Cathedral Round-Up: the Harvard Discrimination Lawsuit

It has been an open secret for quite some time (at least since my childhood) that prestigious colleges like Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Stanford discriminate against Asian applicants for the simple reason that they “score too high” and “if we took all of the qualified Asian applicants, we wouldn’t have room for other minorities.” (As far as I know, Caltech is the only famous school that does’t discriminate.)

As usual, the Asians just sucked it up and worked harder, but it only seemed like a mater of time before the Tiger Moms decided that “enough is enough”–hence the lawsuit.

Harvard’s official excuse is “Asians are boring,” which is utter bullshit; some of the most interesting people I know are Asian. From the NYT:

Harvard has testified that race, when considered in admissions, can only help, not hurt, a student’s chances of getting in.

But from The Economist:

20180623_usc932_0

This graph is a little tricky to understand. It shows the percent of each race’s applicants admitted to Harvard, sorted by academic ranking. So 58% of black applicants with the highest academic ranking–folks with perfect SATs and GPAs–were admitted, while only 12% of Asian applicants with identical SATs and GPAs were admitted. (For some reason, Harvard takes some percentage of students who aren’t really academically stellar, even though it receives plenty of top-tier applications.)

Vox managed to admit how much highly prestigious colleges hate Asians: they get 140 points deducted from their SATs, while Hispanics received a 130 point bonus and blacks a 310 point bonus. (Note, old data but the situation hasn’t changed much.)

From The Guardian: 

Harvard consistently rated Asian-American applicants lower than other races on traits like likability, kindness and “positive personality”.

We need a word for this. I’m calling it “optimist privilege.” It’s time to stop optimists from oppressing the pessimists.

The pessimists are more likely than optimists to be correct, anyway.

Asian-Americans currently comprise 19% of admitted students at Harvard; if evaluated fairly, based on extra-curriculars + academics, they’d be 29%, and if admitted on pure academic merit, they’d be 43%. (Unsurprisingly, this is exactly the percent that Caltech, which does take students on merit, accepts.)

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Source: Timofey Pnin

Timofey Pnin on Twitter calculates an even higher Asian acceptance rate if Harvard picked only from its top academic performers–51.7%

Now, many people–such as former defender of liberty, the ACLU–believe that ending Affirmative Action at Harvard would “primarily benefit white students” (the horror! We wouldn’t want to accidentally help white people in the process of being fair to Asians,) but by Timofey Pnin’s data, white admission rates would actually fall by 6%.

Unfortunately for Harvard, ending Affirmative Action would drop their black and Hispanic shares to nearly invisible 0.9% and 2.7%, respectively. Unfortunately, admissions, as currently practiced is a zero-sum game: making room for more Asians means admitting fewer of some other group.

Make no mistake, while the lawsuit is aimed explicitly at Harvard, all of the top schools do it. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were community colleges discriminating against Asians.

It’s easy to imagine a scenario where colleges are caught between a ruling that they have to take Asians in proportion to their academic rankings and a ruling that they have to take blacks and Hispanics in proportion to their population demographics.

(Of course, the biggest affirmative action boost is given to legacies , 33.6% of whom Harvard admits, and jocks [86% acceptance rate for “recruited athletes”].)

To those confused about why Harvard would bother taking anyone who isn’t in the top decile of academic performance–their bottom decile students are rather mediocre–the answer is that Harvard goal isn’t to educate the smartest kids in the nation. (That’s Caltech’s goal.) Harvard’s goal is to educate the future leaders of America, and those future leaders aren’t 50% Asian. (Harvard probably likes to flatter itself that it is enhancing those future leaders, but mostly it is attaching its brand name to successful people in order to get free advertising to boost its prestige, rather like companies offering endorsement deals to racecar drivers. It’s not Verizon that made Will Power win the Indianapolis 500, after all–awesome name, btw. Not only does Will have will power, he’s got wheel power. *badum tish*)

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source Unsilenced Science

Even if Blacks, Native Americans, and Hispanics score abysmally on the SAT and ACT, some of them will go on to be major leaders, movers and shakers. (Though trends for Native Americans and Pacific Islanders are rather worrying.) Asians, meanwhile, continue to blow everyone else out of the water (there may be some merit to the argument that test scores should be adjusted to account for test prep, which Asians invest in heavily.)

I don’t know how the case will turn out. Perhaps the courts will realize the issue with colleges having to take applicants based on actual qualifications–or perhaps they will decide that blatant discrimination by an institution that receives tons of public funding is a violation of the 14th amendment and the Civil Rights Act.

Personally, I don’t care whether Harvard or Yale continues educating the “future leaders of America and the World,” but I do feel loyal to my Asian friends and desire that they be treated fairly and justly. In general, I think college admissions should be based entirely on academic merit, as any other standards simply skew the system toward those most inclined to cheat and game the system–and the system, as it stands, puts horrible and worthless pressure on high-achieving highschool students while delivering them very little in return.

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The Unbearable Whiteness of Elizabeth Warren

I almost feel sad for Senator Warren. One day, a little girl looked in the mirror, saw pale skin, brown hair, and blue eyes looking back at her, and thought, “No. This can’t be right. This isn’t me.”

So she found a new identity, based on a family legend–a legend shared by a suspicious number of white people–that one of her ancestors was an American Indian.

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Elizabeth Warren changed her race at Penn: Source

This new identity conveyed certain advantages: Harvard Law claimed her as a Native American to boost claims of racial diversity among the faculty:

A majority [83%] of Harvard Law School students are unhappy with the level of representation of women and minorities on the Law School faculty, according to a recent survey. …

Law students said they want to learn from a variety of perspectives and approaches to the law. “A black male from a lower socioeconomic background will approach the study of constitutional law in a different way from a white upper-class male,” Reyes said. …

Of 71 current Law School professors and assistant professors, 11 are women, five are black, one is Native American and one is Hispanic, said Mike Chmura, spokesperson for the Law School.

Although the conventional wisdom among students and faculty is that the Law School faculty includes no minority women, Chmura said Professor of Law Elizabeth Warren is Native American.

In response to criticism of the current administration, Chmura pointed to “good progress in recent years.”

As did Penn:

The University of Pennsylvania chose not to tout in the press their newly minted Native American professor. But her minority status was duly noted: The university’s Minority Equity Report, published in April 2005, shows that Warren won a teaching award in 1994. Her name is in bold and italicized to indicate she was a minority. …

The law school was happy to have her count as a diversity statistic, however, and for at least three of the years she taught there — 1991, 1992, and 1994 — an internal publication drawing on statistics from the university’s federal affirmative action report listed one Native American female professor in the university’s law school.

Warren’s Native American identity may have played no role in her hiring (the committees involved appear not to have known or cared about her identity,) but it seems to have been important to Warren herself. As her relatives aged and died, and she moved away from her childhood home in Oklahoma and then Texas, she was faced with that persistent question: Who am I?

The truth, a white woman from a working class family in Oklahoma, apparently wasn’t enough for Elizabeth. (Oklahoma doesn’t carry many status points over in East Coast academic institutions.)

Each of us is the sum of many things, including the stories our families tell us and genetic contributions from all of our ancestors–not just the interesting ones (within a limit–after enough generations, each individual contribution has become so small that it may not be passed on in reproduction.)

I have also done the 23 and Me thing, and found that I hail from something like 20 different ethnic groups–including, like Warren, a little smidge of Native American. But none of those groups make up the majority of my DNA. All of them are me; none of them are me. I just am.

Warren’s announcement of her DNA findings vindicated her claim to a Native American ancestor and simultaneously unveiled the absurdity of her claim to be a Native American. What should have been a set of family tales told to friends and passed on to children and grandchildren about a distant ancestor became a matter of national debate that the Cherokee Nation itself felt compelled to weigh in on:

Using a DNA test to lay claim to any connection to the Cherokee Nation or any tribal nation, even vaguely, is inappropriate and wrong. It makes a mockery out of DNA tests and its legitimate uses while also dishonoring legitimate tribal governments and their citizens, whose ancestors are well documented and whose heritage is proven. Senator Warren is undermining tribal interests with her continued claims of tribal heritage.

Like them or not, the Cherokee have rules about who is and isn’t a Cherokee, because being Cherokee conveys certain benefits–for example, the tribe builds houses for members and helps them look for jobs. This is why conflicts arise over matters like whether the Cherokee Freedmen are official members. When membership in a group conveys benefits, the borders of that group will be policed–and claims like Warren’s, no matter how innocently intended, will be perceived as an attempt at stealing something not meant for her.

Note: I am not saying this kind of group border policing is legitimate. Many “official” Cherokee have about as much actual Cherokee blood in them as Elizabeth Warren, but they have a documented ancestor on the Dawes Rolls, so they qualify and she doesn’t. Border policing is just what happens when there are benefits associated with being part of a group.

I don’t have an issue with Warren’s own self-identity. After all, if race is a social construct,* then she’s doing it exactly right. She’s allowed to have an emotional connection to her own ancestors, whether that connection is documented via the Dawes Rolls or not. All of us here in America should have equal access to Harvard’s benefits, not just the ones who play up a story about their ancestors.

The sad thing, though, is that despite being one of the most powerful and respected women people in America, she still felt the need to be more than she is, to latch onto an identity she doesn’t truly possess.

You know, Elizabeth… it’s fine to just be a white person from Oklahoma. It’s fine to be you.

 

*Note: This blog regards “species” and nouns generally as social constructs, because language is inherently social. That does not erase biology.

Cathedral Round-Up: It’s about territory. It’s always about territory.

Rudyard Kipling’s ‘If’ poem scrubbed off wall by students who claim he was a ‘racist’:

Student leaders at Manchester University declared that Kipling “stands for the opposite of liberation, empowerment, and human rights”.

The poem, which had been painted on the wall of the students’ union building by an artist, was removed by students on Tuesday, in a bid to “reclaim” history on behalf of those who have been “oppressed” by “the likes of Kipling”.

In lieu of Kipling’s If, students used a black marker pen to write out the poem Still I Rise by Maya Angelou on the same stretch of wall.

There’s a word for this: vandalism.

I am not a good judge of poetry, and in general, I think most people are no longer interested in poetry one way or another, so I am not going to judge the poems on their relative merits. I think a reasonable person could like either one. (Note: I have have in the past compared Shakespeare and Audre Lorde.)

Short excerpts from the relevant poems:

Kipling’s IF:

If you can keep your head when all about you
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
    But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
    If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
    And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
    And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools: …

Angelou’s Still I Rise:

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise. …

Neither of these poems is a clear winner on merit, but they weren’t chosen on merit. Kipling’s poem was chosen to decorate the student center at a British university because Kipling is one of Britain’s most beloved and respected writers and this particular poem was voted one of Britain’s very favorites. Further, it contains practical life advice of the sort you normally aim at students.

Maya Angelou, by contrast, isn’t British. She’s an American.

According to Sara Khan, “Liberation & Access Officer” of the Manchester Student Union, majoring in English:

We, as an exec team, believe that Kipling stands for the opposite of liberation, empowerment, and human rights…

Well-known as author of the racist poem ‘The White Man’s Burden’, and a plethora of other work that sought to legitimate the British Empire’s presence in India and de-humanise people of colour, it is deeply inappropriate to promote the work of Kipling in our SU …

As a statement on the reclamation of history by those who have been oppressed by the likes of Kipling for so many centuries, and continue to be to this day, we replaced his words with those of the legendary Maya Angelou, a black female poet and civil rights activist.”

It takes some special variety of gall to major in English at a British university and then complain about reading one of Britain’s most famous poets–and a great deal of stupidity to put up with it.

Angelou’s words were written in a specifically American context, responding to the way she and other African Americans were treated here in the US. Her poem has nothing to do with Kipling or things Kipling or other Brits have done. It was selected in this perverted sense that all whites are equivalent and interchangeable, as are all non-whites. Any non-white poet will do for replacing white poets.

Maya Angelou’s poem was not selected to replace Kipling’s because the students think it is better on technical, poetic grounds, nor because it reflects an important part of British literature, but for its subject and the author’s identity: a black woman. The message is not, “Here’s a lovely poem; we think students will enjoy it.” The message is, “Fuck you to Kipling and everyone who loves him; we are wiping you off the walls, removing you from our spaces, and replacing you with our own poem about how we are rising up against you.”

