Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

Posts Tagged ‘Politics

Thoughts around social class: Part I

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Preamble: Recently, I have contemplated differences in outcome and the changes to the lives of different “classes” over time. The below is the first of several texts on related topics.

Once, as a child, I saw a pedagogical demonstration on TV: Of a large group of children, half were put at a table with good food, half on the floor with bread and water. After a few minutes, the second group was also brought to the table and a short speech was given on how this illustrated the need for “social justice” (or something of the kind—this was a long time ago).

The idea is obvious: The children should see that it is unfair that wealth and whatnot is distributed by a one-time random event, and be brought to conclude that wealth should be distributed equally within and between societies.

This repeats a common flaw in Leftist thinking of assuming an either–or situation: Either we have equality of outcome or we have outcomes decided by the circumstances of our birth (e.g. as children of nobility or peasants, Swedes or Ugandans). Indeed, I have since seen similar scenarios posed to adults, with the same flawed either–or: If your own status in life is random, would you rather live in a society where money is unequally divided between the rich and the poor or in one where money is distributed equally?

Even as a child, I was turned off by this demonstration and this either–or thinking: What if someone is simply more successful than someone else? What if someone is smarter, works harder, takes greater risks*, prioritizes material success higher, …?** Differences in outcome do not automatically imply differences in opportunity, that our fate is determined by who our parents were, or other reasons similar to those implied by the random division of the children into a “table group” and a “floor group”. By all means, where inequality of opportunity exists, remedies might be needed—but why throw the baby out with the bath-water? Indeed, even approximate equality of outcome is only possible by grossly violating one or both of equality of opportunity and personal freedom.

*Risk-takers do not necessarily fair better in life on average; however, the chance of finding them among the unusually successful (and the unusually unsuccessful) is increased. Notably, such effects are not limited to e.g. gambling, speculation, or even investments and founding businesses—they also include who asks for a higher salary at the risk of not getting the job, who holds out for a better employment offer, who trades unpaid over-time for a better shot at a promotion, …

**To which might be added some negatives, e.g. a greater willingness to break the law. I have no objections to suppression of such factors and/or the differences in outcome caused by them.

Exactly this type of baby mistreatment is very common in Leftist thinking and some parts of the Western world, however. For instance, if I work an additional hour, the German state earns more additional money than I do, after all direct and indirect taxes are considered. Some of this money is then spent in a sensible manner, some is wasted on government bureaucracy or otherwise abused—and a significant portion is given to other people in the form of direct or indirect transfer payments. And, no, this is not just payments intended to help those in temporary need to get back on their feet*—it also includes massive systematic attempts at redistribution of wealth.

*To which I have no objection: There is no shame in being temporarily in need of help. (I have been myself, as was my mother as a single, unemployed parent.) Not getting back on one’s feet over time, that is a different matter—as is e.g., without a temporary crisis, (a) living a life permanently based on government help, (b) fattening one’s pockets with unneeded government money, and, at the extreme end, (c) well-fare parasitism. (The (b) case is quite common in Germany, where politicians often try to use money to govern life-choices, e.g. in that married couples are taxed in a more favorable manner than singles—even when the married couples would have lived well without such favoritism.)

**In Sweden’s past this was sometimes extremely blatant. For instance, my first major push towards political interest, likely in the mid or late 1980s, came from a news piece on Swedish taxes: The post-taxes income of a high and a low earner were compared, showing a much smaller difference than before taxes. I was puzzled and dissatisfied by this. An equally dissatisfied reporter then criticized the situation—because the difference were still too large for his taste.

The typical fiction of the Leftist world-view is that these people are in a worse position than others for reasons that they cannot help—they are the victims of circumstance, most notably having had too poor parents, which prevented them from getting the right education and opportunities. Looking at countries like Sweden and Germany, this is only rarely the case.* The main determinants of success (or lack thereof) in life lie with the individual, how intelligent, ambitious, hard-working, …, he is and what decisions he has made in life—and most of these people are where they are because they did not use their opportunities. (As opposed to not having had sufficient opportunities.) Every once in a while, someone has a genuine piece of bad luck,** and these should be given proper concern, but own actions is the much more common explanation.

*The situation in other countries, and in the aforementioned countries in the past, might be different. However, in Western countries, including the much more “economically diverse” U.S., own abilities and efforts are more important than e.g. what socio-economic group the parents belonged to.

**Consider e.g. a recent colleague of mine: Intelligent, educated, hard-working, and presumably earning well (I am not privy to the details). His wife developed severe, unexpected, and long-term health-issues that (a) racked up medical bills beyond insurance coverage, (b) prevented her from working, (c) forced him to take time off to take care of her and the children. This is a type of situation where a government intervention would be easy to justify. (Whether one took place, I do not know.)

Did someone prefer partying to studying? Take every second Monday off to extend the weekend? Have children while unemployed or on minimum wage? If someone makes decisions with no eye on the future, behaves unprofessionally, follows the “pleasure principle”, … it is his business—but he has to live with the consequences.

Did someone study English instead of Medicine? Go into academics instead of the private sector? There is more to life than wealth, and I can greatly sympathize with the choice—but the trade-off, less money, is his responsibility.

Did someone start a business that ultimately failed? Taking risks for a shot at greater success is perfectly legitimate—but if the dice come up the wrong way, the failure is his to bear.

Did someone lack the brains to get through college? The manual skills to learn carpentry? The writing skills to succeed as an author? We are what we are—but we cannot blame others for such problems, nor demand that they pay for an unearned improvement of our standard of living.

My own family provides several interesting illustrations. Consider the socio-economic status of the parents and its purported effect on the children: I and my sister (unsurprisingly) have the same parents,* yet I am extremely well-educated and have supported myself for almost all of my post-college days, while my sister is a high-school drop-out and spent most of her life supported by my mother. My parents ended up at comparable levels of success in life, yet my father had two formally educated and intellectually interested parents with (to the degree that I can judge it) an above-average family income, while my mother’s mother had six years of school and was definitely below average in IQ, my mother’s father lacked higher formal** education, and the family income likely was below average. Of course, I did considerably better than many others with a similar childhood (cf. below)—at least until my early teens, I was one of those that the Swedish Left considers so disadvantaged that a failure in life is society’s fault…

*Looking deeper, she (as the younger) likely had a small net-advantage in socio-economic status, through a higher average income and education level during our respective childhoods, but might have had disadvantages in other areas, e.g. time spent with our father post-divorce.

**From what I have heard and seen after the fact (he died when I was six or seven), I suspect that he was quite intelligent and reasonably well-read outside of formal education—someone who would have done well in college, had he gone. However, typical measures of socio-economic status, especially in the context of the-world-would-be-much-better-if-everyone-went-to-college propaganda, only consider formal education. (How many years of school he had, I do not know.)

Or consider long-term handling of a temporary crisis: Post-divorce, both my parents (my mother with two troublesome children) did their best to find new* jobs, both eventually went to college, and both ultimately built a good life. Especially my mother, had she had less drive and intelligence, could have gone down the path of the perennially unemployed well-fare seekers. She did not. Neither was she satisfied with temping or dead-end/entry-level jobs, like so many others in her situation, but she actually rose to education and a middle-class income.

*They were officers of the Salvation Army prior to the divorce, and staying on was problematic.

Then again, it can be argued that my parents made disputable* choices prior to the divorce, and could have done a lot better* with other choices. As officers in the Salvation Army, they earned very poorly compared to the average, received no education truly useful outside the Salvation Army, and having two children (even absent a divorce) might have been on the optimistic side. If they had skipped the Salvation Army, they could have taken steps in their lives at twenty that they only actually took when around thirty.

