Cowpox of Doubt

Every time someone talks about the stupidity of creationists, moon-hoaxers, and homeopaths, I cringe.

It’s not that moon-hoaxers, homeopaths et al aren’t dumb. They are. It’s not even that these people don’t do real harm. They do.

.. What annoys me about the people who harp on moon-hoaxing and homeopathy – without any interest in the rest of medicine or space history – is that it seems like an attempt to Other irrationality.

.. It is about realizing that you, yes you, might be wrong about the things that you’re most certain of, and nothing can save you except maybe extreme epistemic paranoia.

.. And someone who demands that you be open-minded about homeopathy would not be your friend. They would probably be a shill for homeopathy and best ignored.

But this is exactly the problem!

.. Inoculation is when you use a weak pathogen like cowpox to build immunity against a stronger pathogen like smallpox. The inoculation effect in psychology is when a person, upon being presented with several weak arguments against a proposition, becomes immune to stronger arguments against the same position.

 

Weak Men are SuperWeapons

Alice said something along the lines of “I hate people who frivolously diagnose themselves with autism without knowing anything about the disorder. They should stop thinking they’re ‘so speshul’ and go see a competent doctor.”

Beth answered something along the lines of “I diagnosed myself with autism, but only after a lot of careful research. I don’t have the opportunity to go see a doctor. I think what you’re saying is overly strict and hurtful to many people with autism.”

.. First, why did Beth take the bait? Alice said she hated people who frivolously self-diagnosed without knowing anything about the disorder. Beth clearly was not such a person. Why didn’t she just say “Yes, please continue hating these hypothetical bad people who are not me”?

.. Second, why did Alice take the bait? Why didn’t she just say “I think you’ll find I wasn’t talking about you?”

.. One of the cutting-edge advances in fallacy-ology has been the weak man, a terribly-named cousin of the straw man. The straw man is a terrible argument nobody really holds, which was only invented so your side had something easy to defeat. The weak man is a terrible argument that only a few unrepresentative people hold, which was only brought to prominence so your side had something easy to defeat.

.. For example, “I am a proud atheist and I don’t like religion. Think of the terrible things done by religion, like the actions of the Westboro Baptist Church. They try to disturb the funerals of heroes because they think God hates everybody. But this is horrible. Religious people can’t justify why they do things like this. That’s why I’m proud to be an atheist.”

It’s not a straw man. There really is a Westboro Baptist Church, for some reason. But one still feels like the atheist is making things just a little too easy on himself.

Maybe the problem is that the atheist is indirectly suggesting that Westboro Baptist Church is typical of religion? An implied falsehood?

.. On the other side of the world, a religious person is writing “I hate atheists who think morality is relative, and that this gives them the right to murder however many people stand between them and a world where no one is allowed to believe in God”.

Again, not a straw man. The Soviet Union contained several million of these people. But if you’re an atheist, would you just let this pass?

How about “I hate black thugs who rob people”?

What are the chances a black guy reads that and says “Well, good thing I’m not a thug who robs people, he’ll probably love me”?

.. What is the problem with statements like this?

First, they are meant to re-center a category. Remember, people think in terms of categories with central and noncentral members – a sparrow is a central bird, an ostrich a noncentral one. But if you live on the Ostrich World, which is inhabited only by ostriches, emus, and cassowaries, then probably an ostrich seems like a pretty central example of ‘bird’ and the first sparrow you see will be fantastically strange.

.. Right now most people’s central examples of religion are probably things like your local neighborhood church. If you’re American, it’s probably a bland Protestant denomination like the Episcopalians or something.

.. The guy whose central examples of religion are Pope Francis and the Dalai Lama is probably going to have a different perception of religion than the guy whose central examples are Torquemada and Fred Phelps.

.. if you convert a culture from thinking in the first type of way to thinking in the second type of way, then religious people will be unpopular and anyone trying to make a religious argument will have to spend the first five minutes of their speech explaining how they’re not Fred Phelps, honest, and no, they don’t picket any funerals. After all that time spent apologizing and defending themselves and distancing themselves from other religious people, they’re not likely to be able to make a very rousing argument for religion.

.. In Cowpox of Doubt, I mention the inoculation effect. When people see a terrible argument for an idea get defeated, they are more likely to doubt the idea later on, even if much better arguments show up.