Incidentally, for an “English major,” Sara is oddly ignorant of the fact that Kipling’s poem, “The White Man’s Burden,” was not written to justify British colonialism in India. (I guess she is not a very good English major.) It was actually written to encourage the US to colonize the Philippines.

Kipling also seems to have been ambivalent about the whole endeavor:

Take up the White Man’s burden —
And reap his old reward:
The blame of those ye better,
The hate of those ye guard —
The cry of hosts ye humour
(Ah, slowly!) toward the light: —
“Why brought he us from bondage,
Our loved Egyptian night?”

Anthropology Friday: Japan pt 1

Sidney Lewis Guilick, 1919

Welcome to Anthropology Friday. Today we’ll be reading Sidney L. Gulick’s Evolution of the Japanese, Social and Psychic, published in 1903.

Gulick, son and grandson of missionaries, born in the Marshall Islands, received degrees from Dartmouth, Oberlin, and Yale, and was ordained as a Congregational (ie Puritan) minister. His own missionary work took him to Japan in 1888, where he lived for 25 years, observing first-hand many of the remarkable changes overtaking that nation.

In writing this book, Gulick doubtless had several objectives, among them describing and demystifying Japan–a nation about which very little reliable information existed and was undergoing an incredible transformation–and refuting the notion of an essential racial character of “Asians,” (an evolutionist notion that respectable American Christians have forcefully opposed.)

After returning to the US, Gulick campaigned for world peace and tried hard to improve American/Japanese relations. Unfortunately he died in 1945–he must have been very sad about the state of the world as he passed away. It’s a pity he didn’t live long enough to see America and Japan becomes friends.

Japan, in case you are unfamiliar with its history, was largely closed to the rest of the world from about 1635 through 1853. During this time it developed in relative isolation, cut off from trade and technological developments going on in the rest of the world. In 1853, the Japanese appeared “backward” to the rest of the world because of their relatively low level of technological development, but this was largely an illusion–once exposed to the outside world, Japan industrialized at an incredible rate. (Probably the fastest industrialization undertaken by a native population without an outside force telling them what to do.)

But let’s let Gulick tell the story (quotes are in “” instead of blockquotes, as usual):

“Seldom, perhaps never, has the civilized world so suddenly and completely reversed an estimate of a nation as it has that with reference to Japan. Before the recent war, to the majority even of fairly educated men, Japan was little more than a name for a few small islands somewhere near China, whose people were peculiar and interesting. To-day there is probably not a man, or woman, or child attending school in any part of the civilized world, who does not know the main facts about the recent war: how the small country and the men of small stature, sarcastically described by their foes as “Wojen,” pygmy, attacked the army and navy of a country ten times their size.

“Such a universal change of opinion regarding a nation, especially regarding one so remote from the centers of Western civilization as Japan, could not have taken place in any previous generation. The telegraph, the daily paper, the intelligent reporters and writers of books and magazine articles, the rapid steam travel and the many travelers—all these have made possible this sudden acquisition of knowledge and startling reversal of opinion. …

“In important ways, therefore, Japan seems to be contradicting our theories of national growth. We have thought that no “heathen” nation could possibly gain, much less wield, unaided by Westerners, the forces of civilized Christendom. We have likewise held that national growth is a slow process, a gradual evolution, extending over scores and centuries of years. In both respects our theories seem to be at fault. This “little nation of little people,” which we have been so ready to condemn as “heathen” and “uncivilized,” and thus to despise, or to ignore, has in a single generation leaped into the forefront of the world’s attention.”

History

“How many of the stories of the Kojiki (written in 712 A.D.) and Nihongi (720 A.D.) are to be accepted is still a matter of dispute among scholars. Certain it is, however, that Japanese early history is veiled in a mythology which seems to center about three prominent points: Kyushu, in the south; Yamato, in the east central, and Izumo in the west central region. This mythological history narrates the circumstances of the victory of the southern descendants of the gods over the two central regions. And it has been conjectured that these three centers represent three waves of migration that brought the ancestors of the present inhabitants of Japan to these shores. The supposition is that they came quite independently and began their conflicts only after long periods of residence and multiplication.

“Though this early record is largely mythological, tradition shows us the progenitors of the modern Japanese people as conquerors from the west and south who drove the aborigines before them and gradually took possession of the entire land. That these conquerors were not all of the same stock is proved by the physical appearance of the Japanese to-day, and by their language. Through these the student traces an early mixture of races—the Malay, the Mongolian, and the Ural-Altaic. Whether the early crossing of these races bears vital relation to the plasticity of the Japanese is a question which tempts the scholar. …

“The national governmental system was materially affected by the need, throughout many centuries, of systematic methods of defense against the Ainu. The rise of the Shogunate dates back to 883 A.D., when the chief of the forces opposing the Ainu was appointed by the Emperor and bore the official title, “The Barbarian-expelling Generalissimo.”

During the Isolation Period

“Of Old Japan little more needs to be said. Without external commerce, there was little need for internal trade; ships were small; roads were footpaths; education was limited to the samurai, or military class, retainers of the daimyo, “feudal lords”; inter-clan travel was limited and discouraged; Confucian ethics was the moral standard. From the beginning of the seventeenth century Christianity was forbidden by edict, and was popularly known as the “evil way”; Japan was thought to be especially sacred, and the coming of foreigners was supposed to pollute the land and to be the cause of physical evils. Education, as in China, was limited to the Chinese classics. Mathematics, general history, and science, in the modern sense, were of course wholly unknown. Guns and powder were brought from the West in the sixteenth century by Spaniards and Portuguese, but were never improved. Ship-building was the same in the middle of the nineteenth century as in the middle of the sixteenth, perhaps even less advanced. Architecture had received its great impulse from the introduction of Buddhism in the ninth and tenth centuries and had made no material improvement thereafter. …

“But while there was little progress in the external and mechanical elements of civilization, there was progress in other respects. During the “great peace,” first arose great scholars. Culture became more general throughout the nation. Education was esteemed. The corrupt lives of the priests were condemned and an effort was made to reform life through the revival of a certain school of Confucian teachers known as “Shin-Gaku”—”Heart-Knowledge.” Art also made progress, both pictorial and manual.”

The Transition from Clannishness to Nationalism

“A natural outcome of the Restoration is the exuberant patriotism that is so characteristic a feature of New Japan. The very term “ai-koku-shin” is a new creation, almost as new as the thing. This word is an incidental proof of the general correctness of the contention of this chapter that true nationality is a recent product in Japan. The term, literally translated, is “love-country heart”; but the point for us to notice particularly is the term for country, “koku”; this word has never before meant the country as a whole, but only the territory of a clan. If I wish to ask a Japanese what part of Japan is his native home, I must use this word. And if a Japanese wishes to ask me which of the foreign lands I am a native of, he must use the same word. The truth is that Old Japan did not have any common word corresponding to the English term, “My country.” In ancient times, this could only mean, “My clan-territory.” But with the passing away of the clans the old word has taken on a new significance. The new word, “ai-koku-shin,” refers not to love of clan, but to love of the whole nation. The conception of national unity has at last seized upon the national mind and heart, and is giving the people an enthusiasm for the nation, regardless of the parts, which they never before knew. Japanese patriotism has only in this generation come to self-consciousness. This leads it to many a strange freak. It is vociferous and imperious, and often very impractical and Chauvinistic. It frequently takes the form of uncompromising disdain for the foreigner, and the most absolute loyalty to the Emperor of Japan; it demands the utmost respect of expression in regard to him and the form of government he has graciously granted the nation.”

Flexibility:

“We naturally begin with that characteristic of Japanese nature which would seem to be more truly congenital than any other to be mentioned later. I refer to their sensitiveness to environment. More quickly than most races do the Japanese seem to perceive and adapt themselves to changed conditions.

“The history of the past thirty years is a prolonged illustration of this characteristic. The desire to imitate foreign nations was not a real reason for the overthrow of feudalism, but there was, rather, a more or less conscious feeling, rapidly pervading the whole people, that the feudal system would be unable to maintain the national integrity. As intimated, the matter was not so much reasoned out as felt. But such a vast illustration is more difficult to appreciate than some individual instances, of which I have noted several.

“During a conversation with Drs. Forsythe and Dale, of Cambridge, England, I asked particularly as to their experience with the Japanese students who had been there to study. They both remarked on the fact that all Japanese students were easily influenced by those with whom they customarily associated; so much so that, within a short time, they acquired not only the cut of coats and trousers, but also the manner and accent, of those with whom they lived. It was amusing, they said, to see what transformations were wrought in those who went to the Continent for their long vacations. From France they returned with marked French manners and tones and clothes, while from Germany they brought the distinctive marks of German stiffness in manner and general bearing. It was noted as still more curious that the same student would illustrate both variations, provided he spent one summer in Germany and another in France.

“Japanese sensitiveness is manifested in many unexpected ways. An observant missionary lady once remarked that she had often wondered how such unruly, self-willed children as grow up under Japanese training, or its lack, finally become such respectable members of society. She concluded that instead of being punished out of their misbehaviors they were laughed out of them. The children are constantly told that if they do so and so they will be laughed at—a terrible thing. …

“The Japanese young man who is making a typewritten copy of these pages for me says that, when still young, he heard an address to children which he still remembers. The speaker asked what the most fearful thing in the world was. Many replies were given by the children—”snakes,” “wild beasts,” “fathers,” “gods,” “ghosts,” “demons,” “Satan,” “hell,” etc. These were admitted to be fearful, but the speaker told the children that one other thing was to be more feared than all else, namely, “to be laughed at.” This speech, with its vivid illustrations, made a lasting impression on the mind of the boy, and on reading what I had written he realized how powerful a motive fear of ridicule had been in his own life; also how large a part it plays in the moral education of the young in Japan. …

“Closely connected with this sensitiveness to environment are other qualities which make it effective. They are: great flexibility, adjustability, agility (both mental and physical), and the powers of keen attention to details and of exact imitation.

“As opposed to all this is the Chinese lack of flexibility. Contrast a Chinaman and a Japanese after each has been in America a year. The one to all appearances is an American; his hat, his clothing, his manner, seem so like those of an American that were it not for his small size, Mongolian type of face, and defective English, he could easily be mistaken for one. How different is it with the Chinaman! He retains his curious cue with a tenacity that is as intense as it is characteristic. His hat is the conventional one adopted by all Chinese immigrants. His clothing likewise, though far from Chinese, is nevertheless entirely un-American. …

“The Japanese desire to conform to the customs and appearances of those about him is due to what I have called sensitiveness; his success is due to the flexibility of his mental constitution.”

Gulick’s explanation for these differences:

“The difference between Japanese imitation and that of other nations lies in the fact that whereas the latter, as a rule, despise foreign races, and do not admit the superiority of alien civilizations as a whole, imitating only a detail here and there, often without acknowledgment and sometimes even without knowledge, the Japanese, on the other hand, have repeatedly been placed in such circumstances as to see the superiority of foreign civilizations as a whole, and to desire their general adoption. This has produced a spirit of imitation among all the individuals of the race. It has become a part of their social inheritance. … The Japanese go to the West in order to acquire all the West can give. The Chinaman goes steeled against its influences. … Under special circumstances, when a Chinaman has been liberated from the prepossession of his social inheritance, he has shown himself as capable of Occidentalization in clothing, speech, manner, and thought as a Japanese.”

EvX: Remember, Gulick is responding to the idea that there exists a singular “racial character” particular to Asians by contrasting Japanese and Chinese, and claiming that the social and environmental conditions in each country result in their differences.

“But a still more effective factor in the development of the characteristics under consideration is the nature of Japanese feudalism. Its emphasis on the complete subordination of the inferior to the superior was one of its conspicuous features. This was a factor always and everywhere at work in Japan. No individual was beyond its potent influence. Attention to details, absolute obedience, constant, conscious imitation, secretiveness, suspiciousness, were all highly developed by this social system. Each of these traits is a special form of sensitiveness to environment. From the most ancient times the initiative of superiors was essential to the wide adoption by the people of any new idea or custom. …

“Susceptibility to slight changes in the feelings of lords and masters and corresponding flexibility were important social traits, necessary products of the old social order. Those deficient in these regards would inevitably lose in the struggle for social precedence, if not in the actual struggle for existence. These characteristics would, accordingly, be highly developed.”

