favour.

To boot, his opinions/suggestions are far more reasonable that the destructive attitude of
e.g. the PC crowd.

> Psychological safety is built on mutual respect and acceptance, but unfortunately our culture of shaming and misrepresentation is disrespectful and unaccepting of anyone outside its echo chamber.

In society* as whole—not just at Google. Refer e.g. to the many posts I wrote on topics like censorship in the early years of this blog.

*Swedish (and, going by Hjernevask, Norwegian) society is permeated by both this attitude and even long discredited claims by gender “scientists” and feminists are often parroted by journalists and politicians. In the U.S. and Germany the situation is not yet quite as bad, but it is growing worse and there are many areas that are lost, including certain papers, political parties, university departments, large sections of the blogosphere, …

> Thankfully, open and honest discussion with those who disagree can highlight our blind spots and help us
grow, which is why I wrote this document.

Yet, knee-jerk rejection of other opinions are one of the main problems with the PC crowd. Feminists are particularly bad. I have e.g. often seen comments on blog posts that were neutrally formulated and proposed counter-arguments or linked to actual statistics being censored for no other discernible reason than dissent. Certainly, this is a strongly contributing reason to the intellectual stuntedness of certain movements.* At the same time, I have always found that I benefit more from discussing with someone who holds the wrong opinion for a good reason than with someone who holds the right opinion for a poor reason (e.g. “my teacher told me so”). A very significant part of my intellectual growth has come from my willingness to investigate more than one side of various issues—and to do so while actually thinking.

*I am tempted to add “certain individuals”,
but that could be reversing cause and result.

> Google has several biases and honest discussion about these biases is being silenced by the dominant ideology.

Society as a whole….

> At Google, we talk so much about unconscious bias as it applies to race and gender, but we rarely discuss our moral biases.

Society as a whole… In fact, in my personal experience, the most biased, bigoted, intolerant, whatnot people are found among those who spend their time complaining about bias, bigotry, intolerance, …, among others. How people can be blind to the hypocrisy of being outraged over any type of racial bias (be it real or imagined) and at the same time considering anyone with the wrong opinion morally deficient*, that I still cannot wrap my head around.

*This is important: If we disagree with someone, a reaction of just “you are wrong”, would be one thing. Even “he is an idiot” is
often understandable, possibly even correct. Very often, however, the PC reaction goes exactly into the territory of “you are morally deficient”, “you are evil”, “you are hateful”, …, even with perfectly factual opinions that should be measured on whether they are factually correct. “Kill all Jews” is an evil statement; “Group A has a higher average IQ than group B” is not. As I have said again and again: Measure good and evil by actions, not opinions. (And measure e.g. intellectual strength/weakness by how others deal with arguments/evidence/facts/ideas/… and whether they are willing to adapt an existing opinion in face of new such—not based on whether said opinion agrees with your own.)

> Left Biases […]

> Right Biases […]

I will not discuss these in detail, but I do consider some items simplistic and strongly discourage the use of the
Left–Right division. The Right is sufficiently heterogeneous that the term is useless. (The Left, on the other hand, can be used as an at least semi-reasonable grouping.)

> Google’s left bias has created a politically correct monoculture that maintains its hold by shaming dissenters into silence. This silence removes any checks against encroaching extremist and authoritarian policies.

Society as a whole…

> At Google, we’re regularly told that implicit (unconscious) and explicit biases are holding women back in tech and leadership.

Society as a whole… In reality there is scant evidence that this would be a major factor, and the biological factors (including interests) make far more sense and are better supported by actual science.

> On average, men and women biologically differ in many ways. These differences aren’t just socially constructed because:

> They’re universal across human cultures

> They often
have clear biological causes and links to prenatal testosterone

> Biological males that were castrated at birth and raised as females often still identify and act like males

> The underlying traits are highly heritable

> They’re exactly what we would predict from an evolutionary psychology perspective

Amen! Hjernevask discusses all these items.