Put this in the context of people attacking the Westboro Baptist Church. You see the attacker win a big victory over “religion”, broadly defined. Now you are less likely to believe in religion when a much more convincing one comes along.

I see the same thing in atheists’ odd fascination with creationism. Most of the religious people one encounters are not young-earth creationists. But these people have a dramatic hold on the atheist imagination.

And I think: well, maybe if people see atheists defeating a terrible argument for religion enough, atheists don’t have to defeat any of the others. People have already been inoculated against religion. “Oh, yeah, that was the thing with the creationism. Doesn’t seem very smart.”

If this is true, it means that all religious people, like it or not, are in the same boat. An atheist attacking creationism becomes a deadly threat for the average Christian, even if that Christian does not herself believe in creationism.

Likewise, when a religious person attacks atheists who are moral relativists, or communists, or murderers, then all atheists have to band together to stop it somehow or they will have successfully poisoned people against atheism.

.. I suggested imagining yourself in the shoes of a Jew in czarist Russia. The big news story is about a Jewish man who killed a Christian child. As far as you can tell the story is true. It’s just disappointing that everyone who tells it is describing it as “A Jew killed a Christian kid today”. You don’t want to make a big deal over this, because no one is saying anything objectionable like “And so all Jews are evil”. Besides you’d hate to inject identity politics into this obvious tragedy. It just sort of makes you uncomfortable.

The next day you hear that the local priest is giving a sermon on how the Jews killed Christ. This statement seems historically plausible, and it’s part of the Christian religion, and no one is implying it says anything about the Jews today. You’d hate to be the guy who barges in and tries to tell the Christians what Biblical facts they can and can’t include in their sermons just because they offend you. It would make you an annoying busybody. So again you just get uncomfortable.

.. The next day you hear people complain about the greedy Jewish bankers who are ruining the world economy. And really a disproportionate number of bankers are Jewish, and bankers really do seem to be the source of a lot of economic problems. It seems kind of pedantic to interrupt every conversation with “But also some bankers are Christian, or Muslim, and even though a disproportionate number of bankers are Jewish that doesn’t mean the Jewish bankers are disproportionately active in ruining the world economy compared to their numbers.” So again you stay uncomfortable.

.. Then the next day you get in a business dispute with your neighbor. Maybe you loaned him some money and he doesn’t feel like paying you back. He tells you you’d better just give up, admit he is in the right, and apologize to him – because if the conflict escalated everyone would take his side because he is a Christian and you are a Jew. And everyone knows that Jews victimize Christians and are basically child-murdering Christ-killing economy-ruining atrocity-committing scum.

You have been boxed in by a serious of individually harmless but collectively dangerous statements. None of them individually referred to you – you weren’t murdering children or killing Christ or owning a bank. But they ended up getting you in the end anyway.

.. I wrote the superweapon post to address some of my worries about feminism, so it would not be surprising at all if we found this dynamic there.

.. Thus, a stupid fight between atheists who don’t care about Westboro and religious people who don’t support them.

.. Instead of identifying as a liberal and getting upset when someone insulted liberals or happy when someone praised liberals, I should say “These are my beliefs. There are other people who believe approximately the same thing, but the differences are sufficient that I just want to be judged on my own individual beliefs alone.”

.. It’s not my decision whether or not I get to identify with other liberals or not. If other people think of me as a liberal, then anything other liberals do is going to reflect, positively or negatively, on me. And I’m going to have to join in the fight to keep liberals from being completely discredited, or else the fact that I didn’t share any of the opinions they were discredited for isn’t going to save me. I will be Worst Argument In The World-ed and swiftly dispatched.

.. In the example we started with, Beth chose to stand up for the people who self-diagnosed autism without careful research. This wasn’t because she considered herself a member of that category. It was because she decided that self-diagnosed autistics were going to stand or fall as a group, and if Alice succeeded in pushing her “We should dislike careless self-diagnosees” angle, then the fact that she wasn’t careless wouldn’t save her.

 

I Can Tolerate Anything Except the Outgroup

Later, it comes out that the beloved nobleman did not in fact kill his good-for-nothing brother. The good-for-nothing brother killed the beloved nobleman (and stole his identity). Now the townspeople want to see him lynched or burned alive, and it is only the priest who – consistently – offers a measured forgiveness conditional on penance and self-reflection.