Cathedral Round-Up #29: Pinker, Truth, and Liars

Steven Pinker recently gave a short speech at Harvard (where he works) on how hearing certain facts without accompanying leftist counter-arguments causes people to become “infected” with right-wing thoughts:

The Left responded in its usual, thoughtful, reasonable fashion, eg “If you ever doubted that Steven Pinker’s sympathies lie with the alt-right…” The author of the piece also called Pinker a “lying right-wing shitweasel” on twitter.

Of course this is nonsense; as Why Evolution is True has pointed out, Pinker is one of Harvard’s most generous donors to the Democratic party.

The difference between Pinker and the Left is that Pinker is (trying) to be honest. Pinker believes in truth. He believes in believing true things and discussing true things. He believes that just because you believe a true thing doesn’t mean you have to go down this road to believing other, in his opinion untrue, things. You can believe more than one true thing. You can simultaneously believe “Blacks commit more homicide than whites” and believe “Blacks should not be discriminated against.”

By contrast, the Left is not trying to be honest. It is not looking for truth. It just wants to win. The Left does not want people to know that crime stats vary by race, that men and women vary in average interests and aptitudes, that communism is an atrociously bad economic system. Merely saying, “Hey, there are things you can’t say out loud without provoking a very loud controversy from the left,” has provoked… a very loud controversy from the left:

Link to the original conversation

 

The Left is abusing one of its own because merely saying these things out loud is seen as a betrayal of Leftist goals.

 

And yet he was in the right! They were wrong and he was right. And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed—if all records told the same tale—then the lie passed into history and became truth. ‘Who controls the past’ ran the Party slogan, ‘controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.’ —George Orwel, 1984

 

Cathedral Round-Up #27: Critical Criminology

2005 Riots, Paris, France

Today we’ll be looking at the chapter on “critical criminology” from Criminology: The Core (Instructor’s Third Edition) by Larry Siegel. According to Cengage:

“It’s no mystery why Larry Siegel remains THE best-selling author in Criminal Justice. … Grounded in Siegel’s signature style — cutting-edge theory plus meticulous research — this book covers all sides of an issue without taking a political or theoretical position and provides a broad view of the interdisciplinary nature of the field.”

The book covers 5 different schools of Criminology Theories: Neoclassical Choice theory (eg, Cesare Beccaria;) Biosocial/Psychological Trait theory, (Freud, Piaget, Edward O. Wilson;) Social Structure/Process theory, (Clifford R. Shaw and Edwin Sutherland;) Marxist Critical Theory, (Marx;) and Life Course/Latent Trait Development theory, (Sheldon Glueck and James Q. Wilson.)

I don’t have time to read the whole book (not if you want this post to go up this month,) so we are going to focus on Chaper 8: Critical Criminology.

Major Premise (from the book’s inside cover): “Inequality between social classes (groups) and the social conditions that empower the wealthy and disenfranchise the less fortunate are the root causes of crime. It is the ongoing struggle for power, control, and material well-being that creates crime.” Critical Criminology was founded in 1968 and is unapologeticly Marxist.

Each chapter begins with an example crime. The choice for Critical Criminology is fascinating: the November 2005 Muslim riots in southern and western France and the suburbs of Paris.

What sparked the rioting? The immediate cause was the accidental deaths of two Muslim teenagers who were electrocuted as they hid in a power substation to escape a police identity check. Hearing of the deaths, gangs of youths armed with brick and stick roamed the streets of housing estates torching cars and destroying property. …

A majority of France’s Muslim population, estimated at 5 million, live in these poverty-stricken areas. Many residents are angry at the living conditions and believe they are the target of racial discrimination, police brutality, and governmental indifference.”

Is this the best the Critical Criminologists have? (Incidentally, according to Wikipedia,the police were responding to a report of a break-in, the rioting lasted for 3 weeks and some 8,973 cars were burned. 3 people died.) This sounds more like an argument against Muslim immigration than an argument that racism causes crime, because if the French were really so racist, Muslims wouldn’t move there.

But let’s let the Critical Theorists explain themselves:

According to Critical Theorists, crime is a political concept designed to protect the power and position of the upper classes at the expense of the poor. Some of these theorists… would include in a list of “real” crime such acts as violations of human rights due to racism, sexism, and imperialism and other violations of human dignity and physical needs and necessities. Part of the critical agenda, argues Criminologist Robert Bohm, is to make the public aware that these behaviors “are crimes just as much as burglary and robbery.”…

Graph from the Wikipedia
See also my post, “No, Hunter Gatherers were not Peaceful Paragons of Gender Egalitarianism.”

“Capitalism,” claims Bohm, “as a mode of production, has always produced a relatively high level of crime and violence.”

Note: Bohm is either a moron or a liar. Pre-industrial economies had far more violent crime than modern, capitalist economies.

Crime rates are much lower in countries with advanced, capitalist economies than in countries with less-developed economies.

Countries with poorly defined or enforced property rights or where property is held in common are not bastions of civility.

In fact, the rise of capitalism in Europe over the past seven houndred years was accompanied by a dramatic decrease in crime.

My biggest complaint about this chapter is the total lack of data cited to support any of the claims. This is not necessarily the author’s fault, as the Critical Criminology field is overtly hostile to actual research:

Critical criminologists rarely use standard social science methodologies to test their views because many believe the traditional approach of measuring research subjects is antihuman and insensitive. Critical thinkers believe that research conducted by mainstream liberal and positivist criminologists is often designed to unmask weak, powerless members of society so they can be better dealt with by the legal system. They are particularly offended by purely empirical studies, such as those designed to show that minority group members have lower IQs than whites or that the inner city is the site of the most serious crime whereas middle-class areas are relatively c rime free. Critical scholars are more likely to examine historical trends and patterns…

Back to definitions:

Critical Criminologists reject the notion that law is designed to maintain a tranquil, fair society and that criminals are malevolent people who wish to trample the rights of others. Critical theorists consider acts of racism, sexism, imperialism, unsafe working conditions, inadequate child care, substandard housing, pollution of the environment, and war making as a tool of foreign policy to be ‘true crimes.’ The crimes of the helpless–burglary, robbery, and assault–are more expressions of rage over unjust economic conditions than actual crimes. … Marxist thought serves as the basis for critical theory.

I have now read In Search of Respect: Selling Crack in El Barrio, Gang Leader for a Day, Leeson’s work on pirates, The Pirates’ Own Book, God of the Rodeo, Outlaws on Horseback, No Angel: My Harrowing Undercover Journey to the Inner Circle of the Hells Angels, Donnie Brasco’s The Way of the Wiseguy, and Original Gangster: The Real Life Story of one of America’s Most Notorius Drug Lords, by Frank Lucas. I also have a close personal friend who was homeless for a couple of decades.

I’m not an expert, but I feel like I know something on the subject.

Very few people in modern, capitalist countries are committing crime out of desperation. My friend survived for years by going to soup kitchens and never stole a wallet or held up a convenience store. We have welfare and subsidized housing. There are exceptions, but most violent criminals are not Jean Valjean; it’s not economic desperation that drives people to put meat cleavers into their boss’s skulls or rape children.

But back to the book. On the origins of Critical Criminology:

Mainstream, positivist criminology was criticized a being overtly conservative, pro-government, and antihuman. What emerged was a social conflict theory whose proponents scoffed when their fellow scholars used statistical analyses of computerized data to describe criminal and delinquent behavior. Several influential scholars embraced the idea that the social conflict produced by the unequal distribution of power and wealth was at the root cause of crime. …

Richard Quinney also proclaimed that in contemporary society criminal law represents the interests of those who hold power in society. Where there is conflict between social groups–the wealthy and the poor–those who hold power will create law that benefit themselves and hold rivals in check. … Crime is a function of power relation and an inevitable result of social conflict.

This is not entirely wrong (if it were entirely wrong, far fewer people would believe it.) The wealthy do in fact have a disproportionate say on which laws are passed and how they are enforced. They can afford better lawyers and can often buy their way out of situations the poor are just stuck with.

But again, this is not what drives a man to put a meat cleaver in another man’s skull, nor is it why society nigh-universally condemns unprovoked skull-cleaving. It is not only in the interests of the rich to prevent violent crime–they, after all, use their money to insulate themselves from the worst of it by buying into low-crime, gated communities with private security forces. If anything, the poor, as the disproportionate victims of crime, have the most to gain from strict law enforcement against violent criminals.

My formerly homeless friend was once beaten into a coma and nearly died on his way home to the park bench where he spent his nights.

If crime were all about fighting back against oppression, criminals would only target the rich.

There is one branch of Critical Criminology, Left Realism, which acknowledges that crime is actually really unpleasant for its victims. Since it is relatively sane, we need not worry about it.

With thanks to the Heritage Foundation

Back to the book:

Critical criminologist are also deeply concerned about the current state of the American political system …

While spending is being cut on social programs, it is being raised on military expansion. The rapid buildup of the prison system and passage of draconian criminal laws that threaten civil rights and liberties–the death penalty, three strikes laws, and the Patriot Act–are other elements of the conservative agenda. Critical Criminologists believe that they are responsible for informing the public about he dangers of these developments.

Hold on. I’m going to need a couple more graphs:

Source: Heritage Foundation

The “Three Strikes Laws” were passed in 1994 in reaction to the crack-driven crime epidemic throughout the hearts of America’s cities and appear to have done a pretty good job of preventing black people from being murdered.

Back to the text:

Critical criminologists have turned their attention to the threat competitive capitalism presents to the working class. The believe that in addition to perpetuating male supremacy and racialism, modern global capitalism helps destroy the lives of workers in less-developed countries. For example, capitalists hailed China’s entry into the World Trade Organization in 2001 as a significant economic event. However, critical thinkers point out that the economic boom has significant costs: The average manufacturing wage in China is 20 to 25 cents per hour; in a single yea (2001) more than 47,000 workers were killed at work, and 35.2 million Chinese workers were permanently or temporarily disabled.

According to the AFL-CIO, 4,836 workers were killed on the job in the US in 2015. Since there are 320 million Americans, this works out to about a 0.0015% chance of dying on the job.

Since China had about 1.272 billion people in 2001, that works out to about a 0.0037% chance of dying on the Chinese job.

Obviously it’d be great if no one died on the job, but these are not horrific odds. By contrast, China’s Great Leap Forward, when it implemented a communist system, was a horrific disaster that killed between 18 and 55 MILLION people.

(Also, 35,398 Americans died in car/motorcycle accidents in 2014, so you are much more likely to die driving your car to the grocery tore than employed in China.)

Meanwhile:

According to the World Bank, more than 500 million people were lifted out of extreme poverty as China’s poverty rate fell from 88 percent in 1981 to 6.5 percent in 2012, as measured by the percentage of people living on the equivalent of US$1.90 or less per day in 2011 purchasing price parity terms.[4]

From Human Progress

Now, I admit that capitalism does not always produce good results. Sometimes priceless natural resources get destroyed. Sometimes people’s jobs get outsourced. Often employers decide they’re okay with a level of job-induced harm to their employees’ health that their employees would not be okay with. But on the whole, capitalism produces good results far more often than communism.

But back to the book:

In our advanced technological society, those with economic and political power control the definition of crime and the manner in which the criminal justice system enforces the law. Consequently, the only crimes available to the poor are the severely sanctioned “street crimes”: rape, murder, theft, and mugging.

EvX: Available? How are crimes “available” to anyone? Are crimes like Pokemon, where you have to go to the Pokemon center to get your first starter crime, but if you sleep in the rich take all of the good crimes like insider training and you get stuck with some random Pikachu from the back, and it turns out to be a home invasion?

And if the rich are running the whole show, why don’t they make it so none of the laws apply to them? Why don’t they rape and murder poor people at the same rate as the poor rape and murder each other?

Back to the book:

Because private ownership of property is the true measure of success in American society [Source needed] (as opposed to being, say, a worthy person), the state becomes an ally of the wealthy in protecting their property interests. [How?] As a result, theft-related crimes are often punished more severely than are acts of violence, [Source needed] because although the former may be interclass, the latter are typically intraclass.” [Source needed]…

Empirical research confirms that economic downturns are indeed linked to both crime rate increases and government activities such as passing anticrime legislation.