*In terms of material and whatnot success: The general career choice was obviously dictated by other reasons, and cannot be compared to someone who has a poor career e.g. through lack of brains or willingness to work hard. Even as things played out, it is conceivable that they considered the time in the Salvation Army a worthwhile investment. (I certainly do—owing my existence to these choices, the Salvation Army included.)

Excursion on the anecdotal:
Much of the above is obviously anecdotal, special cases that could underlie a lot of chance, whatnot. However, (a) it is born out by what I have seen among others, (b) it is similar to findings in e.g. twin studies and psychometrics, and (c) the “evidence” provided by the Left that e.g. socio-economic status of the parents would be all-important is equally consist with my preferred explanation—that children tend to inherit various traits from their parents, and that these traits cause the greater part of the difference in outcome. For instance, if fewer from the lower class do not get a higher education, is this really because they are deprived of the chance by their family environment*—or because their parents were members of the lower class due to lack of intelligence, drive, whatnot, and that the children inherited these characteristics? (Note that back-breaking tuition fees is not an issue in either of Sweden and Germany.)

*Indeed, to the degree that the family environment is important, I suspect that the common anti-education, anti-intellectual attitude of many in the lower class is more important than the actual education levels and amount of money available. This, in turn, is hard to correct through “social justice”, but is something that school would be well placed to improve. (Unfortunately, school is more likely to kill the interest than to grow it…)

Excursion on children:
The question of children is tricky, because they have to live with the consequences of their parents actions. On the one hand, they have to be protected from at least the worst situations. On the other, giving them too much help would end up giving the parents a better life that they have earned. Ensuring a reasonable minimum of living conditions, food* quality/quantity, and clothing is justifiable, but going much beyond this will likely do little good. I took no harm from hand-me-downs when I was a child—nor from the absence of brand products and vacations abroad.** What help is given should preferably be in a more direct form than money, so that it cannot be abused for other purposes.

*Here there can be greater issues involved than affordability, e.g. that the children are given candy and junk-food instead of proper meals.

**And should this be an issue today, which is sometimes claimed by the proponents of the misnomer “relative poverty”, it is the attitudes of society that need to change—not the wealth distribution.

Excursion on forms of help:
Most well-fare and whatnot programs seem to be directed at giving money. This is the easy way out for the government, and likely what brings the politicians the more votes, but I cannot see it as a good way: Apart from giving e.g. food-stamps* the preference over money, the better general approach is to “teach a man to fish”. Give people the means and incentives to earn more. Help them to avoid unnecessary debt and move existing high-interest debt somewhere with lower interest. Help them to make a budget. Help them to avoid unnecessary expenditures. Etc. There are people who already have optimized what they can and still lack money, but most are far from that point.

*But then some on the Left will complain that using food-stamps might be humiliating and, therefore, unacceptable.

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Written by michaeleriksson

October 9, 2018 at 11:55 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

Abuse of political power in Germany

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A recent German debate around Hans-Georg Maaßen and his forced resignation* from the office of president of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (colloquially, “Verfassungsschutz”) well illustrate the problems with the societal attitude towards the Left** and “Right”** in Germany:

*Technically, it appears to be a promotion; however, there is no doubt about what actually took place.

**Caution: While the Left is an at least semi-coherent group, the “Right” is not. Notably, the “extreme Right” often has little in common with the “Right” in general, being defined (by the Left) solely through e.g. attitudes to nationalism and immigration, even in cases where it has more in common with the Left than the (non-extreme) “Right”. This problem is largely ignored below, because the sub-topics relate strongly to the Leftist view of the “Right”.

After large-scale, allegedly immigrant hostile and violent,* protests in Chemnitz, Maaßen made claims amounting to his having no decisive information about hunts (“Hetzjagden”) of foreigners during the protests, and he expressed doubts about the authenticity of a video circulating the Internet—quite correctly pointing to recurring problems with exaggerations and distortions around alleged “Right-wing” violence. He might or might not have been wrong about the events and the video,** but even should his estimate have been wrong, he could still have been truthful, e.g. in that no such decisive information was known to him or that he had genuine doubts about the authenticity of the video, awaiting a deeper investigation. (Note that the situation was chaotic and information given in e.g. media has been contradictory and confused.)

*I have not investigated the details, cf. excursion, and neither support nor reject these claims, except as far as I advice others to be similarly cautious in the light of tendentious news reporting. I note, however, that the protests were a direction reaction to a murder involving immigrant and/or asylum-seeker suspects.

**I have not investigated this either.

Nevertheless, this has led the Leftist parties of the German Parliament to (successfully) demand his resignation. This confirms the ever-present problem of the Verfassungsschutz being seen as a tool mainly to restrict freedom of opinion on the “Right”. Consider e.g. that the parliamentary party AfD has repeatedly been the target of unfounded claims of “Verfassungsfeindlichkeit” (“hostility towards the constitution”) by Leftist parties—while a direct continuation of the ruling East-German Communist party, SED*, also sits in parliament, and is met with no such claims. Or, among the extra-parliamentary and more extreme parties, consider how there have been repeated attempts to have the Right-wing NPD banned outright, while the Left-wing MLPD*, openly calling for revolution and dictatorship of the proletariat, is tolerated. There is an extreme and intolerable double-standard, where the Left has to commit acts and express opinions several degrees worse, before the same treatment is awarded. Indeed, it is obvious that very large parts of the Left (in Germany, in Sweden, in the U.S., …) sees its own opinions as the sole acceptable norm, with any non-Left opinion almost ipso facto being evil, extremist, or otherwise worthy of condemnation.

*To avoid misunderstandings: I am not saying that these parties should be banned—just that it is an anti-democratic hypocrisy to tolerate them while calling for the ban of lesser evils in another camp.

Excursion on news reporting, etc.:
Maaßen is quite correct in that there is a major problem with distortions through press and media (as well as, obviously, Leftist propagandists). This includes the same double-standard as discussed above, conflation of fellow travelers,* and even reporting that puts the true events on their head, e.g. in that a longer article discusses violence around an “extreme Right” demonstration and only at the very end briefly mentions that the demonstration had been peaceful until Leftist counter-demonstrators attacked it… The likes of Antifa are certainly a far greater problem and far more deplorable than the people they attack. (I have already made similar points in [1].)

*E.g in that a demonstration or protest somehow involving immigration is considered “extreme Right” in a blanket manner, without looking at the motivations of the group as a whole or, more importantly, as individual members. I point particularly to the Pegida phenomenon, which collected a wide variety of people with very different motivations. I recall in particular a brief discussion with a colleague a few years back: He positively bragged about how he was fulfilling his civic duties by being a counter-demonstrator—and followed this up with a condemnation of the Burka, where he had to draw the line… Many of his “enemies” had opinions no worse than that—as he would have known, had he bother to find out. Indeed, many on the Left consider it a firing offense when a Muslim does not want shake hands with a member of the opposite sex…

As a side-effect of these distortions, the truth of events is very hard to find, which is why I have not even tried in this case. (As it does not matter what happened, when it comes to evaluating Maaßen’s fate. Chances are that he would have been condemned either which way, because he did not do his “duty” of using the Verfassungsschutz to put down the “Right” and the “Right” only. Cf. parts of [1].)

Excursion on Maaßen:
My own opinion on Maaßen in general is divided, seeing that he has been a source of controversy before, including for a decidedly negative NSA-style attitude to surveillance; however, most of the controversy, going by memory, has been Leftist condemnation of his failure to be sufficiently compliant with Leftist ideas about who is good and who is evil. Of course, what he has or has not done, said, whatnot, in the past does not alter the fact that the recent events were rooted in politics and ideology—not in Maaßen’s actual suitability for the job.