The priest tells them:

It seems to me that you only pardon the sins that you don’t really think sinful. You only forgive criminals when they commit what you don’t regard as crimes, but rather as conventions. You forgive a conventional duel just as you forgive a conventional divorce. You forgive because there isn’t anything to be forgiven.

.. He further notes that this is why the townspeople can self-righteously consider themselves more compassionate and forgiving than he is. Actual forgiveness, the kind the priest needs to cultivate to forgive evildoers, is really really hard. The fake forgiveness the townspeople use to forgive the people they like is really easy, so they get to boast not only of their forgiving nature, but of how much nicer they are than those mean old priests who find forgiveness difficult and want penance along with it.

.. There are a lot of people who say “I forgive you” when they mean “No harm done”, and a lot of people who say “That was unforgiveable” when they mean “That was genuinely really bad”.

.. But since forgiveness is generally considered a virtue, and one that many want credit for having, I think it’s fair to say you only earn the right to call yourself ‘forgiving’ if you forgive things that genuinely hurt you.

.. To borrow Chesterton’s example, if you think divorce is a-ok, then you don’t get to “forgive” people their divorces, you merely ignore them.

..  “Master, I have been tolerant of innumerable gays, lesbians, bisexuals, asexuals, blacks, Hispanics, Asians, transgender people, and Jews. How many Virtue Points have I earned for my meritorious deeds?”

Bodhidharma answers: “None at all”.

The Emperor, somewhat put out, demands to know why.

Bodhidharma asks: “Well, what do you think of gay people?”

The Emperor answers: “What do you think I am, some kind of homophobic bigot? Of course I have nothing against gay people!”

And Bodhidharma answers: “Thus do you gain no merit by tolerating them!”

.. If I had to define “tolerance” it would be something like “respect and kindness toward members of an outgroup”.

.. We have a lot of people – like the Emperor – boasting of being able to tolerate everyone from every outgroup they can imagine, loving the outgroup, writing long paeans to how great the outgroup is, staying up at night fretting that somebody else might not like the outgroup enough.

This is really surprising. It’s a total reversal of everything we know about human psychology up to this point. No one did any genetic engineering. No one passed out weird glowing pills in the public schools. And yet suddenly we get an entire group of people who conspicuously promote and defend their outgroups, the outer the better.

..  Any theory of outgroupishness that naively assumes the Nazis’ natural outgroup is Japanese or Chinese people will be totally inadequate.

.. So what makes an outgroup? Proximity plus small differences.

.. If you want to know who someone in former Yugoslavia hates, don’t look at the Indonesians or the Zulus or the Tibetans or anyone else distant and exotic. Find the Yugoslavian ethnicity that lives closely intermingled with them and is most conspicuously similar to them, and chances are you’ll find the one who they have eight hundred years of seething hatred toward.

.. eight hundred years of the British committing genocide against the Irish and considering them literally subhuman turned into smiles and songs about shamrocks once the Irish started looking like useful cannon fodder for a larger fight.

.. outgroups may be the people who look exactly like you, and scary foreigner types can become the in-group on a moment’s notice when it seems convenient.

..  46% of Americans are creationists. Not just in the sense of believing God helped guide evolution. I mean they think evolution is a vile atheist lie and God created humans exactly as they exist right now. That’s half the country.

.. And I don’t have a single one of those people in my social circle.

.. About forty percent of Americans want to ban gay marriage. I think if I really stretch it, maybe ten of my top hundred fifty friends might fall into this group. This is less astronomically unlikely; the odds are a mere one to one hundred quintillion against.

.. there was a thread on Reddit asking – Redditors Against Gay Marriage, What Is Your Best Supporting Argument? A Reddit user who didn’t understand how anybody could be against gay marriage honestly wanted to know how other people who were against it justified their position. He figured he might as well ask one of the largest sites on the Internet, with an estimated user base in the tens of millions.

It soon became clear that nobody there was actually against gay marriage.

.. In a thread with 10,401 comments, a thread specifically asking for people against gay marriage, I was eventually able to find two people who came out and opposed it, way near the bottom. Their posts started with “I know I’m going to be downvoted to hell for this…”

.. Only one percent of LWers were normal everyday God-‘n-guns-but-not-George-III conservatives of the type that seem to make up about half of the United States.