I’ve heard this one before. Scroll back up to that graph of homicide rates over time and note the massive decrease in crime during the Great Depression. By the time the Depression crime drop petered out, crime was at one of its lowest points in the entire 20th century. Even in 2013 (the year the graph ends) crime was higher than it was after the Depression.

To be fair this drop is better explained by the end of Prohibition than by the Depression. But the Depression saw a massive decrease in crime: this theory is bogus.

Let’s finish up with Critical Feminist Criminology:

Critical feminism views gender inequality as stemming from the unequal power of men and women in a capitalist society, which leads to the exploitation of women by fathers and husbands. …

Patriarchy, or male supremacy, has been and continue to be supported by capitalists. This system sustains female oppression at home and in the workplace. …

Critical feminists link criminal behavior pattern to the gender conflict created by the economic and social struggles common in postindustrial societies. … Capitalists control the labor of workers, and men control women both economically and biologically. This ‘double marginality’ explains why females in a capitalist society commit fewer crimes than males.

So, when Capitalism oppresses men, it makes them commit “crime,” but when it oppresses women, it makes them not commit crime. Because capitalism wants to exploit workers by locking them in prisons where they can’t really do much work, but it wants to exploit women by making them do the dishes, because a capitalist system could never see the value of getting people to work for pay. Got it?

The text continues:

Because they are isolated in the family, they have fewer opportunities to engage in elite deviance… Women are also denied access to male-dominated street crimes.

So women are like… Some kid who was locked in his room and so couldn’t even get a cruddy crime-emon?

Seriously, though, do these guys not know that women are allowed to leave the house? Most of them have cars and do things like “drive to work” and “drive to the supermarket.” Yes, it’s true that existing, male-dominated street gangs and the Mafia generally don’t take women, but if women wanted to go out and punch people and steal their wallets, they would. If they wanted to make their own gangs, they would. If someone is actually a violent criminal, their husband saying, “Don’t go outside, make me a sandwich instead,” would not stop them from doing violence. If there’s one trait criminals tend to have in common, it’s that they don’t refrain from crime just because society disapproves of it.

Over in reality, women don’t commit much crime simply because… they aren’t that interested in committing crime.

 

Critical Criminology is a deep subject and I have only skimmed its surface. I haven’t discussed Mumia Abu-Jamal (the chapter’s other Profile in Crime;) restorative justice; the failure of restorative justice in South Africa to prevent horrific, race-motivated farm murders; instrumental vs. structural theorists; etc.

In closing, I’d just like to repeat, in the book’s defense, that the author is laying out the field for us, not advocating on its behalf. The book also has sections critiquing Critical Criminology theory and chapters devoted to sociobiology and developmental theories.

And in potentially related news, between 85 and 93% of French Muslims voted for Hollande, the Socialist candidate, in 2012.

Cathedral Round-Up (ish) #21: Syria

Syrian Alawite Falconer, circa WWII

I got bored of reading my usual list of Cathedral publications (although Stanford Mag did have an interesting article recently about a woman discovering her father’s book he wrote while in a Japanese POW camp during WWII [he was eventually beaten to death by the Japanese]), and decided to see what various universities had to say about Trump’s decision to attack Syria.

From Harvard, we have:

The Gangs of Syria (Harvard Political Review, 2012); Opinion: Bashar al-Assad is Syria’s problem, not its solution (Harvard Kennedy School Belfer Center, 2015); Germany and Saudi Arabia: Alliance in Counter-Terrorism (Report by Dr. Majid Rafizadeh, Harvard Scholar, 2016); and A War Apart: Syrians at Harvard (The Harvard Crimson, 2017):

On the first day of shopping week this fall, Nisreen S. Shiban ’17 received a phone call from Syria. She immediately knew that something must be wrong.

It was one of her uncles. His voice panicked, he asked Shiban to get in touch with her father and make sure her mother was not within earshot. He had devastating news to deliver: Shiban’s maternal uncle Makarem, a former veterinarian who had practically raised her, had been killed by ISIS fighters in Aleppo. …

A College senior’s aunt and uncle were beheaded by rebel groups in Daraa.

An Arabic language preceptor often woke up in the middle of the night worrying about her brother and sister in Damascus.

A College freshman lost 13 relatives in the bloodshed. …

A junior volunteered at the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan in an effort to do something to ease the pain of her fellow Syrians.

A surgeon in Harvard’s Scholar at Risk program helped set up makeshift infirmaries to provide care to a bleeding city.

I didn’t find anything that was both recent and analytical (ie, not a human interest story,) but the bombing did happen only a few days ago and stories take time to publish, so we may have to wait for more reactions.

I also read some relevant articles about the Alawites and Cochran’s still-relevant article, How to Cut the Syrian Knot (2013):

President Obama is asking for Congressional approval of an attack against the government of Syria, in response to that government’s apparent use of nerve gas in eastern Damascus. …

The problem is that this strike doesn’t seem likely to help the United States. At least, that’s a problem for me, and it might even be a problem for some of the players in Washington.

First, we could be wrong. It does seem that a nerve agent killed over a thousand people in eastern Damascus—but who did it? The Syrian government certainly has chemical weapons, but it is possible to imagine ways in which some group among the rebels could have obtained some. Sarin isn’t even that difficult to manufacture. A Japanese nut cult, Aum Shinrikyo, managed it by themselves it back in 1995, killing 13 people in the Tokyo subway. The main objection to the official scenario, where Assad’s people used the nerve gas, is that doing so would have been irrational. …

So the Alawites are kind of interesting. Maybe not as fascinating as the Yazidis (*waves to Yazidi followers,) but still worth learning about and potentially extremely relevant to the situation. You probably already knew this, but Assad and his regime are Alawites, an ethno-religious group that forms about 11% of the overall Syrian population.

According to Wikipedia:

Alawites have historically kept their beliefs secret from outsiders and non-initiated Alawites, so rumours about them have arisen. Arabic accounts of their beliefs tend to be partisan (either positively or negatively).[14] However, since the early 2000s, Western scholarship on the Alawite religion has made significant advances.[15] At the core of Alawite belief is a divine triad, comprising three aspects of the one God. These aspects or emanations appear cyclically in human form throughout history. The last emanations of the divine triad, according to Alawite belief, were as Ali, Muhammad and Salman the Persian. Alawites were historically persecuted for these beliefs by the Sunni Muslim rulers of the area.

So it looks like traditional Alawite religion might have been kind of a mix of Christianity and Islam. This makes sense, given that Christianity was prominent in the area for about 600 years before Islam showed up, and when you leave behind the modern political/ethnic animosities people hold toward each other, both Islam and Christianity are built on pretty much the same base (Muslims even regard Jesus as a prophet.) There are weirder things than regarding Mohammad as just yet another prophet in the long line of Jewish prophets–like Mormonism, which is polytheistic but still gets grudgingly classed as a branch of Christianity. Continuing:

Alawis are self-described Shia Muslims, and have been called Shia by other sources[68][69] including the highly influential Lebanese Shia cleric Musa al-Sadr of Lebanon,[68][70] and Iranian religious and political leader Ruhollah Khomeini.[71][72][73]

Alawite doctrine incorporates Gnostic, neo-Platonic, Islamic, Christian and other elements and has, therefore, been described as syncretic.[15][76]…

Their theology is based on a divine triad,[63][77][78] or trinity, which is the core of Alawite belief.[79] The triad comprises three emanations of the one God: the supreme aspect or entity called the “Essence”[79] or the “Meaning”[78] (both being translations of maʿnā), together with two lesser emanations known as his “Name” (ism), or “Veil” (ḥijāb), and his “Gate” (bāb).[77][78][79][80] These emanations have manifested themselves in different human forms over several cycles in history, the last cycle of which was as Ali (the Essence/Meaning), Muhammad (the Name) and Salman the Persian (the Gate).[77][79][80][81][82]

Other beliefs and practices include: the consecration of wine in a secret form of Mass only open to males; frequently being given Christian names; burying the dead in sarcophagi above ground; observing Nowruz, Epiphany, Christmas[84] and the feast days of John Chrysostom and Mary Magdalene;[85] the only religious structures they have are the shrines of tombs;[86] the alleged book Kitab al Majmu, which is supposedly a central source of Alawite doctrine; and the belief that women do not have souls.[87][88][89][90]

Alawites have historically been kind of isolated, often oppressed and poor, but somehow managed to get control of the country after independence.

Considering that the majority of Syrians are Muslims, as are the majority of people in neighboring countries, the Alawites have good reason to want to be perceived as Muslims. I get the impression that a hundred years ago, the Alawites may have thought of themselves as pretty different from their Islamic neighbors, but today they see themselves as more similar–the push to get others to accept them as good Muslims, plus increased interaction with their neighbors due to urbanization, cars, TV, etc., may have changed their own view of themselves. (This process happened a while ago with different Christian groups–a Methodist would hardly balk at marrying a Lutheran–and is hard at work in Reform Jews, who have pretty high out-marriage rates.)

But as Cochran notes, just because they want to be accepted as good Muslims, doesn’t necessarily mean that they are:

Traditionally, Alawites were considered non-Muslim and treated like dirt—worse than Christians or Jews. You can see how the Sunni majority might resent being ruled by them—indeed, it’s hard to imagine how that ever came to pass. …

So, while the Baath party took over in 1963, the Alawites took over in 1966—and they haven’t let go yet.

The thing is, when you ride the tiger, you can’t let go. Although they have made efforts to build support outside their sect, through nationalist and redistributionist policies, the Alawite government has always faced violent opposition. They’ve put down full-scale revolts, most notably in Hama, 1982, where they leveled the city with artillery, killing tens of thousands. All that official violence means that they can’t afford to lose. Once the Alawites were despised, but now they’re hated. At this point, Peter W. Galbraith, former ambassador to Croatia, says “The next genocide in the world will likely be against the Alawites in Syria.”

From A War Apart: Syrians at Harvard:

As the conflict worsened and alliances formed, the war took on sectarian dimensions. President Assad’s family is Alawite, a minority Muslim sect that comprises roughly 10 percent of the Syrian population but has ruled over the majority Sunni country since the 1960s. Prior to the Arab Spring, Syrians across ethnic backgrounds had coexisted in a fragile peace, despite undercurrents of tension.

Shiban—who was born in Syria, moved to Qatar, then settled in the United States when she was 12 years old—comes from an Alawite family. Her family had close Sunni friends in Aleppo before the war. Shiban remembers playing with their children as music floated over the balcony where the adults sat sipping a traditional Middle Eastern drink and smoking hookah.

But when predominantly Sunni rebel groups began fighting for Assad’s overthrow in 2011, they were challenging not only the regime but also long-secure Alawite control. Some used religious affiliation as a rallying cry to mobilize the population against what they considered an oppressive minority. Faced with the very real threat of a take-over by a hostile majority, the Assad regime invoked Alawites’ identity to intimidate them into allegiance.

Swayed by this rhetoric, Shiban’s cousin and uncle left for the front lines. Neither would return.

Meanwhile, Shiban and her family noticed their Sunni friends sharing Facebook posts written by a Sunni religious leader promoting violence against Alawites. “We were very heartbroken. We were confused,” Shiban says. “When you hear about all of the infringements on human rights, constant censorship by the government… you can understand why a war like this would happen, but nobody could see people literally going against loved ones, friends, family.”

I am reminded here of similar accounts during the breakup of Yugoslavia–prior to the war, people spoke warmly of Yugoslavia as a multi-ethnic state in which people of different backgrounds lived in peace and harmony. Following the Fall of Communism and the Rise of Democracy, Yugoslavia degenerated into civil war and “ethnic cleansing,” a mild euphemism for genocide. Friends and neighbors turned on each other.

As frequent commentator SFC Ton notes, when countries collapse, they tend to do it on ethnic lines–and Syria is no exception.

In The Ever-Evolving Battle for Syria, (Yale Books Unbound, 2016,) Phillips writes:

David Cunningham, an expert on civil wars, has argued that the more external actors are involved, the longer civil wars last. With few hurting significantly as a result of their involvement, these actors rarely withdraw until their independent agendas are met; and the more agendas in play, the more difficult for any resolution to satisfy all players. If these agendas shift over time, resolution becomes even more difficult. Instead, the players act as “resolution blockers” prolonging the war. In Syria, feeding into the mixed agendas of the various domestic players, the six key external players have contributed six further agendas, none of which have remained static over the course of the conflict.