Excursion on Verfassungsschutz and Verfassungsfeindlichkeit:
In a bigger picture, I find the Verfassungsschutz and the concept of Verfassungsfeindlichkeit troubling. While much of this amounts to legitimate activities, e.g. tracking terrorists and potential sources of political violence, the setting is disputable, and e.g. a “Federal Office for the Prevention of Terrorism and Political Violence” (or similar) would have been better. By focusing on the constitution, there are implicit limits on the “correct opinion” that are not tolerable in a Rechtsstaat, because of inherent defects. For instance, the German constitution prescribes, non-negotiably, non-revocably, that Germany is to be a “sozialer Bundesstaat”, effectively a social/well-fare (federated) state, which is a thoroughly anti-democratic restriction. (But I stress that merely having the “wrong” opinion in this regard will not bring the Verfassungsschutz into action.)

Of course, the German constitution arose in a manner that makes it a snapshot of political opinion shortly after the demise of the Nazis, which is not a good basis for a document that potentially will last for hundreds of years—and it was not intend to be more than a temporary solution. (Unfortunately, after roughly seventy years and the re-unification of Germany, there is precious little chance that a more suitable constitution will arise.)

Excursion on Marx et co:
The mentioned double-standard is highlighted by where the controversy originated: Chemnitz (aka Karl-Marx-Stadt) still has more than a few traces of the old East-Germany, including a giant head of Karl Marx at the edge of the central park. Similarly, Wuppertal (my current residence) has a major street named after Friedrich Engels.* A test for Verfassungsfeindlichkeit could have ended badly for both (had they been active today), and especially the Karl-Marx head is in bad taste, because it is not there as an independent honoring of Marx, but as a remnant of the old East-German propaganda and symbolism.

*Engels, coincidentally was born and spent a fair bit of his life in and around Barmen, the specific part of Wuppertal where I live. Generally, Wuppertal has been the source of quite a few prominent Leftists, including Johannes Rau (whose career included a term as German President).

Excursion on the coalition government:
I have repeatedly written on the democracy problems caused by having an unholy alliance form a coalition government (e.g. [2]). The events above are a potential illustration: Many of the demands for Maaßen’s resignation came from the junior and Leftist partner (SPD). Had it not been a member of this unholy alliance, the senior partner (CDU/CSU; e.g. in a more natural coalition with FDP) is more likely to have kept him on: Do we get rid of that one guy or do we risk the coalition failing?

Written by michaeleriksson

September 19, 2018 at 12:56 am

The justification of the Left now and then

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I have more sympathy for the Socialists, Communists, etc. of older eras than I do for even the more moderate parts of the modern Left—even a partial refocus on new issues* aside.

*E.g. Identity Politics in the U.S. and Feminism in Sweden.

There are two reasons for this:

Firstly, we now live in a very, very different world* than, say, a hundred or two hundreds years ago. Not only is the affluence of society so much larger, making a reasonable living possible even for most of the less well-off**—but our success in life is now mostly determined by ourselves: Today, anyone with a great brain (and many utterly without…) can get a higher education, almost*** any occupation is open to everyone with the right capabilities, almost**** anyone can run for public office, etc. Sure, having rich parents, parents with the right contacts, whatnot, can be a great advantage, but such advantages are usually considerably behind e.g. own intelligence, industriousness, and (regrettably) likability.

*I will silently imply “Western”, in a broad sense, in most of the discussion. Some of it can, however, apply to non-Western societies, e.g. Japan. Certainly, some of the negatives of the Western past can be current reality elsewhere, e.g. in North-Korea.

**While actual poor do exist, they are quite rare. Most of the alleged “poor” of modern Leftist rhetoric are only poor by a highly misleading change of definition, leading far better lives than their peers of a hundred years ago—and having advantages in many areas over even the kings of medieval times. (Consider, for the latter comparison, quality of healthcare, life-expectancy, books to enjoy, scientific knowledge available, quality and selection of music costing next to nothing—let alone the existence of computers, movies, the Internet, …)

***An obvious exception is joining the clergy of some Church as an atheist.

****Some restrictions are often present, notably involving citizenship and age, but these are usually reasonable—unlike e.g. “must be a nobleman”.

Go back in time and it becomes increasingly more likely that someone with the wrong background did not even learn how to read, had to work so hard for sustenance that personal or career development was impossible, had barriers set by social rank, etc. Even as little as a hundred years ago, the world was radically different from today—e.g. in that universal suffrage was mostly absent or newfangled, that an eight-hour working day was a fantasy to most people, and that malnurishment was still abundant. Russia, prior to the 1917 revolutions, was actually, not just nominally, ruled by a monarch and saw peasant conditions verging on serfdom.* Indeed, actual serfdom existed into the 19th century in some countries, including Russia and parts of Germany**.*** The 19th century conditions even in parts of Britain were partially horrible, often worse than in the pre-industrial era; and even the 20th****, even war-time aside, sometimes contained working conditions beyond the comprehension of many members of the modern, mostly historically ignorant, Left.

*Not that the revolutions led to much improvement…

**Germany back then had more in common with Russia than e.g. the U.K. and the U.S. did, and it is hardly a coincidence that Marxism arose in the one and found ample ground in the other.

***To which can be added e.g. the U.S slavery. However, no matter how unfortunate it was, it was also limited to a small minority of the population, while serfdom could be far more wide-spread.

****I recommend Orwell’s “The Road to Wigan Pier”.

Secondly, the state of knowledge around relevant issues was not as developed back then, and opinions that today are naive to any informed and rational thinker need not have been so at the time.* Most notably, the understanding of economics was much weaker than today and there was no opportunity to retrospectively compare the performance of e.g. “free markets” and “command economies”. Today, we can compare e.g. East- and West-Germany and note how the differences vastly exceeded what could have been expected from pre-existing issues and external factors; we can note how the gap between the Soviet Union and the U.S. grew over time; we can compare the likes of Taiwan and South-Korea with the likes of Cuba and North-Korea; we can currently observe how Socialism is running Venezuela** into the ground.*** However, we can also now, unlike before a Communist/Socialist regime existed, see how Communism/Socialism fails through its naive understanding of human nature, e.g. in how it is only a matter of time before the pigs wear clothes and walk on two legs, and how principles like “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs” give unproductive incentives and beg for abuse****.

*Some leeway might be given to the high-school drop-outs of today—but not to professors, leading politicians, professional authors, …

**Venezuela also shows that this is not merely a matter of e.g. dictatorship vs. democracy, which might otherwise have been a convenient excuse…

***As a partial counter-point, we could also point to the economic success of Social-Democrat Sweden over a long stretch of the 20th century. However, Sweden fell well short of the other mentioned Leftist countries in terms of suppression of market forces (even speaking of a “third road” as a compromise between Capitalism and Socialism), did incur structural issues that could have proven problematic over time (had the Social-Democrat dominance not started to break in the 1970s), and benefited from some factors not or only indirectly relating to Social-Democracy (including early investments in literacy/education, an improvement relative other countries through not being a combatant in WWI and WWII, and the ability to profit from the needs of the former combatants in the post-WWII era), leaving the question of whether Sweden was successful because of or despite the Social-Democrats.

****Contrast this with an insightful and only semi-joking German definition of “team”—“Toll, Ein Anderer Macht’s”. (Roughly, “Great, Someone Else Does It”.)

Overall, the main single issue might be that the fights for equality of opportunity and for equality of outcome once largely coincided—today, it is abundantly clear that the two were merely fellow travelers. (Except to those who stubbornly and in face of massive evidence to the contrary cling to an outdated “tabula rasa”/“nurture only” world-view—which is what makes this world-view so very, very dangerous.)

Written by michaeleriksson

September 16, 2018 at 11:07 pm

The 2018 Swedish parliamentary election

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A few words on the recent Swedish parliamentary election, with some reservations for the results not yet being finalized:*

*Numbers are taken from two Swedish Wikipedia pages, on the 2018 election resp. the historical election results.