.. similar to other elite universities, had a faculty and a student body that skewed about 90-10 liberal to conservative – and we can bet that, like LW, even those few token conservatives are Mitt Romney types rather than God-n’-guns types. I get my news from vox.com, an Official Liberal Approved Site. Even when I go out to eat, it turns out my favorite restaurant, California Pizza Kitchen, is the most liberal restaurant in the United States.

.. I have created an outrageously strong bubble, a 10^45 bubble. Conservatives are all around me, yet I am about as likely to have a serious encounter with one as I am a Tibetan lama.

(Less likely, actually. One time a Tibetan lama came to my college and gave a really nice presentation, but if a conservative tried that, people would protest and it would be canceled.)

.. One day I realized that entirely by accident I was fulfilling all the Jewish stereotypes.

I’m nerdy, over-educated, good with words, good with money, weird sense of humor, don’t get outside much, I like deli sandwiches. And I’m a psychiatrist, which is about the most stereotypically Jewish profession short of maybe stand-up comedian or rabbi.

I’m not very religious. And I don’t go to synagogue. But that’s stereotypically Jewish too!

.. The defining factors of Judaism – Torah-reading, synagogue-following, mother-having – are the tip of a giant iceberg. Jews sometimes identify as a “tribe”, and even if you don’t attend synagogue, you’re still a member of that tribe and people can still (in a statistical way) infer things about you by knowing your Jewish identity – like how likely they are to be psychiatrists.

.. The Red Tribe is most classically typified by conservative political beliefs, strong evangelical religious beliefs, creationism, opposing gay marriage, owning guns, eating steak, drinking Coca-Cola, driving SUVs, watching lots of TV, enjoying American football, getting conspicuously upset about terrorists and commies, marrying early, divorcing early, shouting “USA IS NUMBER ONE!!!”, and listening to country music.

.. The Blue Tribe is most classically typified by liberal political beliefs, vague agnosticism, supporting gay rights, thinking guns are barbaric, eating arugula, drinking fancy bottled water, driving Priuses, reading lots of books, being highly educated, mocking American football, feeling vaguely like they should like soccer but never really being able to get into it, getting conspicuously upset about sexists and bigots, marrying later, constantly pointing out how much more civilized European countries are than America, and listening to “everything except country”.

.. (There is a partly-formed attempt to spin off a Grey Tribe typified by libertarian political beliefs, Dawkins-style atheism, vague annoyance that the question of gay rights even comes up, eating paleo, drinking Soylent, calling in rides on Uber, reading lots of blogs, calling American football “sportsball”, getting conspicuously upset about the War on Drugs and the NSA, and listening to filk – but for our current purposes this is a distraction and they can safely be considered part of the Blue Tribe most of the time)

.. And I genuinely believed that day that I had found some unexpected good in people – that everyone I knew was so humane and compassionate that they were unable to rejoice even in the death of someone who hated them and everything they stood for.

.. Then a few years later, Margaret Thatcher died. And on my Facebook wall – made of these same “intelligent, reasoned, and thoughtful” people – the most common response was to quote some portion of the song “Ding Dong, The Witch Is Dead”.

.. You can talk all you want about Islamophobia, but my friend’s “intelligent, reasoned, and thoughtful people” – her name for the Blue Tribe – can’t get together enough energy to really hate Osama, let alone Muslims in general. We understand that what he did was bad, but it didn’t anger us personally. When he died, we were able to very rationally apply our better nature and our Far Mode beliefs about how it’s never right to be happy about anyone else’s death.

On the other hand, that same group absolutely loathed Thatcher. Most of us (though not all) can agree, if the question is posed explicitly, that Osama was a worse person than Thatcher. But in terms of actual gut feeling? Osama provokes a snap judgment of “flawed human being”, Thatcher a snap judgment of “scum”.

.. I started this essay by pointing out that, despite what geographical and cultural distance would suggest, the Nazis’ outgroup was not the vastly different Japanese, but the almost-identical German Jews.

And my hypothesis, stated plainly, is that if you’re part of the Blue Tribe, then your outgroup isn’t al-Qaeda, or Muslims, or blacks, or gays, or transpeople, or Jews, or atheists – it’s the Red Tribe.

.. One of the ways we know that racism is a giant all-encompassing social factor is the Implicit Association Test. Psychologists ask subjects to quickly identify whether words or photos are members of certain gerrymandered categories, like “either a white person’s face or a positive emotion” or “either a black person’s face and a negative emotion”.