Though I admit that I admit very little about the situation, I am not in favor of US intervention against Assad. It’s not that I like Assad (I don’t know enough to have an opinion of the man;) I just think ISIS sounds much more frightening and have no confidence in America’s ability to make matters better. Remember that time we invaded Vietnam, and lots of people died and Vietnam still became a communist country? Or that time we supported the mujaheedin in Afghanistan and they turned into Al Qaeda and flew some planes into the NYC skyline? Or that time we invaded Iraq, deposed a dictator, installed democracy, and then got ISIS? Or that time we helped France and Britain instal a democracy in Germany, and the German people went and elected Hitler?

Our track record isn’t all bad–Japan is handling democracy just fine, though the Japanese idea of democracy seems to be re-electing the same party every time–it’s just mostly bad.

I started reading about Syria mostly because I found the media reaction to the bombing confusing: why were they so uniformly happy? Weren’t these the same people who were just telling us that Trump is a trigger-happy madman intent on hurting Muslims? Shouldn’t at least some of them be pointing out that Trump is now actually killing Muslims by bombing their country? Shouldn’t someone express concern that we don’t have good information about what’s actually happening in Syria, and so don’t know for sure that gas attack actually happened and was actually committed by Assad’s regime? I mean, “find out what actually happened before you act” is a moral taught in cartoons aimed at toddlers.

My confusion was compounded by the fact that most of the people I know expressed reservations about the bombing; many believe we should be supporting Assad against ISIS and that Assad is basically the “good guy” (or at least the “less bad guy”) in this whole mess.

And I don’t feel like I’m coming from a particularly partisan perspective, here. I don’t think your opinions about Obamacare or abortion or racism are really going to affect whether you think Assad used chemical weapons on his own people and now we should rain bombs on his people (because it is really bad when you die of chemical weapons but totally rainbows and kittens when you are blown to smithereens by a bomb.)

But then I remembered that democracy is America’s religion. Just as Muslims think non-Muslims should all convert to Islam, so Americans tend to think that non-democracies should all become democracies. Unfortunately, multi-culturalism seems to be one of democracies failure modes, as different ethnic groups start trying to vote themselves a larger share of the national pie.

Belgian refugee fleeing violence in the Congo following the end of colonial rule

Assad is a dictator, and in our simple heuristics, “dictator=bad.” The rebels are (or at least originally were) fighting for democracy, and “democracy=good.” Therefore people think Assad is a bad person (after all, if he were a good person, why would anyone rebel against him?) and needs to go. They’re not really thinking two steps down the line to, “If we take out Assad, the resulting power vacuum could allow someone even worse to come to power, like ISIS.”

There are many rebellions in the world. Go read the history of pretty much any African country and you’ll find a bunch. Few of these rebellions actually result in a real improvement in the lives of ordinary people, as the rebels often aren’t idealistic, moral young men who just want to make their country a wonderful place, but rival power factions that want to take the country’s wealth for themselves.

Even the Iranian Revolution began with many groups that wanted to oust the Shah so Iran could be a democracy–and the theocratic state they got in the end looks positively peachy next to ISIS.

A dictator might be bad, but it’s hard to be worse than civil war or ISIS.

Cathedral Round-Up #20: The Ideological Cult of the SJW

Let’s talk about cults.

I. In Educating Teachers: Harvard gets serious about training its graduates to teach in the classroom, Sophia Nguyen writes:

This is something that’s interesting about HTF,” Quan Le ’15 said. “We literally cry every day.” …

Note: Quan Le is male.

Sometimes the crying became infectious. On one morning in early June, the fellows sat in a basement classroom for their daily “teaching lab,” where they studied and rehearsed classroom management strategies that they could try out on the high-schoolers later that day. They broke up into two discussion groups, and, while debating last night’s reading on cultural sensitivity, one-half of the room broke down. Voices rose: I just want to push back a little on what you said. I think this is very problematic. I’d like to ask you to unpack this point. I don’t think that’s the culture of low-income people—I think that’s a deficit-based model. The fellows, freshly graduated from the College, were fluent in left-leaning liberal-arts classroom etiquette. Yet the conversation grew tenser, then tearful, even as everyone insisted they had no real conflict. Someone burst out, frustrated, “I agree with you!”

“It’s not like class,” one of them said, finally, face in hands. “It really matters to me. I feel really attacked. I care so much about this stuff, and when the whole group disagrees with me, I can’t take it.”

Noah Heller, HTF’s master teacher-in-residence for math, interceded gently. “We need to work on tuning together. I don’t hear people disagreeing with you, I really don’t. We’re having a robust discussion.”

“It’s so exhausting. I’m so sorry, I cry all the time.” The fellow took a breath. “I’m getting really defensive. I think we all really need to remember that we’re all here to help kids.” At some point, everyone in the circle of chairs had begun holding hands. “There’s not always agreeing or disagreeing,” someone offered helpfully. “Sometimes it’s just—this stuff is really hard, and we’re just trying to figure out what we feel.”

The students in this article are not recruits going through Basic Training in the military. They are not doctors enduring 48 hour hospital shifts. They are Harvard grads learning to be teachers. I have a great deal of respect for teachers and know they work hard, but there is absolutely no reason they should be weeping every day.

Seriously, if anything in this excerpt sounds like your real life, please get help immediately. THIS IS NOT EMOTIONALLY HEALTHY OR NORMAL.

 

II. One of the things I appreciate about memetics is that it allows us to think about the spread and propagation of ideas independent of the intentions of the people who hold them. Or as Wikipedia puts it:

Memetics is the theory of mental content based on an analogy with Darwinian evolution, originating from the popularization of Richard Dawkins‘ 1976 book The Selfish Gene.[1] Proponents describe memetics as an approach to evolutionary models of cultural information transfer.

The meme, analogous to a gene, was conceived as a “unit of culture” (an idea, belief, pattern of behaviour, etc.) which is “hosted” in the minds of one or more individuals, and which can reproduce itself, thereby jumping from mind to mind. Thus what would otherwise be regarded as one individual influencing another to adopt a belief is seen as an idea-replicator reproducing itself in a new host. As with genetics, particularly under a Dawkinsian interpretation, a meme’s success may be due to its contribution to the effectiveness of its host.

Memetics is also notable for sidestepping the traditional concern with the truth of ideas and beliefs. Instead, it is interested in their success.[2]

In other words, “memes” (ideas) act like viruses or, as I wrote previously, “mitochondria.” (Note: unlike real viruses, most ideas you believe are probably beneficial.)

We like to think of ourselves as logical, rational beings who believe things because we’ve concluded that they make sense, but taking the example of religion, the idea that millions of people in North Africa, the Middle East, Indonesia, etc., have all independently and logically decided that there is no God but Allah and Mohammad is his prophet, every generation, for over a thousand years–and people in Europe have decided similarly that God is a Trinity, became man, and was sacrificed for your sins; people in India have believed that your soul can be reincarnated; and people in Central America once decided that the most logical thing was to rip people’s still-beating hearts out of their chests in order to keep the sun in the sky (I mean, sure, maybe the world won’t end even if we don’t sacrifice 400 virgins, but do you really want to take the chance?)–defies logic.

If we can look at religions as memeplexes–networks of interrelated ideas–that exist over time independent of the particular people who believe in them, we can similarly interrogate political ideologies. Like your religious beliefs (or non-belief,) your professed political ideology likely has a good deal to do with factors entirely outside of “logical thought,” like genetics, social class, or the region of the country you live in (otherwise it is strangely coincidental that the Deep South has been “conservative” relative to the rest of the country for hundreds of years.)

As we discussed in the previous Cathedral Round Up, You are the Hope of the World, what we see as “modern” Progressivism existed back in 1917. 1917 is not some special year–Progressivism actually began long before then, but we’re not tracing the idea’s history; you can get your fix of that from Moldbug.

Moldbug (and many others,) also suggests that Progressivism is really a religion, just stripped of the explicit references to God. Whether or not this is literally true, from a memetics perspective, both religions and political ideologies function similarly. As Jonas Kaplan states:

Perhaps this is due to some underlying aspect of human cognition or social structure, or perhaps successful memes all share certain features that enhance their spread and temporal persistence. Either way, we can productively use the same vocabulary and concepts to discuss both.

 

III. Most people recognize that cults exist and that cults are bad, but few people who are actually in cults believe that they are in a cult. As Boze Herrington notes in The Atlantic, The Seven Signs You’re in a Cult:

For three weeks, Hannah and I had been trying to contact leaders at [International House of Prayer; no relation to the restaurant] about a prayer group that we, Bethany, and many of our friends had been part of—a small, independent community that drew on IHOP’s teachings. In February, I had been formally excommunicated, and Hannah had left in June. Looking in from the outside, both of us saw the group differently than we had when we were part of it: We saw it as a cult.

Several years ago, the founder of IHOP, Mike Bickle, created a list of seven ways to recognize the difference between a religious community and a cult. Written down, the signs seem clear:

1. Opposing critical thinking
2. Isolating members and penalizing them for leaving
3. Emphasizing special doctrines outside scripture
4. Seeking inappropriate loyalty to their leaders
5. Dishonoring the family unit
6. Crossing Biblical boundaries of behavior (versus sexual purity and personal ownership)
7. Separation from the Church

But when it’s your friends, your faith, your community, it’s not so obvious. For several years, roughly two dozen people, all younger than thirty, had been living together in Kansas City, Missouri, and following the leadership of Tyler Deaton, one of our classmates from Southwestern University in Texas. In the summer of 2012, Tyler had married Bethany; by the fall, she was dead. What started as a dorm-room prayer group had devolved into something much darker.

You can find many different definitions of “cult” out there; obviously “Crossing Biblical boundaries,” does not apply so much to political ideologies.

Reminder: some people actually think this way

Personally, I’d say that among the critical defining characteristics of cults:

  1. Cults teach people that their self-worth (the salvation of their souls, their essential goodness, etc.,) is dependent on adherence to the cult’s teachings
  2. They use of social ostracism to punish even slight deviation from a very rigid set of beliefs.
  3. They isolate their members from everyone outside the cult.

People who have been convinced to cut off contact with friends and family end up far more vulnerable to ostracism by the cult because they now have nowhere left to go nor anyone to help them if they leave.

If you were a real SJW, you’d pay $35 for this sweatshirt

Note, though, that there is no particular thing cultists need to believe, besides in the absoluteness of the cult. Memetically speaking, cults typically do not generate their own ideologies, but rather are metastisized versions of regular ones. Cults work, in part, because the people in them already believe in the importance of the basic ideas the cults are based on–there wouldn’t be much point in joining a cult you didn’t believe in.

Christian cults therefore draw in people who already believe in Christianity; New-Agey cults draw in people who believe in New-Agey sorts of things; Islamic cults draw in people who believe in Islam. This pre-existing belief primes people to believe the cult’s message, and also makes it hard to distinguish between the cult and regular, non-cultish believers of the same memeplex. The cult essentially hides behind the legitimacy of regular believers while simultaneously attacking them for being insufficiently rigorous in their beliefs.

Let’s take Marie Shear’s oft-repeated adage, “Feminism is the radical notion that women are people.

Pretty much everyone agrees that women are people. I wager that even under the most female-oppressive regimes on Earth, the vast majority of people agree that women are “people,” not unicorns, glorified fungi, or inanimate objects. Talk to someone from Saudi Arabia, and they’ll tell you that their country is great for women, because they protect women from rape and sexual objectification.

(I have actually read an academic article arguing that female genital mutilation can be seen as pro-women in certain contexts.)

The quote’s appeal is two-fold: first, it implies that “feminism” is a mainstream belief because everyone who believes that women are people are feminists, and second, it implies that anyone who doesn’t identify as a feminist doesn’t believe that women are people. All sensible, right-thinking people, therefore, are clearly feminists–and feminists are sensible, right-thinking people.

In reality, though, we know that this is not a useful definition of feminism.