  1. Gratifyingly, the overall decline of Social-Democracy appears to be continuing. While the Swedish incarnation, and the current government former, did well by international standards, with 28.4 %; it also reached a new record low. The previous low was 28.5 % from 1911 and the first somewhat modern election.

    This, even without unholy coalitions, follows the trend in Germany, although the Germans are in danger of dropping below 20 %, while the Swedes just went below 30 %. (On the other hand, the joint Social-Democrat/former Communist/Green block is roughly equally strong in Germany as in Sweden. Also see below.)

  2. The main individual competitor, Moderaterna, dropped even more, but its three close allies saw a sufficient gain to more than offset this, leaving the group roughly on par with the Social-Democrats and its allies (a former Communist, now Leftist-/Feminist-populist, party and the “Greens”). The chances are good that the Social-Democrats will not form the next government.
  3. The “Greens” came close to missing the 4%-barrier*. Had they done so, it would have been easier to form a non-Leftist government. Let us see what the next election brings…

    *Parties with less than 4 % of the overall votes are not awarded seats.

  4. The Feminist extremist/populist party Fi did not only, again, fail to reach the 4%-barrier, but took a severe hit. With a mere 0.4 %, chances are that it will become a non-factor in the future. Unfortunately, this cannot be seen as an indication that Sweden is finally turning against Feminism, because many of the other parties are strong (if, I hope, not always honest) proclaimers of (Gender-)Feminist ideas. (Including Patriarchy this, structures that, men oppress women, domestic violence only happens to women, we need to spend as much time discussing female mathematicians as male in math books, variations of the 77-cents-on-the-dollar fraud, …)
  5. However, the further advances of Sverigedemokraterna could be a sign that this is happening: While the main focus of this party is immigration skepticism, it has also often clearly distanced it self from Feminism. With 5.7 %* in 2010, 12.9 % in 2014, and now 17.6 %, it has grown to be a candidate for second largest party, will potentially hold a lot of sway in the otherwise even parliament, and is increasingly forcing the rest of the parties to take issues around immigration and Feminism seriously. This is very positive, seeing that the refusal to discuss such issues in a critical and open-minded manner has had severe consequences for Sweden.

    *Entering parliament for the first time. At the time, many viewed this as a complete disaster and Sverigedemokraterna as the worst evil Sweden had seen in living memory. (Cf. e.g. [1] and a few links from there.) The reactions were worse than those of Hillary and her pack deplorables after the election of Trump…

    As an aside, Sverigedemokraterna is a good example of why the Left–Right scale is useless. They are almost invariably classified as Right-wing, Right populist, or even (usually by the extreme Left) as extreme Right. However, if we look at other issues than “anti-PC” and nationalism, they are (or at least were*) very often overlapping with the Leftist parties. Indeed, my first encounter with Anna Ardin (Feminist/Leftist propagandist and, later, infamous for rape accusations against Julian Assange) was relating to her loudly complaining about how a Swedish newspaper had pegged her as a voter for Sverigedemokraterna in an online test… A member of the (non-hyperbolically!) Loony Left pegged as having more in common with Sverigedemokraterna than with the party of her official choice…

    *I have not looked into their current opinions in detail, but they do appear to have drifted in a more conservative direction over the last eight years. However, the greatest criticism, often amounting to “Sverigedemokraterna are Nazis in disguise” came from that era…

  6. An interesting development is that the Social-Democrats have made overtures towards its non-allies to form a government without involvement of Sverigedemokraterna—well in line with their behavior in past years. For now, they appear to have been turned down. To boot, chances are that, with the current size of Sverigedemokraterna, it will be impossible for the Social-Democrats to push this through by swaying just one Moderaterna’s three allies to defect—at least two would be needed, which is extremely unlikely to happen.

    This is doubly gratifying in that it points to both a turnaround in the general treatment of Sverigedemokraterna and a refusal to fall into the anti-democratic trap that Germany has been caught in.

Readers from e.g. the U.S. should beware that the “political middle” is considerably more to the Left in Sweden than in the U.S. Applying Swedish measures to a U.S. context, the middle-line would not go between the Democrats and the Republicans, but splitting the Democrats in half. Vice versa, the U.S. political middle would cut the Swedish “Right” in half.

As for myself, I continued my practice of not voting—I see none of the current parties as deserving my vote, the choice being one of the lesser evil. (I have not done the leg-work to pin down said lesser evil in this election, but in the past it has usually been Moderaterna.)

Written by michaeleriksson

September 11, 2018 at 3:36 am

Identity politics and contradictions in Leftist thought

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Identity politics is in many ways contrary to the ostensible ideals of the Left, yet it is currently a corner-stone of the politics of the U.S. Left.

Consider the similarities between nationalism (“bad”) and identity politics (“good”): The former, in somewhat stronger* forms, puts loyalty to a group based on birth at the center, trumping concerns like “who is better suited”, “which country has the better legal claim to this island”, etc. This is occasionally combined with a thinking that “being one of us” automatically makes someone better suited. The latter puts loyalty to a group based on birth at the center, trumping concerns like “who is better suited”, “who deserves the job”, etc. This is very often combined with a thinking that “being one of us” automatically makes someone better suited.

*“Nationalism” is a very wide term and can mean a lot of things to different people. It is by no means a given that a nationalist is keen on e.g. expanding the national borders or keeping foreigners out. Weaker (or more constructive…) forms can focus on, say, just wishing the own country to excel at this-and-that.

Hillary for President! Why? Well, it is high time that we have a woman as President… This is not one iota better than supporting someone because it is high time that “we New Mexicans” have a President from New Mexico.* The choice should be made based on factors like (perceived) competence, political orientation, personal integrity, …—not sex or (quasi-)nationality. This becomes the more absurd, even outright offensive, when those who do not fall in line are considered illoyal or even traitors: Why should a woman who does not support Hillary Clinton’s politics and/or does have an accurate assessment of her flaws even consider voting for her? If anything, those who vote against their own convictions based on superficial criteria are the true traitors—to themselves, if nothing else.

*Even voting based on state in a federation is a type of nationalism (albeit it a less interesting one) and the principle is illustrated well enough. Interestingly, Wikipedia on Presidents by place of birth shows a massive deficit of Presidents west of an imaginary geographic center-line: Guesstimating where the line would be on the map provided, only Nixon and Obama qualify. A more generous guesstimate might include a few others, but the disparity is glaring enough that the application of Leftist logic would mandate intervention… Similarly, why is it not high time to have an Atheist or Jewish President? (Cf. Wikipedia on religious affiliation of U.S. Presidents.) Etc.

Racism and identity politics is another absurdity: Racism is considered the greatest sin there is by large portions of the Left, yet identity politics often amount to exactly that. This in at least two ways, namely (a) the often intense focus on the own group combined with a feeling that this group is superior, (b) favoring the own group with arguments that imply that members of the group can bring something to the table that others cannot. The latter notably in the form of “diversity” arguments, where the presence of just one single woman or minority member will somehow magically* bring more value than a handful of White men. If we apply misdefinitions of racism popular with the PC crowd, e.g. that racial discrimination is automatically racism, then the list grows, starting with various forms of “affirmative action” and “racial preferences”. Of course, very similar arguments can be made around e.g. sexism and identity politics.

*Normally, no attempt whatsoever is undertaken to explain why diversity would be good in a given case or why this specific person would bring such additional value. Instead there is a quasi-magical assumption that more diversity brings advantages. To boot, this is usually limited to e.g. racial or sexual diversity, with e.g. diversity of opinion, educational background, whatnot, among White men counting for nothing. (But see an excursion.) If the attempt is at all undertaken, it is limited to claims about perspective, life experience, background, that can be shared by others, that are not automatically present among the “diverse”, and which are usually less important than other factors (see the aforementioned excursion).