> This [personality differences] leads to women generally having a harder time negotiating salary, asking for raises, speaking up, and leading.

One of the points I have made repeatedly (cf. e.g. [3])) is that differences in ability to negotiate (as well as e.g. different priorities and risk taking behavior) is an explanation for various salary differences that are only indirectly rooted in being a man or a woman: It is not (or only rarely) the case that some old white man hands out a bigger
raise to a younger man than to a younger woman because of sexism or sexual discrimination—more often, he reacts to their respective behaviors. These behaviors, in turn, are (on average) influenced by the one being a man and the other a woman. The old white man discriminates* by behavior, not by sex**. And: When a man behaves in the “female” style and a woman in the “male” style, outcomes change correspondingly.

*The word “discriminate” is absurdly abused and misunderstood in today’s world. I have vague plans for a post on that topic. For now: To discriminate means approximately to make a distinction or to see a difference as important. Hiring based on education level and by skin color are both cases of discrimination. The first is widely considered OK (strong assumed tie to work performance, education is open to everyone); the second widely considered reprehensible (weak assumed tie to
work performance, skin color, Michael Jackson notwithstanding, is something we are born with).

**Here and elsewhere I will prefer to speak of “sex” instead of “gender” (even when the original text uses “gender”). C.f. e.g. [4].

> Non-discriminatory ways to reduce the gender gap

The formulation implies (or could be taken to be imply) that we should reduce the gap. The degree to which this is correct depends on the causes. In as far as these causes are personal preferences, interests, life priorities, and, of course, ability, I am very strongly opposed to such interference. In particular, I do not see any benefit* for society in leading people into other areas of work than they would themselves have chosen—but a
disadvantage for the individuals involved.

*Reasoning like “we must get more women into tech, because we have a greater demand than supply of good tech workers” is simplistic, even assuming that these women bring the right skill-level/-set: Competent workers are a scarce resource in a great number of fields. Artificially shifting people into one field will worsen the problem in other fields. What if the quality of the teacher corps falls even further because more high-I.Q. women end up as software developers? (The reverse applies equally, but calls for driving more men into teaching are far rarer.)

Two representative examples:

> We can make software engineering more people-oriented with pair programming and more collaboration. Unfortunately, there may be limits to how people-oriented certain roles and Google can be and we shouldn’t deceive ourselves or students into thinking otherwise (some of our programs to get female
students into coding might be doing this).

Pair programming should be used if and when it has advantages (often it has)—not to shift the character of a field. Ditto collaboration. Going down this road would potentially be a good example of paving the road to hell with good intentions. In a worst case scenario, highly competent lone wolves (very common in software development) will grow dissatisfied, perform worse, or leave for other fields or companies.

> Allowing and truly endorsing (as part of our culture) part time work though can keep more women in tech.

It could, and if this is one of the aspects that give women problems without a significant benefit for the employer this could certainly be something to consider. However, this suggestion would sit far better with me were it about giving employees better opportunities, regardless of sex. Also keep in mind that the relative aversion to part time that many corporations display is rooted in
(real or perceived) benefits with having full time employees.

> The male gender role is currently inflexible

Bullshit!

> Feminism has made great progress in freeing women from the female gender role, but men are still very much tied to the male gender role. If we, as a society, allow men to be more “feminine,” then the gender gap will shrink, although probably because men will leave tech and leadership for traditionally feminine roles.

Here the original author shows a considerable lack of insight. Attributing the “freeing” of women to feminism (as opposed to liberalism, natural societal changes, changing work force requirements, …) is highly disputable; and (at least gender and political) feminists have a very different focus, namely on banning the “old” roles. They do not say “you can have a career” but “you must not be a house-wife, because that is a betrayal of other women
[or some other silliness]”. True freedom implies the right to chose what we want, not what others believe that we should want. Here feminists are worse than their windmill enemies. At the same time, in the U.S. as well as in Germany and Sweden, men can be as feminine as they like—if anything, it is the traditional masculine ideals and stereotypes that are frowned upon. Drink beer and drive a Humvee, and you are a Neanderthal; wish for a housewife, and you are a monster; dress like a woman and demand to use the women’s bathroom, and you are a hero.