Scott Alexander of Slate Star Codex has helped popularize Nicholas Shackel’s phrase “Motte and Bailey doctrine” to refer to the practice of using an easily defended but not very useful (to the feminist) rhetorical position, eg, “Women are people” to protect a large swathe of much harder to defend but more useful positions, like “abortion should always be legal,” or “college campuses aren’t doing enough to prosecute rape.”

A motte-and-bailey is a kind of Medieval fortress in which an earthenwork tower (the motte) is used to defend a large field with a wall around it. The field is difficult to defend, but a good place for farming; the hill is easy to defend, but bad for farming.

Cults use this same technique to portray their beliefs as reasonable–things all good members of members of Group X believe, and aren’t you a good member of Group X?–while hiding their unreasonable beliefs and the harm they do to their members.

 

IV. You have probably already figured out that I think modern Social Justice Warrior ideology is effectively a cult.

Now, there are some folks around these parts who see any liberalism as dangerous or inevitably leading in a bad direction. I tend to see both “liberalism” and “conservatism” personality types, heavily influenced by genetics, independent of the particular politics of the day. A functional society benefits from the strengths of both types, so long as everyone is behaving themselves and not behaving like cult members out to crush any and all deviation from their particular version of the One True Truth.

In his post titled “Untitled,” Scott Alexander discusses feminists’ reaction to a comment by quantum computing genius Scott Aaronson. We’ll start with an excerpt from Aaronson’s original comment:

I check Feministing, and even radfem blogs like “I Blame the Patriarchy.” And yes, I’ve read many studies and task force reports about gender bias, and about the “privilege” and “entitlement” of the nerdy males that’s keeping women away from science. …

I spent my formative years—basically, from the age of 12 until my mid-20s—feeling not “entitled,” not “privileged,” but terrified. I was terrified that one of my female classmates would somehow find out that I sexually desired her, and that the instant she did, I would be scorned, laughed at, called a creep and a weirdo, maybe even expelled from school or sent to prison. You can call that my personal psychological problem if you want, but it was strongly reinforced by everything I picked up from my environment: to take one example, the sexual-assault prevention workshops we had to attend regularly as undergrads, with their endless lists of all the forms of human interaction that “might be” sexual harassment or assault, and their refusal, ever, to specify anything that definitely wouldn’t be sexual harassment or assault. I left each of those workshops with enough fresh paranoia and self-hatred to last me through another year. …

I scoured the feminist literature for any statement to the effect that my fears were as silly as I hoped they were. … I found reams of text about how even the most ordinary male/female interactions are filled with “microaggressions,” and how even the most “enlightened” males—especially the most “enlightened” males, in fact—are filled with hidden entitlement and privilege and a propensity to sexual violence that could burst forth at any moment.

Because of my fears—my fears of being “outed” as a nerdy heterosexual male, and therefore as a potential creep or sex criminal—I had constant suicidal thoughts. …

At one point, I actually begged a psychiatrist to prescribe drugs that would chemically castrate me (I had researched which ones), because a life of mathematical asceticism was the only future that I could imagine for myself. The psychiatrist refused…

To repeat my comment from the beginning of this post, if anything in this excerpt sounds like your real life, please get help immediately. THIS IS NOT EMOTIONALLY HEALTHY OR NORMAL.

People who are not familiar with modern feminism (this includes many of my liberal friends, who are too busy with jobs, kids, friends, etc., to keep up with the Outrage du Jour,) might feel tempted to write off Aaronson’s experience as just one weird guy’s absurd, abnormal reaction–surely normal people don’t become suicidal or try to castrate themselves after reading about microaggressions. After all, feminism is just the idea that women are people, right? Surely feminists, being reasonable people, reacted to Aaronson with the explanations he’d been looking for (or at least links to them) and some compassion for his suicidal state.

Alexander quotes famous feminist Amanda Marcotte’s response:

[Aaronson’s post] is the whole “how can men be oppressed when I don’t get to have sex with all the hot women that I want without having to work for it?” whine, one that, amongst other things, starts on the assumption that women do not suffer things like social anxiety or rejection…It was just a yalp of entitlement combined with an aggressive unwillingness to accept that women are human beings just like men. [He is saying that] “having to explain my suffering to women when they should already be there, mopping my brow and offering me beers and blow jobs, is so tiresome…I was too busy JAQ-ing off, throwing tantrums, and making sure the chip on my shoulder was felt by everyone in the room to be bothered to do something like listen.” Women are failing him by not showing up naked in his bed, unbidden. Because bitches, yo.

The eternal struggle of the sexist: Objective reality suggests that women are people, but the heart wants to believe they are a robot army put here for sexual service and housework.

Alexander notes, “Anyway, Marcotte was bad enough, given that she runs one of the most-read feminist blogs on the Internet. But much of the rest of the feminist “discussion” on Tumblr, Twitter, and the like was if anything even worse,” then discusses an article by Laurie Penny in New Statesman, called “On Nerd Entitlement: White Male Nerds Need To Recognize That Other People Had Traumatic Upbringings Too And That’s Different From Structural Oppression”:

Feminism is not to blame for making life hell for “shy, nerdy men”. It is a real shame that Aaronson picked up Andrea Dworkin rather than any of the many feminist theorists and writers who manage to combine raw rage with refusal to resort to sexual shame as an instructive tool. Weaponised shame – male, female or other – has no place in any feminism I subscribe to.

Alexander responds:

I live in a world where feminists throwing weaponized shame at nerds is an obvious and inescapable part of daily life. Whether we’re “mouth-breathers”, “pimpled”, “scrawny”, “blubbery”, “sperglord”, “neckbeard”, “virgins”, “living in our parents’ basements”, “man-children” or whatever the insult du jour is, it’s always, always, ALWAYS a self-identified feminist saying it. Sometimes they say it obliquely, referring to a subgroup like “bronies” or “atheists” or “fedoras” while making sure everyone else in nerddom knows it’s about them too. …

But it’s not just that. Try to look up something on Iron Man, and you get an article on Iron Man-Child and how “the white maleness of geek culture” proves they are “the most useless and deficient individuals in society, precisely because they have such a delusional sense of their own importance and entitlements.”…

Let’s recap, because this has gotten a little long. Aaronson states that he is “97%” on board with feminism, and explains that his 3% reservation is due to feminism making him feel suicidal for the sin of finding women attractive. Feminists respond with incredible cruelty. One feminist claims that in her universe, feminists aren’t cruel. Alexander responds, with evidence, that feminists are constantly cruel, at least toward people like him and Aaronson.

Ms. Penny, I’m pretty sure gaslighting and lying are also signs of being in a cult.

Just how bad is the left? And are they actually any worse than the right? Perhaps both sides just have their bad apples…

Trump supporter beaten by protestors
protester beaten with hammer by Black Lives Matter protesters
Trump supporter attacked by protesters

Ah, those happy college days!

And let’s not forget the recent violent riots at Berkley, which according to CNN caused $100,000 in damages, (mostly to innocent nearby businesses like refugee-supporting Starbucks,) nor the recent incident at Middlebury, in which a mob of students attempted to shut down a speech by Charles Murray and violently assaulted a professor, who ended up in the hospital:

The more exclusive the university, the richer and more liberal the students. The less exclusive, the poorer and more conservative. Ironically, it’s these elite students (who benefit most from “privilege”) who are violently opposing speakers in the name of “equality,” not conservatives at little podunk-Us.

Here’s an excerpt from Help-giving and moral courage on the Internet, by Suna P. Kinnunen1, Marjaana Lindeman2, Markku Verkasalo3:

(In other words, folks like Amanda Marcotte and the instigators of online Twitter mobs are probably sociopaths. The internet has created an environment where sociopathic behavior can thrive under the guise of “morally courageous action”)

So, to answer our question… No.

 

V. Here’s some more cultish material from the SJWs:

“Everybody to the right of us is literally Hitler.”

Dozens of media outlets all using the exact same language:

Meanwhile, one of the most prestigious newspapers in the country would like you to know that Super Mario Run is sexist and bad for children.

Yeah, there’s nothing at all creepy or harmful about preventing your children from consuming completely innocuous children’s media, cutting them off from the common cultural knowledge of their peer group.

Oh, and by the way, 1985 wasn’t some Dark Age of sexism–we are talking about the era of Great Britain’s first female Prime Minister, after all.

Meanwhile, from the “bodypositivists,” “we don’t understand how attraction works”:

Meanwhile, Ivy League University Penn is apparently a hotbed of racism:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And for students whose professors are insufficiently racist, SJWs have put together a handy guide to making family gatherings as unplesant as possible:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

VI. Let’s have some conclusions.

Regardless of what you think of leftists in general–and I know many leftists who are basically good-hearted, well-intentioned people–the extreme left, born of academia and particularly active on the internet, works like a cult.

This is a difficult position to explain to someone who has not experienced it personally, or seen a loved one affected by it. During the long process by which this blog came to exist, I struggled to reconcile my own morality–my sense of myself as a “good person”–with the statistical data I was reading. How could a good person believe in statistical differences between groups in criminal offending rates, or measured IQ scores? Did merely believing such a thing make me a bad person?

I tended to keep such ideas to myself; far more innocuous statements in conversation with friends and acquaintances were often responded to with anger, threats, or explicit shunning. I lost most of my college-friends due to shunning, and I’ve had it far better than some.

Since abandoning my identity as a leftist, I’ve also abandoned the idea that my morality is based in believing the correct things. If tomorrow I discovered that there are no group-level differences in IQ or criminal behavior, this would change nothing about how I see myself. (In fact, I’d be perfectly pleased by such a discovery.) Rather, I see my morality in how I treat those around me–family, friends, random strangers I meet in everyday life.

When ideas spread because they are true or useful, they make life better. The Germ Theory of Disease has saved billions of lives. Belief in Santa Claus makes children happy, even if he isn’t real.

But sometimes ideas spread even though they fundamentally lack utility. The classic example of this is the chain letter, which people spread because it tells them to, even though it contains nothing of worth. The modern version of the chain letter are Facebook Memes that say things like, “99% of people don’t love Jesus enough to repost this meme” or “If you really love your relative with cancer, you’ll repost this meme,” or “90% of people can’t answer this simple math problem!” It’s easy to see how #activism slides into pure meme re-posting.

These sorts of memes are annoying but fairly harmless. It’s when memes mutate into ideologies that judge the essential goodness of their believers on their willingness to devote their lives to spreading the meme that they become dangerous. You end up with purity spirals that end in martyrdom–self-sacrifice for the spread of the meme. The spread of such ideas through society can be see, quite reasonably, as cancerous.

One final excerpt, from the LA Times:

Easy Nofemela remembers the evening Amy Biehl died. … a mob of angry young men was looking for symbols of white rule to destroy.

Then the men spotted Biehl, blond and blue-eyed, as she drove through the township in her yellow Mazda.

“Rocks were being thrown at Amy’s car. She got out and ran, and she was stabbed right over there,” Nofemela says, pointing to a patch of grass next to a service station, now planted with a small cross.

Nofemela remembers, 15 years later, because he was part of the mob that killed Amy Biehl.

What he didn’t know then was that Biehl was hardly a symbol of apartheid. She was a Fulbright scholar studying the lives of women in South Africa, a 26-year-old Stanford graduate with a plane ticket for home the next day, from an airport 10 minutes away. …

Today, Nofemela, a compact 37-year-old with a shaved head and a quick wit, is the father of a young girl. And, in an improbable tale of forgiveness and redemption, he and Ntobeko Peni, another of the men convicted of the murder, now work for the charity Biehl’s parents founded here after she was killed. …

An engaging woman of 65 with a blond bob and a warm smile, she has grown exceptionally close to her daughter’s killers. “Easy and Ntobeko are fascinating and I really do love them,” she says. “They have given me so much.”

Linda Biehl and her late husband, Peter, launched the Amy Biehl Foundation in 1994 with donations that arrived, unsolicited, from strangers moved by the news of their daughter’s death. Today, it runs after-school programs for youngsters in Guguletu and other townships and squatter camps that took root during the apartheid era on the Cape flats, about 10 miles east of Cape Town.

Guys, if anyone ever murders me, I encourage you to murder them back.