Or how about diversity, integration, and tolerance vs. monopolization and segregation of culture? If diversity (etc.) is good, why is it wrong when someone tries to expand his understanding of others? Writes a book featuring someone not of his own heritage? What about the whole “cultural appropriation” nonsense?* This effectively disqualifies people based on (e.g.) race, keeps groups apart, and furthers “us vs. them” thinking. Instead of the proverbial U.S. melting pot, this creates a “metallo-racist” set of groupings: Iron—left corner. Copper—right corner. Get away from the copper, tin! We want no bronze here! From another point of view, identity politics holds the minorities back in their own development for very similar reasons. For instance, much of what is condemned** as “acting White” appears to be nothing more than being professional, being ambitious, trying to get a good education and job, having an interest in learning, and similar—and those who “act White” simply have more mature interests than those who do not. Replace “acting White” with something more behavior than race oriented, e.g. “acting professional”, and the whole issue looks different. (This is doubly beneficial, because far from all White people are “acting White” in these senses to begin with…***)

*I have a separate post in planning where I will address this and some similar issues in more detail.

**If not necessarily by e.g the Democrat party. It remains a portion of the identity politics, group thinking, whatnot problem, however.

***Indeed, a very similar type of anti-intellectualism or contempt for those more ambitious was readily observable during my own school years (in Sweden, where almost everyone was White to begin with), but with very different terminology. The use of e.g. “nerd” in U.S. fiction points to a very similar problem. Looking at scholastic achievement, the size of the one group relative the other might be considerably different from the Black community, however.

Or what about prejudice? There is likely no greater source of this than “us vs. them” thinking, and identity politics is exactly that…

Of course, identity politics also soon leads to the fellow-traveler fallacy, paving the road for future internal discord, conflict, and hostility: The indoctrinated portions of the female, Black, Latino, queer, whatnot, populations, might appear to be allies, fighting their (usually naive) version of the “good fight”. In reality, this is an unholy alliance, if identity politics is actually followed through: If being e.g. Black is an important part of one’s identity and there is a wish to further the Black cause, then sooner or later (likely sooner…) this comes into conflict with the Latino cause. Etc. Indeed, it is already well documented that “racial preferences” during U.S. college admissions have cost Asians students places that they rightfully should have had, based on objective criteria—not just White students. Then there is the question of what identity matters the most: Is it more important to be a woman, Black, or a lesbian, and what causes should be prioritized? Or do Black female lesbians form their entirely own group? The consequences of “identity thinking” are absurd.

Excursion on counter-arguments to “Hillary for President”:
A partially valid counter-argument is that “we need someone to look out for our interests”; and with strongly disadvantaged groups, promises to do just that can be an objective argument in favor of a candidate. However, when it comes to such important offices and someone who actually is one of “us”, this argument does not hold—the mere fact that a woman were elected U.S. President would be an extremely strong indication that women are not in such a dire situation. Even such a close loss is enough to invalidate the counter-argument. Ditto Obama and Blacks. In contrast, if some group has great problems with political representation, the support of a high-ranking politician who is not a group member can be quite valuable; a first few low-ranking politicians who are group members can be similarly valuable. Even in such cases, however, the voters should make a holistic choice, where “our interests” is just one of the factors considered—putting Hillary in further trouble (and ruling the likes of Mona Sahlin out entirely).

Excursion on discrimination:
The question of discrimination in the true sense repeatedly occurs above. For instance, “acting White” is not a matter of being or behaving “White”: Many Whites do not, very many Asians do, and quite a few Latinos and Blacks do too. These behaviors might be following a certain group pattern, when we look at aggregates, but they are not immediately tied to groups. Focus on what matters, like professionalism, ambition, …—not “Whiteness”. Similarly, “Hillary for President!” above uses poor discrimination—the criterion that she is a woman. Good discrimination would look for someone competent, honest, with sound politics, which all things that do not apply to Hillary. (Nor necessarily Trump and Sanders.) Indeed, even self-classifications that put being Black or being a woman before being a human (or even something more specific but self-chosen, e.g. being a member of a certain profession) could be seen as poor discrimination. (They are certainly bad ideas with an eye on e.g. self-development.)

Excursion on diversity, interdisciplinary teams, “Quereinsteiger”, etc.:
I have repeatedly worked with teams and/or businesses that were convinced that interdisciplinary teams with many Quereinsteiger* were better than more specialized teams. Mostly, they have been wrong… There are instances where having different backgrounds and experiences can be valuable to a team, but software development does not appear to be one of them. On the contrary, what is needed is a good head, the ability to think in the right way, conscientious work, etc.—either the Quereinsteiger has these characteristics or he does not. Tendentially, those coming from another STEM field has had them to a similar degree as those with a purer IT background; with very few exceptions, those from non-STEM fields have not. (Yet, the latter would be more valuable if the reasoning behind interdisciplinary teams were followed…) Notably, the specialist skills that Quereinsteiger might have been able to leverage from their original fields only very rarely were of direct relevance to the work at hand. Similarly, I have a very broad knowledge of topics even outside STEM—and they, too, are only very rarely of relevance.** In a reasonable analogy, if a mason changes careers to be a carpenter, his masonry skills will only rarely be of use—but more abstract personal characteristics like his professionalism will be very important.

*A German word with no obvious English correspondent. Roughly speaking, someone who enters the one field of work from another field or with an unrelated educational background. I am one myself, having had a focus on math and physics in college, with only some exposure to topics like programming and computer science, but I went into software development straight after graduation. (I did earn a Master in Computer Science at a later date, however.)

**Excepting those that have arisen through my work as a software developer/engineer/consultant/whatnot, including domain-specific knowledge relating to this-or-that project or some recurring topics like handling of issues around time (e.g. date formatting, calendars, time zones, complications around daylight-savings time).

Looking at diversity at work, this is far less of an issue in Germany than in the U.S. (for demographic reasons); however, I have not seen any sign that the presence of e.g. women or Turks would be beneficial to a team. They have brought nothing to the table that a White man cannot and have usually performed in the lower half. By hearsay, I am aware that my last pre-sabbatical customer had once had a major drive to hire women and foreigners, possibly ten years earlier. As I was told, of those hired back then, most were gone and the proportion of women had continually dropped—indeed, this was in conjunction with the last remaining woman of the IT department leaving… My own experiences with this customer covered five (?) years, on and off. Of the women of the IT department, I encountered three, two* of which were below average and one which was let go before I had had the opportunity to gain an estimate**. The foreigners fell into two categories: Eastern European, who where mostly above average. Others, e.g. Persians, who were mostly below average—including one of the worst software developers I have ever encountered…

*Which I believe were hired within this drive, but I could be wrong. At least some of the foreigners in the rest of the discussion, but not all, were remnants of this drive.

**The claim was lack of competence or performance, but the water-cooler talk, in all fairness, pointed to personal issues between her and her team lead.

In conclusion, I very strongly encourage the use of criteria that have an objective and/or intuitively plausible relevance over those that do not. In most cases, diversity, interdisciplinarity, etc., do not belong among the reasonable criteria.