> Philosophically, I don’t think we should do arbitrary social engineering of tech just to make it appealing to equal portions of both men and women. For each of these changes, we need principles reasons for why it helps Google;

By and large my take on the issue in society, except that society (unlike Google) should focus more on the rights of and benefits for the individual than e.g. on the
bottom line.

> However, to achieve a more equal gender and race representation, Google has created several discriminatory practices:

> Programs, mentoring, and classes only for people with a certain gender or race

> A high priority queue and special treatment for “diversity” candidates

> Hiring practices which can effectively lower the bar for “diversity” candidates by decreasing the false negative rate

> Reconsidering any set of people if it’s not “diverse” enough, but not showing that same scrutiny in the reverse direction (clear confirmation bias)

> Setting org level OKRs for increased representation which can incentivize illegal discrimination

> These practices are based on false assumptions generated by our biases and can actually increase race and gender tensions. We’re told by senior leadership that what we’re doing is both the morally and economically correct thing
to do, but without evidence this is just veiled left ideology that can irreparably harm Google.

Again a reflection of society as a whole; although, the mechanisms are often less explicit (e.g. through giving organizations incentives to increase the proportion of women in some area) or have another character (e.g. through selective quotas based on the blanket assumption that any difference in outcome must arise through a difference in opportunity).

> We all have biases and use motivated reasoning to dismiss ideas that run counter to our internal values. Just as some on the Right deny science that runs counter to the “God > humans > environment” hierarchy (e.g., evolution and climate change) the Left tends to deny science concerning biological differences between people (e.g., IQ and sex differences). Thankfully, climate scientists and evolutionary biologists generally aren’t on the right. Unfortunately, the overwhelming majority of humanities and social
scientists learn left (about 95%), which creates enormous confirmation bias, changes what’s being studied, and maintains myths like social constructionism and the gender wage gap. Google’s left leaning makes us blind to this bias and uncritical of its results, which we’re using to justify highly politicized programs.

Mostly a good point. The strong left bias/ideological distortions in many of the softer sciences is certainly a well-known problem. However, there is a fair chance that the causalities are more complex. The description of the right here is likely overly U.S. centric. Whether Google is actually left leaning, just follows political pressure, or is simply too gullible, I cannot judge. In the big picture, the typical journalist is certainly both left leaning and gullible (and may suffer some degree of peer pressure); while many non-Left* politicians likely support such nonsense for populist reasons.

*For instance,
Swedish politicians on both sides appear to believe unquestioningly in e.g. “the Patriarchy”, systematic wage/career discrimination against women, and gender-roles-as-cultural-constructs. (I have some hope that they are not all that stupid or uninformed, only saying what they are “supposed” to say, but that is of little practical importance.)

> In addition to the Left’s affinity for those it sees as weak, humans are generally biased towards protecting females.

This might seem like a minor point, but I have seen a lot of speculation over the years (and consider it reasonably plausible myself) that the natural male reaction to protect women has contributed strongly to the current situation, especially through female claims (resp. claims made about the situation of women) not being scrutinized sufficiently. Such situations are definitely common in daily life, where a woman tells a man a sob story and he rides out to joust the alleged bad
guy without bothering to hear both sides of the story.

> We have extensive government and Google programs, fields of study, and legal and social norms to protect women, but when a man complains about a gender issue issue [sic] affecting men, he’s labelled as a misogynist and whiner. Nearly every difference between men and women is interpreted as a form of women’s oppression. As with many things in life, gender differences are often a case of “grass being greener on the other side”; unfortunately, taxpayer and Google money is spent to water only one side of the lawn.