Guest Post: How the Winds Change, by Zephyr

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Hello, everyone! Today we have a guest post, How the Winds Change, about social signaling, the Federal Government, the Cathedral, and Title IX–and how these things may change:

After the election we’ve seen a lot of liberals express the fear that LGBTQ people and Muslims and other minorities will be rounded up and become victim to horrible things, as this blog has noted. It’s kind of a weird paranoia. Even if Trump was as evil as they say, liberals still have a solid 47% of the populace opposed to him – even up to 90% in their cities. How would you get the people on board with stigmatizing minorities when so, so many people oppose it? In order to enact this sort of draconian social change, you’d really need the masses to buy into it.

I think this fear comes from social justice advocates realizing, somewhere deep down, that their hold on the Cathedral is in some ways quite tenuous. There are a lot of true believers, but there are even more people just along for the ride, who see the best way to get status is to play along with progressive orthodoxy. If the best way to get status and to protect your position becomes “follow the Trump party line,” then those activists currently in the vanguard could find themselves losing a lot of their influence.

The government can do that. Usually in the culture wars the government is a passive beast, something to be fought over and not really a driver of people’s opinions. This is particularly true in liberal democracy, which used to be one of the best things about the US democracy. But, the government has a lot of money, and a lot of power, and if it wants to start really, seriously swaying the elites, status-seeking people will follow it.

Here’s an example. How many of you have heard of the Department of Education Office of Civil Rights? Not many of you probably, as it’s a fairly small office. It’s headed by the Assistant Secretary of Education for Civil Rights. No one famous, not someone you see in endless clickbait articles or cable news debates. She doesn’t even have her own Wikipedia page! She’s just in charge of making sure that schools that receive federal funds (mostly universities) are in compliance with civil rights laws.

But with this administration, the Assistant Secretary of this office cares a lot about progressive social change. And she believes very strongly that sexual assault in our culture is a major problem, and she wants to raise awareness of it (backed by a White House Task Force) . This is no grand conspiracy, this is one person caring about a cause a lot, with only a little bit of federal power behind them, all out in the open.

Now, if found in violation of their civil rights requirements, a university could lose Title IX funding, which is a lot of money. But that sort of hammer can only be used so much, and it’s not even clear how you could prove harassment on campus was the fault of the university in such an investigation.

So instead, the OCR has taken a much more ambiguous approach. Whenever a sexual assault investigation on campus is in the news, they would send a Dear Colleague letter to the university, announcing it was investigating their response. Eventually, the OCR publicly released a list of 55 schools under investigation for how they handle sexual assault accusations.

There is no way that the federal government could pull Title IX funding from 55 major institutions. As a whole the threat was entirely a paper tiger. But whooo boy, no university wants to be on that List. No admissions counselor wants to explain to student’s parents what that List means. No fundraising officer wants to explain to alumni why they are on this List of schools under investigation, before asking them for five figure donations.

So the school does everything they can to comply with the OCR, and make clear they are on the right side of history. In practice, this means putting the rights of the accused last, the rights of the victim second, and the interests of the OCR first. It also means a lot of campus publicity that isn’t shown to reduce sexual assault, but looks like they are doing something.

You may have noticed that within feminism, the problem of “sexual assault on college campuses” has received a ton of attention. Part of the reason for that is universities falling over themselves to appease this office with its vague requirements. As the old saying goes “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

That’s the system. The government vaguely threatens people who get a lot of money from them. Those people with a lot of money jump in line. Other elites look to the people with money as sources of moral authority and take their cues from them. And the masses worry about what the elites are chattering about so much. This is pretty much the definition of the Cathedral after all.

Ordinarily the US government isn’t very involved in the culture wars, so the cultural opinions of the elite are unlikely to turn on a dime. But as we’ve seen, with some issues the federal government does get involved. And I think a lot of the social justice fear is that a Trump administration will get much more actively involved in trying to sway opinion on his issues.

First of all, they’ll stop doing what the current OCR is doing. They may even do the reverse, and starting making a list of schools who they think have been too hard on defendants. Then other bureaucrats in their various niches can begin pursuing investigations designed to “raise awareness” of their pet issue. And before you know it, all the high status intellectuals in your society are apologizing for their past stances and trying to sound like they agreed with Donald Trump all along.

It’s a pretty frightening image, and a good wake up call to just how much power the government has to bend the course of our moral culture when it wants to. No political group on either side should be comfortable with this.

Cathedral Round-Up #12: The Rise of Mommy-Law

After reading several books and numerous articles by lawyers of various stripes, you can’t help but notice their philosophy of law. (In this case, Just Mercy, by Bryan Stevenson, and The Real Watergate Scandal, by Geoff Shepard.) Now, I am sure that actual legal scholars and philosophers have developed a whole vocabulary and system of concepts for discussing these sorts of things, but as I am not a legal philosophy scholar, I am limited to my own bumbling language.

The American legal tradition, from the Constitution on down, is based on the notion that man is his own sovereign; judges do not advocate on behalf of one person or group, but dispassionately arbitrate between them.

Thus the First Amendment:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Government does not chose a side.

For the first two hundred years or so of our country, the proper functioning of law was seen as protecting the interests of the individual, both against predation by others and from over-reach by the state. Just as the scientific method protects truth by demanding a theory be falsifiable and tested against this counter-scenario, so the legal system protects freedom by putting the burden of proof on the Prosecution and demanding that the accused be treated as “innocent until proven guilty.”

Properly functioning, the law protects the individual. This idea of law-functioning-as-intended-protects-people is found in both Just Mercy and The Real Watergate Scandal, in which both authors describe cases of judges and prosecutors interfering with the proper functioning of law to deprive defendants of a fair trial. A fair trial, they argue, would have exonerated their defendants.

Obviously this view is still current among lawyers, who like to see themselves as moral people who deserve their paychecks. But among non-lawyers, the view seems to have shifted radically over the past few decades. SJWs in particular seem to have decided that the legal system is not as the protector of rights, but the protector of oppressors.

To some extent, this is due to the absolutely true fact that rich people can afford better lawyers than poor people can, corporations use the legal system to drive down competition, and there are so many laws now on the books that if they want to arrest you, they can almost always find something to charge you with.

And while the BLM crowd appears to be statistically incorrect on the matter of cop-on-black shootings, they are absolutely correct that there are a lot of black people in prison: “One in six black men had been incarcerated as of 2001.”

But these are, we might argue, a practical matter, easily resolved by repealing drug laws or forcing everyone to use public defenders or some other measure I leave for you to imagine. Increasingly, though, it seems like the very ground rules of a “free society protected by laws” are coming under attack.

Take Freedom of Speech.

Free Speech has historically been regarded as necessary for the existence of a free, democratic society, both because it is impossible to discuss important political matters if certain opinions are not allowed to be expressed, and because it is an insult to free men to dictate what they may and may not discuss. That Freedom of Speech covers matters deemed noxious to common sentiments like pornography, flag burning, or KKK rallies was seen mainly as an unpleasant but generally ignorable side-effect of a properly functioning legal necessity. Thus even the hyper-liberal ACLU would defend the rights of the KKK to march and pornographers to publish.

Today, by contrast, Freedom of Speech is regarded by many on the left not as defending their own rights, but as a legal fig leaf to protect bigots, Nazis, Klan members, and Charlie Hebdo while they spread their vile, hate-filled messages.

According to Gallup, 27% of college students favored campus restrictions on  “expressing political views that are upsetting or offensive to certain groups;” 69% favored restrictions on “slurs” and “intentionally offensive” speech; and 63% want their administrations to ban offensive Halloween costumes. Further, 40% of Millennials want the government to restrict speech “offensive to minorites.”

See: Yale’s costume crisis:


(Since Youtube crashes my computer, please let me know if I don’t have the best video.)

When you start demanding that the authorities dictate which costumes you can wear while screaming in outrage at anyone who suggests that you might be old enough to dress yourselves, you don’t want freedom, you want mommy.

That’s why I call this the rise of Mommy Law, a legal philosophy in which the government’s proper role is no longer to mediate between equals, but to defend the helpless–blacks, women, LGBTQIAs, Muslims, etc.–from their oppressors. It is implicit, under Mommy Law, that these groups have no agency of their own and could not take care of themselves without the government’s help.

Thus, for example, it is now seen as the proper role of law to award millions in damages to gay couples just because someone objected, on religious grounds, to baking them a wedding cake. Likewise, the government has decided it is inappropriate to investigate the Orlando shooter’s Islamic ties, because that would disproportionately impact Muslims.

Interestingly, criminal law–especially as it relates to rape–has been the locus of much of this change for decades. Just Mercy goes into this in some depth, because changes in criminal law over the past few decades have ironically had a major effect on black people, so I regret deeply that I do not have the text at hand to quote for you. In short, IIRC, the emphasis in criminal court cases shifted from the “state” prosecuting a criminal who had disturbed the common order (hence the phrasing, “The State of X vs. Joe Bob,” to the state acting on behalf of the victims. Certain rights of the defendant related to cross-examination of witnesses, especially child victims of rape and other violent crimes, have been curtailed to avoid distressing the witnesses.

(Children, of course, actually are helpless and should be treated as such, but the feminist demand that we “Believe the Children” has still led to many people being incarcerated on obviously false charges, like flying through the air on a magic broom.)

This is all quite understandable in light of the feminists’ War on Rape, which you should be familiar with if you’ve ever spent 5 minutes around feminists. Unfortunately for the feminists, most rapes are difficult to prosecute under normal legal standards. Unlike robbery, in which the transfer of one man’s wallet to another man’s pocket is clearly a crime, people–even strangers–engage in consensual sex all the time. In a great majority of cases, we have nothing more to go on than the testimonies of the two people involved, one of whom claims consensuality and one of whom claims not. Victory in such cases requires lower standards of evidence and a weakening of the presumption of “Innocent until proven guilty.”

And with that very long introduction, here are some recent articles from the Yale Daily News:

State Passes Affirmative Consent Legislation:

Last Wednesday, the Connecticut Senate voted 35 to one in favor of a bill requiring both private and public colleges and universities in the state to adopt affirmative consent as the standard in handling cases of sexual misconduct on campus.

Commonly defined as “yes means yes,” the affirmative consent standard puts the burden of proof on the accused party, who is now responsible for demonstrating that affirmative consent was given before any sexual activity took place. Lawmakers in support of the bill stressed that affirmative consent means “active, informed, unambiguous and voluntary agreement” and will help university administrators handle sexual misconduct on campus with greater efficacy and clarity. Several Connecticut universities, including Yale, already use an affirmative consent standard. …

Students from different colleges and universities across the state gathered in front of the Connecticut State Capitol in April to demonstrate their support for the bill when it was being considered in the House.

Philosophy Community Signs Open Letter in Striking Rebuke of Pogge:

Nearly a month after sexual misconduct allegations arose against renowned Yale philosophy professor Thomas Pogge, simmering anger within the philosophy community has turned into open outrage as more than 200 philosophy professors around the world — including 16 full Yale professors — have signed an open letter condemning Pogge’s alleged misconduct. …

… philosophy professor Shelly Kagan, who was department chair when Pogge was hired, said what Pogge has admitted to doing is inappropriate and unprofessional. During a 2011 UWC investigation, Pogge acknowledged that he had shared a hotel room with Lopez Aguilar and slept on her lap during a flight, although he added that both actions were suggested by her.

“The things about going to the conference with a former student and sharing a hotel room and he admitted to sleeping with his head on her lap. That is not appropriate behavior,” Kagan said in an interview with the News…

Even Affirmative Consent won’t save Pogge.

Teammate launches fundraiser for Montague:

“Just months from graduation and weeks before our basketball team clinched an Ivy League title, Jack Montague was forced to leave school and abandon his team in light of a university sexual assault investigation that presented no evidence that proved his guilt. Not only was Jack stripped of a Yale degree which he had worked over three and half years to earn, he was also denied the once in a lifetime opportunity to play in the NCAA tournament alongside his teammates,” …

The basketball team drew criticism earlier this year for demonstrating support for Montague after rumors of his expulsion began to circulate. In a Feb. 26 home contest against Harvard, 16 days after Montague was expelled, the team took to the court wearing T-shirts with the former captain’s nickname and number on the back. The following week, posters appeared around campus condemning the team for “supporting a rapist.”