Excursion on identity politics and “privilege”:
A somewhat related absurdity is the combination of strong identity whatnot with accusations of “privilege”. (Cf. a debunking.) If we assume that White people are privileged over Black people, why do so many people who are as much or more White than they are Black (in a truer sense) cling to a Black identity? Would it not make greater sense to try to be as “White” as possible, especially for those who are optically more whitish/pinkish than blackish/brownish in actual skin color. For instance, I was honestly surprised when I, in my late teens, first heard Mariah Carey referred to as “Black” (or possibly “African-American”), having just taken for granted that she was White, based on what little I had seen on TV at the time. Even those who look dark are often very far from a state where terms like “Black” or “African-American” make sense—Obama’s actual color is brown, not black*, and he is about as much “European-American” as he is “African-American”… In some ways, the Black community has appropriated the “one-drop rule” to build an identity cage around it self. (Of course, this nonsense will eventually have to cease, because in the fulfillment of time, almost everyone would be “Black”…)

*I have at some point heard the claim that “black” for brown people would be no worse than “white” for pinkish people. These falls on the problem that there are some African groups who actually are black—not brown. To boot, “brown”, unlike “black”, is a very reasonable average description for Black people, while e.g. “pink” or “pinkish” is not so for White people. In cases like Carey, the word “black” is absurd. (A slightly stronger case reasoning around “red”/“Red” and “yellow”/“Yellow” might once have been possible, but these and their variations have not been used on a larger scale for a long time.)

Written by michaeleriksson

August 24, 2018 at 11:09 am

A call for more (!) discrimination

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The word “discrimination” and its variations (e.g. “to discriminate”) is hopelessly abused and misunderstood in today’s world. Indeed, while properly referring to something (potentially) highly beneficial and much needed, it has come to be a mere short for longer phrases like “sexual discrimination” and “racial discrimination”.* Worse, even these uses are often highly misleading.** Worse yet, the word has increasingly even lost the connection with these special cases, degenerating into a mere ad hominem credibility killer or a blanket term for any unpopular behavior related (or perceived as related) to e.g. race.***

*Note that it is “sexual” and “racial”—not “sexist” and “racist”. The latter two involve ascribing an intention and mentality to someone else, beyond (in almost all cases) what can possibly be known—and is sometimes manifestly false. Further, their focus on the intent rather than the criteria would often make them unsuitable even in the rare cases where the use could otherwise be justified.

**E.g because a discrimination on a contextually rational and reasonable criterion (e.g. GPA for college admissions) indirectly results in differences in group outcome, which are then incorrectly ascribed to e.g. “racial discrimination”. The latter, however, requires that race was the direct criterion for discrimination.

***Including e.g. having non-PC opinions about some group or expressing that opinion, neither of which can in any meaningful sense be considered discrimination—even in cases where the opinion or expression is worthy of disapproval. This including even the (already fundamentally flawed) concept of micro-aggressions.

What then is discrimination? Roughly speaking: The ability to recognize the differences between whatever individuals/objects/phenomena/… are being considered, to recognize the expected effects of decisions involving them, and to act accordingly. Indeed, if I were to restrict the meaning further, it is the “act” part that I would remove…* (Also see a below excursion on the Wiktionary definitions.)

*E.g. in that I would not necessarily consider someone discriminating who flipped a coin and then hired exclusively men or exclusively women based on the outcome—apart from the greater group impact, this is not much different from the entirely undiscriminating hiring by a coin flip per candidate. I might possibly even exclude e.g. the feminist stereotype of a White Old Man who deliberately hires only men because of the perceived inferiority of women: This is, at best, poor discrimination on one level and a proof of a lack of discrimination on another. C.f. below. (While at the same time being a feminist’s prime example of “discrimination” in the distorted sense.)

For instance, deciding to hire or not to hire someone as a physician based on education and whether a license to practice medicine is present, is discrimination. So is requiring a lawyer to have passed a bar exam in order to perform certain tasks. So is requiring a fire fighter to pass certain physical tests. So is using easier tests for women* than for men. So is using health-related criteria to choose between food stuffs. So is buying one horse over another based on quality of teeth or one car over another based on less rust damage. Etc. Even being able to tell the difference between different types of discrimination based on justification and effects could be seen as discrimination!

*This is, specifically, sexual discrimination, which shows that even such special cases can have the blessing of the PC crowd. It also provides an example of why it is wrong to equate “sexual” and “sexist”, because, no matter how misguided this discrimination is, it is unlikely to be rooted in more than a greater wish for equality of outcome. To boot, it is an example of poor discrimination through focus on the wrong criteria or having the wrong priorities. (Is equality of outcome when hiring really more important than the lives of fire victims?!?)

Why do we need it?

Discrimination is very closely related to the ability to make good decisions (arguably, any decision short of flipping a coin)—and the better someone is at discriminating, the better the outcomes tend to be. Note that this is by no means restricted to such obvious cases as hiring decisions based on education. It also involves e.g. seeing small-but-critical differences in cases where an argument, analogy, or whatnot does or does not apply; or being able to tell what criteria are actually relevant to understanding the matter/making the decision at hand.*

*Consider e.g. parts of the discussion in the text that prompted this one; for instance, where to draw the line between speech and action, or the difference between the IOC’s sponsor bans and bans on kneeling football players. Or consider why my statements there about employer’s rights do not, or only partially, extend to colleges: Without a lack of understanding, someone might see the situations as analogous, based e.g. on “it’s their building” or “it’s their organization”. Using other factors, the situation changes radically, e.g. in that the employer pays the employee while the college is paid by the student; that co-workers who do not get along can threaten company profits, while this is only rarely the case with students who do not get along; and that a larger part of the “college experience” overlaps with the students personal life than is, m.m., the case for an employee—especially within the U.S. campus system. (For instance, what characteristic of a college would give it greater rights to restrict free speech in a dorm than a regular landlord in an apartment building? A lecture hall, possibly—a dorm, no.)

Indeed, very many of today’s societal problems and poor political decisions go back, at least partially, to a failure to discriminate resp. to discriminate based on appropriate criteria.

Consider e.g. the common tendency to consider everything relating to “nuclear” or “radioactive” to be automatically evil (or the greater evil): Nuclear power is “evil”, yet fossil energies do far more damage to the world. The nuclear bombings of Japan were “evil”, yet their conventional counter-part killed more people. Radioactive sterilization of food is “evil”, yet science considers it safe—much unlike food poisoning… What if discrimination was not done by name or underlying technology, but rather based on the effects, risks, opportunities?

Consider the (ignorant or deliberate) failure to discriminate between e.g. anti-Islamists and anti-Muslims or immigration critics and xenophobes, treating them the same and severely hindering a civilized public debate.

Consider the failure to discriminate between school children by ability and the enforcing of a “one size fits all” system that barely even fits the average*, and leaves the weakest and strongest as misfits—and which tries to force everyone to at a minimum go through high school (or its local equivalent). (Germany still does a reasonable job, but chances are that this will not last; Sweden was an absolute horror already when I went to school; and the U.S. is a lot worse than it should and could be.)

*Or worse, is so centered on the weakest that school turns into a problem even for the average… Indeed, some claim that e.g. the U.S. “No Child Left Behind Act” has done more harm than good for this very reason.

Consider the failure to discriminate between politicians based on their expected long-term effect on society, rather than the short-term effect on one-self.

Consider the failure to discriminate between mere effort and actual result, especially with regard to political decisions. (Especially in the light of the many politicians who do not merely appear to fail at own discrimination, but actually try to fool the voters through showing that “something is being done”—even should that something be both ineffective and inefficient.)

Consider the failure to discriminate between those who can think for themselves (and rationally, critically, whatnot) and those who can not when it comes to e.g. regulations, the right to vote, self-determination, …

Consider the failure to discriminate between use and abuse, e.g. of alcohol or various performance enhancing drugs. (Or between performance enhancing drugs that are more and less dangerous…)

Consider the undue discrimination between sex crimes (or sexcrimes…) and regular crimes, especially regarding restrictions on due process or reversal of reasonable expectations. (Whether sex is involved is not a valid criterion, seeing that e.g. due process is undermined as soon as any crime is exempt from it.)

Consider the undue discrimination between Israelis and Palestinians by many Westerners, where the one is held to a “Western” standard of behavior and the other is not. (Nationality is not relevant to this aspect of the conflict.)