.. If subjects have more trouble (as measured in latency time) connecting white people to negative things than they do white people to positive things, then they probably have subconscious positive associations with white people.

.. what the test famously found was that even white people who claimed to have no racist attitudes at all usually had positive associations with white people and negative associations with black people on the test.

.. there have been several studies where people sent out a bunch of identical resumes except sometimes with a black person’s photo and other times with a white person’s photo, and it was noticed that employers were much more likely to invite the fictional white candidates for interviews.

.. Once again, discrimination on the basis of party was much stronger than discrimination on the basis of race.

.. People have been studying “belief congruence theory” – the idea that differences in beliefs are more important than demographic factors in forming in-groups and outgroups – for decades.

.. people were more likely to accept friendships across racial lines than across beliefs

.. One of the best-known examples of racism is the “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner” scenario where parents are scandalized about their child marrying someone of a different race. Pew has done some good work on this and found that only 23% of conservatives and 1% (!) of liberals admit they would be upset in this situation. But Pew also asked how parents would feel about their child marrying someone of a different political party. Now 30% of conservatives and 23% of liberals would get upset.

.. I’m not saying people of either party have it “worse” than black people, or that partyism is more of a problem than racism, or any of a number of stupid things along those lines which I am sure I will nevertheless be accused of believing. Racism is worse than partyism because the two parties are at least kind of balanced in numbers and in resources, whereas the brunt of an entire country’s racism falls on a few underprivileged people.

.. Every election cycle like clockwork, conservatives accuse liberals of not being sufficiently pro-America. And every election cycle like clockwork, liberals give extremely unconvincing denials of this.

.. My hunch – both the Red Tribe and the Blue Tribe, for whatever reason, identify “America” with the Red Tribe. Ask people for typically “American” things, and you end up with a very Red list of characteristics – guns, religion, barbecues, American football, NASCAR, cowboys, SUVs, unrestrained capitalism.

.. That means the Red Tribe feels intensely patriotic about “their” country, and the Blue Tribe feels like they’re living in fortified enclaves deep in hostile territory.

.. Here is a popular piece published on a major media site called America: A Big, Fat, Stupid Nation. Another: America: A Bunch Of Spoiled, Whiny Brats. Americans are ignorant, scientifically illiterate religious fanatics whose “patriotism” is actually just narcissism. You Will Be Shocked At How Ignorant Americans Are, and we should Blame The Childish, Ignorant American People.

Needless to say, every single one of these articles was written by an American and read almost entirely by Americans. Those Americans very likely enjoyed the articles very much and did not feel the least bit insulted.

.. But I think the situation with “white” is much the same as the situation with “American” – it can either mean what it says, or be a code word for the Red Tribe.

.. Imagine hearing that a liberal talk show host and comedian was so enraged by the actions of ISIS that he’d recorded and posted a video in which he shouts at them for ten minutes, cursing the “fanatical terrorists” and calling them “utter savages” with “savage values”.

If I heard that, I’d be kind of surprised. It doesn’t fit my model of what liberal talk show hosts do.

.. That fits my model perfectly. You wouldn’t celebrate Osama’s death, only Thatcher’s. And you wouldn’t call ISIS savages, only Fox News. Fox is the outgroup, ISIS is just some random people off in a desert. You hate the outgroup, you don’t hate random desert people.

.. Not only does Brand not feel much like hating ISIS, he has a strong incentive not to. That incentive is: the Red Tribe is known to hate ISIS loudly and conspicuously. Hating ISIS would signal Red Tribe membership, would be the equivalent of going into Crips territory with a big Bloods gang sign tattooed on your shoulder.

.. What would Russell Brand answer, if we asked him to justify his decision to be much angrier at Fox than ISIS?

He might say something like “Obviously Fox News is not literally worse than ISIS. But here I am, talking to my audience, who are mostly white British people and Americans. These people already know that ISIS is bad; they don’t need to be told that any further. In fact, at this point being angry about how bad ISIS is, is less likely to genuinely change someone’s mind about ISIS, and more likely to promote Islamophobia. The sort of people in my audience are at zero risk of becoming ISIS supporters, but at a very real risk of Islamophobia. So ranting against ISIS would be counterproductive and dangerous.

.. So here’s somewhere I have a genuine chance to reach people at risk and change minds. Therefore, I think my decision to rant against Fox News, and maybe hyperbolically say they were ‘worse than ISIS’ is justified under the circumstances.”