Montague suit one of more than 100 alleging universities violated students’ rights:

Filed in a federal court last week, Montague v. Yale University et. al joins more than 100 recent civil suits alleging that college students accused of sexual misconduct were not granted fair hearings in campus proceedings. …

In one of the most powerful critiques of university sexual misconduct procedures, presiding judge F. Dennis Saylor denied Brandeis’s motion to dismiss charges in March, ruling that four of the eight charges, including the breach of contract charge, could stand. …

Explicitly supporting the lower evidence standard mandated by the U.S. Department of Education’s Title IX compliance guidelines, Saylor questioned whether Brandeis’s sexual misconduct procedures have gone too far. …

In recent years, dozens of universities have been taken to court for their handling of sexual misconduct allegations. Lawsuits claiming that accused students’ due process rights were denied have proliferated since the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights issued a public letter to Title IX coordinators in April of 2011. The 19-page document, known as the “Dear Colleague” letter, laid out a series of guidelines for educational institutions that receive federal funding and are thereby obliged to comply with Title IX, the clause of the Education Amendments of 1972 that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex.

Perhaps most significantly, educational institutions were instructed to use a “preponderance of the evidence” standard  — meaning, the letter explains, “it is more likely than not that sexual harassment or violence occurred” — when investigating allegations of sexual harassment or violence.

This lower standard, used in campus proceedings involving sexual misconduct but not in criminal cases, reduces the level of certainty required to find students guilty of sexual misconduct, opening the door for students to claim that their due process rights — to hear and respond to evidence, or to cross-examine opposing witnesses, among others — were violated.

Due process is a constitutional right, but Rendell-Baker v. Kohn (1982) ruled that private universities are not required to adhere to the same standards of due process as courts. A student undergoing a Title IX investigation at a college is not guaranteed the same rights — a jury of one’s peers or the right to know opposing evidence, for example — as a criminal who committed a comparable crime in a non-university setting.

So what else has been going on at Yale?

Yalies Mourn and Offer Support in Wake of Orlando Shooting

Galvez said she was away from campus when the tragedy took place and found it difficult to grasp that people of her community are dying for being their authentic selves.

She added that the shooting was a violation of a safe space for queer people of color, who have been deemed unworthy of love, civil liberties and now the right to live.

“Our Latinx, LGBTQ and Yale communities at large are hurting — we are mourning for our hermanxs,” she said. “There are some that will use this incident to target those in our Muslim communities, however, it is love and not hate that will help us in our path towards alleviating our hearts. Indeed, our Muslim hermanxs are also hurting and mourning with us.” …

As a non-native Spanish speaker, I suppose I don’t have a right to get anal about the butchering of grammatical gender endings in English-renderings of Spanish words, but how do you even pronounce “hermanxs”?

I remember those long ago days of Spanish class, when we first learned about this whole concept of “grammatical gender” and how it operates in Spanish, and some of us started bristling up and saying, “But isn’t that sexist?” Our Mexican teacher immediately shot us down. No, grammatical gender is just part of how the language operates, not an expression of how people feel about men and women.

According to Wikipedia, Proto-Indo-European had to genders, “Animate and Inanimate.” Oh those bigots! Latin had three genders, indicating that the Romans were really into trans rights. Swahili has 18 genders, evidence of severe mutation after a nuclear accident (also, ninja turtles.) English has only a few evil words left, like “duchess,” because it is the current year and we are now enlightened.

(Duchessship is one of the few words in English with three identical letters in a row.)

Etymologically, the term “gender” in “grammatical gender” actually doesn’t mean “the word is a girl or a boy.” It just means “type” or “kind,” as in the word “genus,” a taxonomic rank above species but below family for classifying groups of animals, eg, house cats and wildcats are both in the genus Felis.

I am an absolute blast at parties.

Continuing on…

He added that the majority of the Orlando victims were Blacks or Latinx enjoying Latin Night at Pulse nightclub, a place where people should be able to dance free from stigma and discrimination. That many have overlooked this important fact or used the tragedy to scapegoat Muslims is frustrating, Paredes said. …

LGBTQ Co-Op Coordinator Kyle Ranieri ’18 said the Orlando shooting has deeply affected him and many of his queer friends. To attack gay clubs and bars is to devastate “the epicenter of queer communities,” Ranieri said.

Ranieri said he is pleased with Salovey’s email, which recognized the tragedy as a targeted attack against the LGBTQ Latinx community, but he expects the administration to take steps to ensure a safe campus for queer people of color in the coming semester.

It’s Yale’s job to keep gay blacks and Hispanics safe from the likes of the Orlando shooter, but not from Muslims.

The Divide: A portrait of Muslim Student Life at Yale:

Ishrat Mannan ’17 stood by a lonely table, pamphlets in hand. Her disinterested classmates streamed past her, lining up to attend the event of the day: a talk by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, titled “Clash of Civilizations: Islam and the West.” Even though the physical distance that separated them could not have been more than a few feet, Mannan found that she and her fellow Yalies might as well have been in different ideological worlds. In one, Islam was a symbol of peace and a way of life. In the other, it was a foreign relic of a bygone era, interesting to study but not to take seriously. “That huge divide,” recalls Mannan, “just felt really, really disheartening.” …

Acceptance can be hard in a place as secular as Yale.

Whether it is in Global Affairs or Modern Middle East Studies, Islam is usually taught from the specific viewpoint of radical violence and national security. It’s not that good classes about Islam don’t exist at Yale. Rather, it’s that students choose not to take them.

“[Classes about Islamic civilization] are not the popular, sexy classes that get high attendance,” says Bajwa. “Muslim civilization, Muslim history, intellectual history, social history, Muslim culture’s contributions to society, those are the classes that have anemic attendance.” …

I can’t imagine why.

Yale’s general academic attitude toward Islam is just the tip of the iceberg. If anything, it is reflective of subtle Islamophobia on parts of campus. This tension between the Muslim and non-Muslim Yale communities has manifested itself more than once in Yale’s recent history.

Seven years ago, the master of Branford College invited Kurt Westergaard, one of the 12 Danish cartoonists who drew offensive cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in 2005, to a Master’s Tea. …

Then in 2012, the New York Police Department’s massive spying operation on at least 15 Muslim student organizations across the country came to light, and with it the revelation that Yale students had been the unwitting targets of extensive surveillance, suspected solely on the basis of their religion. The incident hit hard, but fortunately the Yale administration issued a statement of support for the Muslim community on campus, with former University Vice President Linda Lorimer telling the News that Yale “supports [the MSA’s] goals and aims and is grateful for its leadership on our campus,” adding that she had been “both inspired and educated by the MSA.”

I think that is the opposite of Islamaphobia on campus, but who can keep track of such detaisl?

Perhaps the toughest blow, though came last year, with the William F. Buckley Jr. Program’s invitation of Hirsi Ali, a well-known anti-Islamic speaker. …

Who is this Hirsi Ali? According to Wikipedia:

Ayaan Hirsi Ali … is a Dutch-American activist, author, and former politician of Somali origin. She is a leading opponent of female genital mutilation, and calls for a reformation of Islam.[1]

Ayaan was born in 1969[14] in Mogadishu, Somalia.[15] Her father, Hirsi Magan Isse, was a prominent member of the Somali Salvation Democratic Front and a leading figure in the Somalian Revolution. Shortly after she was born, her father was imprisoned owing to his opposition to the Siad Barre government.[16][17]

Hirsi Ali’s father had studied abroad and was opposed to female genital mutilation. But, while he was imprisoned, Hirsi Ali’s grandmother had the traditional procedure performed on five-year-old Hirsi Ali.[16]

After her father escaped from prison, he and the family left Somalia, going to Saudi Arabia and then to Ethiopia, before settling in Nairobi, Kenya, by 1980. There he established a comfortable upper-class life for them. Hirsi Ali attended the English-language Muslim Girls’ Secondary School. By the time she reached her teens, Saudi Arabia was funding religious education in numerous countries and its religious views were becoming influential among many Muslims. A charismatic religious teacher, trained under this aegis, joined Hirsi Ali’s school. She inspired the teenaged Ayaan, as well as some fellow students, to adopt the more rigorous Saudi Arabian interpretations of Islam, as opposed to the more relaxed versions then current in Somalia and Kenya. Hirsi Ali said later that she had long been impressed by the Qur’an and had lived “by the Book, for the Book” throughout her childhood.[18]

Yup, Hirsi Ali is clearly an ignorant, anti-Muslim bigot. Back to Yale:

What started off as a small event exploded into a raging firestorm that drew in the national media and numerous student organizations across campus. Arguments were made, op-eds were written, letters were sent, and before anyone knew it, Hirsi Ali’s event had somehow evolved into an epic showdown between protecting free speech and preserving a safe space. … “A lot of people have become very open about how disillusioned they are with Yale,” says Mannan…

Just as it is really hard to be black at Harvard, it’s really hard to be Muslim at Yale.

Money Talks: Yale recently decided to name one college after Anna Murray (“an intellectual, an activist and member of the clergy” and “a queer woman of color and civil rights activist) and one after Benjamin Franklin (due to one donor’s request,) and some students are unhappy:

But we shouldn’t honor one donor’s request that stands so wildly in contrast to the prevailing opinion and wishes of students on campus. … But it’s also true that Yale students today are unimpressed — and angry, saddened and deeply frustrated — with this naming decision. But one day, some of us will have wallets that rival Johnson’s, and will be in a position to make these types of decisions to steward and direct this institution. Yale is raising us to be its future alumni, and as future alumni, we can perhaps — as a whole — value the voices of students on campus over our own egos. We must hope for more decisions that look like Pauli Murray College, and much fewer that look like Franklin.

They should have named it after Hamilton.

Our Missed Opportunity:

Amidst the tears and painful conversations last semester, a note of optimism hung in the air. The March of Resilience in November affirmed a widespread commitment to, in University President Peter Salovey’s own words, “a better Yale.” Student activists delivered concrete policy demands to administrators, with some tangible results. Despite the University’s past failures to address the concerns of students and faculty of color, there was a glimmer of hope.

At around 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, that hope was unceremoniously dashed.

Murray College, a symbol of progress and equality, will stand next to Franklin College, whose name seems to have carried a $250 million price tag.

The new college will be permanently engraved with the name of Benjamin Franklin, a slaveowner whose only affiliation with Yale is one honorary degree.

Ben Franklin dashed their hopes.

Yale will eliminate a title to which few were attached, and name one residential college after a queer woman of color. But in deciding to do so, they have paradoxically insulted the very students who have fought so hard for change. When paired with its calculated verdicts on Calhoun and Franklin College, the symbols of progress start to look rather unprogressive.

That’s because protesting over the names of colleges is actually really dumb.

Salovey: We cannot seek truth by hiding it:

Some students have expressed the view that their engagement and advocacy in the fall were wasted. Nothing could be further from the truth. We value your voices, and the initiatives we announced then and now reflect our respect for the student, alumni, faculty and staff who participated.

Initiatives for a more inclusive Yale, some already underway and others newly announced in November, are being implemented. We want to be held accountable as we fulfill important commitments to strengthen the academic enterprise, expand programs for students, improve institutional structures and increase representation of diversity on campus. …

Scholars and students across the University engage in these activities each day. The research and education mission of the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance and Abolition at Yale is a major participant in conversations on campus and across the nation. The new Center for the Study of Race, Indigeneity and Transnational Migration will add new voices, on our campus and around the world. We must use our voices and our influence as students and as educators to share that knowledge with broader society and seek solutions, not just solace. …

Help us shape the historical study of names and memorials to be undertaken throughout the campus. The Committee on Art in Public Places requests student and faculty insights into what iconography we must create and change to better reflect the nature of our community and our history. Submit a proposal to the juried competition that will select a piece of art to defy the beliefs of John C. Calhoun by shining a light on equality and justice.

Let us end with Yale News’s Commencement 2016 Opinion:

But college is no easier at Yale than anywhere else. In these four years you have lost friends, flunked tests and cried in courtyards when you realized life was more confusing than an admissions brochure made it out to be. You have turned tears into change as you held your Yale accountable. You have called for racial justice, environmental change, mental health reform, sexual consent, international human rights and so much more. From New Haven to St. Louis, college voices like yours are shaping the course of this country. And in expressing your experience of isolation and oppression, you found a community and a home here. Perhaps this is the most important lesson you have taught us: None of us are alone.