A particularly interesting example is the classification of people not yet 18 as “children”*, which effectively puts e.g. those aged 3, 10, and 17 on the same level—an often absurd lack of discrimination, considering the enormous differences (be they physical, mental, in terms of experience or world-view, …) between people of these respective ages. Nowhere is this absurdity larger than in that the “child” turns into an “adult” merely through the arrival of a certain date, while being virtually identically the same as the day before—and this accompanied with blanket rights and obligations, with no other test of suitability. Note how this applies equally to someone well-adjusted, intelligent, and precocious as it does to someone who is intellectually over-challenged even by high school and who prefers to lead a life of petty crimes and drug abuse. (To boot, this rapid change of status is highly likely to make the “children” less prepared for adulthood, worsening the situation further.)

*The size of the problem can vary from country to country, however. In e.g. the U.S. there is a fair chance that a word like “minor” will be used, especially in more formal contexts, which at least reduces the mental misassociations; in Sweden, “barn” (“child”) dominates in virtually all contexts, including (at least newer) laws.

However, there are many other problems relating to the grouping of “children” with children, especially concerning undifferentiated societal and political debates around behavior from and towards these “children”. This in particular in the area of sex, where it is not just common to use terms like “pedophile”* and “child-porn” for the entire age-range, but where I have actually repeatedly seen the claim that those sexually attracted to someone even just shy of 18 would be perverts**—despite the age limit being largely arbitrary***, despite that many are at or close to their life-time peak in attractiveness at that age, despite that most of that age are fully sexually mature, and despite that people have married and had children at considerably lower ages for large stretches of human history.

*This word strictly speaking refers to someone interested in pre-pubescent children, making it an abuse of language not covered by the (disputable) justification that can be given to “child-porn” through the wide definition of “child”. Even if the use was semantically sound, however, the extremely different implications would remain, when children and “children” at various ages are considered.

**Presumably, because the classification of someone younger as a “child” has become so ingrained with some weak thinkers that they actually see 18 as a magic limit transcending mere laws, mere biological development, mere maturity (or lack there of), and leaving those aged 17 with more in common with those aged 8 than those aged 18.

***Indeed, the “age of consent” is strictly speaking separate from the “age of maturity”, with e.g. Sweden (15) and Germany (14 or 16, depending on circumstances) having a considerably lower age of consent while keeping the age of maturity at 18.

Not all discrimination, depending on exact meaning implied, is good, but this is usually due to a lack of discrimination. Consider e.g. making a hiring decision between a Jewish high-school drop-out and a Black Ph.D. holder: With only that information present, the hiring decision can be based on either the educational aspect, the race/ethnicity aspect, or a random choice.* If we go by the educational or race aspect, there is discrimination towards the candidates. However, if the race aspect is used, then this is a sign that there has been too little or incorrect discrimination towards the hiring criteria—otherwise the unsuitability of the race aspect as a criterion would have been recognized. This, in turn, is the reason why racial discrimination is almost always wrong: It discriminates by an unsound criterion. We can also clearly see why “discrimination” must not be reduced to the meanings implied by “racial [and whatnot] discrimination”—indeed, someone truly discriminating (adjective) would not have been discriminating (verb) based on race in the above example.

*Or a combination thereof, which I will ignore: Including the combinations has no further illustrative value.

Excursion on proxy criteria:
Making decisions virtually always involves some degree of proxy criteria, because it is impossible to judge e.g. how well an applicant for a job fairs on the true criteria. For instance, the true criterion might amount to “Who gives us the best value for our money?”. This, however, is impossible to know in advance, and the prospective employer resorts to proxy criteria like prior experience, references, education, … that are likely to give a decent, if far from perfect, idea of what to expect. (Indeed, even these criteria are arguably proxies-for-proxies like intelligence, industriousness, conscientiousness, …—and, obviously, the ability to discriminate!)

Unfortunately, sometimes proxies are used that are less likely to give valuable information (e.g. impression from an interview) and/or are “a proxy too far” (e.g. race). To look at the latter, a potential U.S. employer might (correctly) observe that Jews currently tend to have higher grades than Blacks and tend to advance higher in the educational system, and conclude that the Jew is the better choice. However, seeing that this is a group characteristic, it would be much better to look at the actual individual data, removing a spurious proxy: Which of the two candidates does have the better grades and the more advanced education—not who might be expected to do so based on population statistics.

As an aside, one of my main beefs with increasing the number of college graduates (even at the cost of lowering academic standards to let the unsuitable graduate) is that the main role of a diploma was to serve as a proxy for e.g. intelligence and diligence, and that this proxy function is increasingly destroyed. Similarly, the greater infantilization of college students removes the proxy effect for ability to work and think for oneself.

Excursion on discrimination and double standards:
Interestingly, discrimination otherwise rejected, usually relating to the passage of time, is sometimes arbitrarily considered perfectly acceptable and normal. A good example is the age of maturity and variations of “age of X” (cf. above)—a certain age is used as an extremely poor and arbitrary proxy for a set of personal characteristics.

In other cases, such discrimination might have a sufficient contextual justification that it is tolerated or even considered positive. For instance, even a well qualified locker-room attendant of the wrong sex might not be acceptable to the visitors of a public bath, and the bath might then use sex as a hiring criterion. Not allowing men to compete in e.g. the WTA or WNBA can be necessary to give women a reasonable chance at sports success (and excluding women from the ATP or the NBA would then be fair from a symmetry point of view). Etc.

Then there is affirmative action…

Excursion on how to discriminate better:
A few general tips on how to discriminate better: Question whether a criterion is actually relevant, in it self, or is just as proxy, proxy-for-a-proxy, proxy-for-a-proxy-for-a-proxy, …; and try to find a more immediate criterion. Question the effectiveness of criteria (even immediate ones). Do not just look at what two things have in common (e.g. building ownership, cf. above) but what makes them different (e.g. being paid or paying). Try to understand the why and the details of something and question whether your current assumptions on the issue are actually correct—why is X done this way*, why is Y a criterion, why is Z treated differently, … Try to look at issues with reason and impartiality, not emotion or personal sympathy/antipathy; especially, when the issues are personal, involve loved ones or archenemies, concern “pet peeves”, or otherwise are likely to cause a biased reaction.

*The results can be surprising. There is a famous anecdote about a member of the younger generation who wanted to find out why the family recipe for a pot-roast (?) called for cutting off part of it in a certain manner. Many questions later, someone a few generations older, and the origin of the tradition, revealed the truth: She had always done so in order to … make the pot-roast fit into her too small pan. Everyone else did so in the erroneous belief that there was some more significant purpose behind it—even when their pans were larger.

Excursion on when not to discriminate (at all):
There might be instances where potential discrimination, even when based on superficially reasonable grounds, is better not done.

For instance, topics like free speech, especially in a U.S. campus setting, especially with an eye on PC/Leftist/whatnot censorship, feature heavily in my current thoughts and readings. Here we can see an interesting application of discrimination: Some PC/Leftist/whatnot groups selectively (try to) disallow free speech when opinions contrary to theirs are concerned. Now, if someone is convinced that he is right, is that not a reasonable type of discrimination (from his point of view)?

If the goal is to push one’s own opinion through at all cost, then, yes, it is.

Is that enough justification? Only to those who are not just dead certain and lacking in respect for others, but who also are very short-sighted:

Firstly, as I often note, there is always a chance that even those convinced beyond the shadow of a doubt are wrong. (Indeed, those dead certain often turn out to be dead wrong, while those who turn out to be right often were open to doubts.) What if someone silences the opposition, forces public policy to follow a particular scheme without debate, indoctrinates future generations in a one-sided manner, …—and then turns out to be wrong? What if the wrongness is only discovered with a great delay, or not at all, due to the free-speech restrictions? Better then to allow other opinions to be uttered.