Several related things I have often complained about in the area of female hypocrisy and inability to see the other side of the story. I like to use the analogy of a boy having a dollar in dimes and a girl a dollar in quarters—and the girl raising hell because the boy has more coins… A telling, almost surreal, example is provided by a switch of portraits on Swedish notes some years
ago: Women were “mistreated” because they got more low denominations and fewer high denominations than men did. Apart from the extreme pettiness: George Washington is on the U.S. one-dollar bill. Abraham Lincoln on the five-dollar bill. The Yanks cannot think very highly of them…

> De-emphasize empathy. I’ve heard several calls for increased empathy on diversity issues. While I strongly support trying to understand how and why people think the way they do, relying on affective empathy—feeling another’s pain—causes us to focus on anecdotes, favor individuals similar to us, and harbor other irrational and dangerous biases. Being emotionally unengaged helps us better reason about the facts.

Over-emphasis on empathy is a root of many evils and poor judgment call, including framing villains as heroes, infringing the rights of one on the whim of another, creating euphemistic tread-mills for fear of insulting one group or another, etc. To boot,
that which is called empathy is often nothing more than emotional contagion.

We should look at who is in the right—not at who is the most upset.

> Be open about the science of human nature. Once we acknowledge that not all differences are socially constructed or due to discrimination, we open our eyes to a more accurate view of the human condition which is necessary if we actually want to solve problems.

More to the point: If we want to transcend human nature and its basically animalistic roots, then the first step, no matter how trite, is to “admit that we have a problem”. Denying the biological basis of much of human behavior is not helpful. Believing that we are some form of superior being is not helpful. Sitting in an ivory tower and fantasizing about how others “should” behave, think, and feel is not helpful. Understanding what we are, were we come from, why our urges can go contrary to
our intellect, when we should and should not fight those urges, …, now that is helpful.

Written by michaeleriksson

August 12, 2017 at 11:34 pm

PC annoyances

with one comment

One of the great annoyances and proofs of human stupidity is the many, many, many news items where poor reasoning or ignorance is used to support a politically correct agenda (be it by the journalist or the politicians, whatnot, reported on). I regularly find myself keeping a browser tab open, because I want to write something about a particularly idiotic item—but before I get around to it a week has passed and I have ten open tabs. (At which point I usually resign myself and just close them.)

Particularly common problems include:

  1. Variations of the 77-cents-on-the-dollar myth, which has been debunked for years*. Recently, e.g., the video-text of the German ARD reported that Germany is about to introduce transparency rules implying that women should have a (presumably asymmetric) right to find out what men in similar positions in their companies earn.

    *Cf. e.g. several earlier posts.

    A major problem with this is that just having the same (let alone a “similar”) position is not that strong an indication of what someone earns or should earn. Other criteria include actual performance, experience, education, how long the position has been held, and (very notably) negotiating* skill and tactic.

    *It could be argued that this is a bad thing, but as is it is a fact of life. I also suspect that it would be hard to abolish without risking a system where everyone is payed based on purely formal criteria, e.g. years in the company.

    The last item is particularly interesting, because men* tend to be more aggressive negotiators and are relatively more likely to turn down offers based on money—while increasing the risk of periods of unemployment and rejections. We can now have scenarios where four out of four women are hired at X (in some currency, for some time interval), while out of four more aggressively negotiating men three are hired at 1.1X and the fourth goes unemployed. The women find out that the three men earn more (while being ignorant of or disregarding the fourth), demand a raise with charges of sexual discrimination, and we end up with four women and three men earning 1.1X and one unemployed man… One group takes the high risk road for a higher reward and the other group receives the same reward without taking the risks… (With many variations, e.g., that is possible that everyone would have gotten 1.1X at a given company—but that only the men asked for it. Negotiations are there because the employers want to pay the least amount they can get away with—not because they want to systematically give women less money. I have even been asked outright what the smallest offer was that I would accept…)

    *Here and elsewhere I take is as granted that we speak of group differences, relative probabilities, and so on. That individual variations exists is a given and will not be spelled out.