Secondly, if the power situation changes, those once censoring can suddenly find themselves censored—especially, when they have themselves established censorship as the state of normality. Better then to have a societal standard that those in power do not censor those out of power.

Thirdly, there is a dangerous overlap between the Niemöller issue and the fellow-traveler fallacy: What if the fellow travelers who jointly condemn their common enemies today, condemn each other tomorrow? (Similarly, it is not at all uncommon for a previously respected member of e.g. the feminist community to be immediately cast out upon saying something “heretic”.) Better then to speak up in defense of the censored now, before it is too late.

Fourthly, exposure to other opinions, dialectic, eclecticism, synthesis, … can all be beneficial for the individual—and almost a necessity when we look at e.g. society as a whole, science, philosophy, … Better then to not forego these benefits.

Fifthly, and possibly most importantly, censorship is not just an infringement of rights against the censored speaker—it is also an infringement of rights against the listeners. If we were (I do not!) to consider the act against the speaker justified (e.g. because he is “evil”, “racist”, “sexist”, or just plainly “wrong”); by what reasoning can this be extended to the listeners? Short of “it’s for their own good” (or, just possibly, “it’s for the greater good”), I can see nothing. We would then rob others of their right to form their own opinions, to expose themselves to new ideas, whatnot, in the name of “their own good”—truly abhorrent. Better then to allow everyone the right to choose freely, both in terms of whom to listen to and what to do with what is heard.

Excursion on failure to discriminate in terminology:
As with the child vs. “child” issue above, there are many problems with (lack of) discrimination that can arise through use of inappropriate words or inconsistent use of words. A very good example is the deliberate abuse of the word “rape” to imply a very loosely and widely defined group of acts, in order to ensure that “statistics” show a great prevalence, combined with a (stated or implied) more stringent use when these “statistics” are presented as an argument for e.g. policy change. Since there is too little discrimination between rape and “rape”, these statistics are grossly misleading. Other examples include not discriminating between the words* “racial” and “racist”, “[anabolic] steroid” and “PED”, “convicted” and “guilty”, …

*Or the concepts: I am uncertain to what degree the common abuse of “racist” for “racial” is based on ignorance of language or genuine confusion about the corresponding concepts. (Or intellectually dishonest rhetoric by those who do know the difference…) Similar remarks can apply elsewhere.

(In a bigger picture, similar problems include e.g. euphemistic self-labeling, as with e.g. “pro-life” and “pro-choice”; derogatory enemy-labeling, e.g. “moonbat” and “wingnut”; and emotionally manipulative labels on others, e.g. the absurd rhetorical misnomer “dreamer” for some illegal aliens. Such cases are usually at most indirectly related to discrimination, however.)

Excursion on Wikipedia and Wiktionary:
Wikipedia, often corrupted by PC editors [1], predictably focuses solely on the misleading special-case meanings in the allegedly main Wikipedia article on discrimination, leaving appropriate use only to alleged special cases… A particular perversity is a separate article on Discrimination in bar exam, which largely ignores the deliberate discriminatory attempt to filter out those unsuited for the bar and focuses on alleged discrimination of Blacks and other ethnicities. Not only does this article obviously fall into the trap of seeing a difference in outcome (on the exam) as proof of differences in opportunity; it also fails to consider that Whites are typically filtered more strongly before* they encounter the bar exam, e.g. through admittance criteria to college often being tougher.**

*Implying that the exam results of e.g. Blacks and Whites are not comparable. As an illustration: Take two parallel school-classes and the task to find all students taller than 6′. The one teacher just sends all the students directly to the official measurement, the other grabs a ruler and only sends those appearing to be taller than 5′ 10”. Of course, a greater proportion of the already filtered students will exceed the 6′ filtering… However, this is proof neither that the members of their class would be taller (in general), nor that the test would favor their class over the other.

**Incidentally, a type of racial discrimination gone wrong: By weakening criteria like SAT success in favor of race, the standard of the student body is lowered without necessarily helping those it intends to help. (According to some, e.g. [2] and [3], with very different perspectives and with a long time between them.) To boot, this type of discrimination appears to hit another minority group, the East-Asians, quite hard. (They do better on the objective criteria than Whites; hence, they, not Whites, are the greater victims.)

Worse, one of its main sources (and the one source that I checked) is an opinion piece from a magazine (i.e. a source acceptable for a blog, but not for an encyclopedia), which is cited in a misleading manner:* Skimming through the opinion piece, the main theses appear to be (a) that the bar exam protects the “insiders” from competition by “outsiders” by ensuring a high entry barrier**, (b) that this strikes the poor*** unduly, and (c) that the bar exam should be abolished.

*Poor use of sources is another thing I criticized in [1].

**This is Economics 101. The only debatable point is whether the advantages offset the disadvantages for society as a whole.

***Indeed, references to minorities appear to merely consider them a special case of the “poor”, quite unlike the Wikipedia article. To boot, from context and time, I suspect that the “minorities” might have been e.g. the Irish rather than the Blacks or the Hispanics…

Wiktionary does a far better job. To quote and briefly discuss the given meanings:

  1. Discernment, the act of discriminating, discerning, distinguishing, noting or perceiving differences between things, with intent to understand rightly and make correct decisions.

    Rightfully placed at the beginning: This is the core meaning, the reason why discrimination is a good thing and something to strive for, and what we should strive to preserve when we use the word.

  2. The act of recognizing the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ in situations and choosing good.

    Mostly a subset of the above meaning, with reservations for the exact meaning of “good”. (But I note that even a moral “good” could be seen as included above.)

  3. The setting apart of a person or group of people in a negative way, as in being discriminated against.

    Here we have something that could be interpreted in the abused sense; however, it too could be seen as a subset of the first item, with some reservation for the formulation “negative way”. Note that e.g. failing to hire someone without a license to practice medicine for a job as a practicing physician would be a good example of the meaning (and would be well within the first item).

  4. (sometimes discrimination against) Distinct treatment of an individual or group to their disadvantage; treatment or consideration based on class or category rather than individual merit; partiality; prejudice; bigotry.

    sexual or racial discrimination

    Only here do we have the abused meaning—and here we see the central flaw: The example provided (“sexual or racial discrimination”) only carries the given meaning (in as far as exceeding the previous item) when combined with a qualifier; dropping such qualifiers leads to the abuse. “Sexual discrimination”, “racial discrimination”, etc., carry such meanings—just “discrimination” does not. This makes it vital never to drop these qualifiers.

    Similarly, not all ships are space ships or steam ships, the existence of the terms “space ship” and “steam ship” notwithstanding; not all forest are rain forests; sea lions are not lions at all and sea monkeys are not even vertebrates; …

    Note that some of the listed meanings only apply when viewed in the overall context of the entire sentence. Bigotry, e.g., can be a cause of discrimination by an irrelevant criterion; however, “sexual discrimination”, etc., is not it self bigotry. Prejudice* can contain sexual discrimination but is in turn a much wider concept.

    *“Prejudice” is also often misunderstood in a potentially harmful manner: A prejudice is not defined by being incorrect—but by being made in advance and without knowing all the relevant facts. For example, it is prejudice to hear that someone plays in the NBA and assume, without further investigation, that he is tall—more often than not (in this case), it is also true.

  5. The quality of being discriminating, acute discernment, specifically in a learning situation; as to show great discrimination in the choice of means.

    Here we return to a broadly correct use, compatible with the first item, but in a different grammatical role (for want of a better formulation).

    I admit to having some doubts as to whether the implied grammatical role makes sense. Can the quality of being discriminating be referred to as “discrimination”? (As opposed to e.g. “showing discrimination”.) Vice versa for the second half.

  6. That which discriminates; mark of distinction, a characteristic.

    The same, but without reservations for grammatical role.

Written by michaeleriksson

August 9, 2018 at 2:08 am