    The first item (performance) is also of of extreme importance: In software development, my own field of practice, the difference in output and quality can be so large that it would often be easily justifiable to pay the one developer twice as much as the other. (Unfortunately, the decision makers are usually under the very unfortunate misconception that software developers are fungible and differences of that size are far rarer than they should be. Still, that someone earns 10, 20, 0r 30 % more is not automatically a sign of discrimination, skill at negotiation, or any non-performance factor—quite often it is a result of better performance.)

  2. Variations of women-are-not-successful-in-technology-due-to-discrimination.

    The truth is simply this: Men and women have different aptitudes and interests. Men more often end up as e.g. software developers and women as e.g. kindergarten teachers because that matches their natural preferences. Too boot, the women I have encountered so far in software development have only very rarely broken into the top half of the pack; off the top of my head, I recall no single woman who broke into the top quarter. (But I stress that my sample is too small to make statements about the overall population of female developers with certainty.)

    A particularly idiotic example is reporting on Facebook’s diversity program (which I originally encountered in a German news source which just parrots the original without any critical thinking).

    Facebook wants to diversify, but this “has been hampered by a multi-layered hiring process that gives a small committee of high-ranking engineers veto power over promising candidates”. Of course those pesky white men are at it again: “The engineering leaders making the ultimate choices, almost all white or Asian men, often assessed candidates on traditional metrics like where they attended college, whether they had worked at a top tech firm, or whether current Facebook employees could vouch for them”.

    What makes this particularly outrageous is the mention of “white or Asian men” in manner that very obviously is intended to imply that “white or Asian men” is the actual problem. It is not: The criteria used by these “white or Asian men” are sound and justified. The problem here is not the decision making process—it is the lack of suitable candidates. If (!) there is a problem here it is not with Facebook but with earlier stages: Facebook cannot be faulted if too few members of minority groups have gone to Stanford and MIT. This article* makes creating diversity a higher priority than finding the right person for the job at hand—an absurd attempt to create equality of outcome through destroying equality of opportunity. Notably, there is not one shred of proof presented that the decision makers would discriminate based on e.g. ethnicity—but if the lead of the article was followed, they would be forced to do so!

    *There are a number of problems with the article that I will not analyze in detail, but most of them boil down to observing result X and concluding Y without regard for other alternatives. For instance, it is true that using school as a criterion at the last stage of the process, rather than the first stage, is a bad idea—but if school has not been considered appropriately in the earlier stages and the sensible people only have a say in the last stage, well, better late than never. For instance, the claim that promising candidates, cf. above, are filtered out, is unsubstantiated and an explanation of “promising” is not given. For all we know, “promising” could here mean nothing but “is Hispanic, has a bachelor, wants to work here”—which is a long way from “is Hispanic, has a master from MIT with a great GPA, and has ten years of relevant experience”.

    (Not to forget: There is nothing remarkable with these decision makers being “white or Asian men”. Almost certainly this also reflects the suitable candidates in an earlier generation.)

    What has happened here is easy to understand: Facebook started to search for more diversified candidates, put them into the process, and found them being filtered out again, because they were not satisfactory. By analogy, if a fisherman casts his net wider, he will still not get the fish that is small enough to slip through the net.

  3. “Mäns våld mot kvinnor” (“mens’ violence against women”) is a Swedish specialty, but has similar variations in e.g. the U.S. (notably the misconception that domestic violence is committed predominantly by men onto women, which is very far from true).

    Using this specific phrase, feminists has spent decades running a grossly sexist campaign that paints men as serial abusers and women as innocent victims. Violence in the other direction and any other form of violence is strictly ignored. Violence simply is not a problem for these people—except when the perpetrator is a man and the victim a woman. To boot, “Mäns våld mot kvinnor” is painted as gigantic problem, while it in reality is a marginal issue: The vast majority of men do not in any way, shape, or form abuse their women.

    Unfortunately, feminist populism has become such a staple in Swedish mainstream political rhetoric that this type of hate speech and sexist rhetoric is regularly uttered even by high level politicians.

Written by michaeleriksson

January 13, 2017 at 6:11 am