.. But my sympathy with Brand ends when he acts like his audience is likely to be fans of Fox News.

.. In a world where a negligible number of Redditors oppose gay marriage and 1% of Less Wrongers identify conservative and I know 0/150 creationists, how many of the people who visit the YouTube channel of a well-known liberal activist with a Che-inspired banner, a channel whose episode names are things like “War: What Is It Good For?” and “Sarah Silverman Talks Feminism” – how many of them do you think are big Fox News fans?

.. If he attacked ISIS, his viewers would just be a little confused and uncomfortable. Whereas every moment he’s attacking Fox his viewers are like “HA HA! YEAH! GET ‘EM! SHOW THOSE IGNORANT BIGOTS IN THE OUTGROUP WHO’S BOSS!”

.. Brand acts as if there are just these countries called “Britain” and “America” who are receiving his material. Wrong. There are two parallel universes, and he’s only broadcasting to one of them.

.. Think of Brendan Eich as a member of a tiny religious minority surrounded by people who hate that minority. Suddenly firing him doesn’t seem very noble.

.. If you mix together Podunk, Texas and Mosul, Iraq, you can prove that Muslims are scary and very powerful people who are executing Christians all the time – and so we have a great excuse for kicking the one remaining Muslim family, random people who never hurt anyone, out of town.

.. When a friend of mine heard Eich got fired, she didn’t see anything wrong with it. “I can tolerate anything except intolerance,” she said.

“Intolerance” is starting to look like another one of those words like “white” and “American”.

“I can tolerate anything except the outgroup.” Doesn’t sound quite so noble now, does it?

.. The outgroup of the Red Tribe is occasionally blacks and gays and Muslims, more often the Blue Tribe.

.. The Blue Tribe has performed some kind of very impressive act of alchemy, and transmuted all of its outgroup hatred to the Red Tribe.

.. Even the Nazis, not known for their ethnic tolerance, were able to get all buddy-buddy with the Japanese when they had a common cause.

.. Research suggests Blue Tribe / Red Tribe prejudice to be much stronger than better-known types of prejudice like racism. Once the Blue Tribe was able to enlist the blacks and gays and Muslims in their ranks, they became allies of convenience who deserve to be rehabilitated with mildly condescending paeans to their virtue. “There never was a coward where the shamrock grows.”

.. Spending your entire life insulting the other tribe and talking about how terrible they are makes you look, well, tribalistic. It is definitely not high class. So when members of the Blue Tribe decide to dedicate their entire life to yelling about how terrible the Red Tribe is, they make sure that instead of saying “the Red Tribe”, they say “America”, or “white people”, or “straight white men”. That way it’s humble self-criticism. They are so interested in justice that they are willing to critique their own beloved side, much as it pains them to do so.

.. every Blue Tribe institution is permanently licensed to take whatever emergency measures are necessary against the Red Tribe, however disturbing they might otherwise seem.

.. I had fun writing this article. People do not have fun writing articles savagely criticizing their in-group. People can criticize their in-group, it’s not humanly impossible, but it takes nerves of steel, it makes your blood boil, you should sweat blood. It shouldn’t be fun.

.. I imagine might I feel like some liberal US Muslim leader, when he goes on the O’Reilly Show, and O’Reilly ambushes him and demands to know why he and other American Muslims haven’t condemned beheadings by ISIS more, demands that he criticize them right there on live TV. And you can see the wheels in the Muslim leader’s head turning, thinking something like “Okay, obviously beheadings are terrible and I hate them as much as anyone. But you don’t care even the slightest bit about the victims of beheadings. You’re just looking for a way to score points against me so you can embarass all Muslims. And I would rather personally behead every single person in the world than give a smug bigot like you a single microgram more stupid self-satisfaction than you’ve already got.”

.. But if I want Self-Criticism Virtue Points, criticizing the Grey Tribe is the only honest way to get them. And if I want Tolerance Points, my own personal cross to bear right now is tolerating the Blue Tribe.

..  And when they are good people, they are powerful and necessary crusaders against the evils of the world.

 

Understanding Student Mobbists

My gut reaction is that these student mobbists manage to combine snowflake fragility and lynch mob irrationalism into one perfectly poisonous cocktail.

.. I came of age in the 1980s. In that time, there was an assumption that though the roots of human society were deep in tribalism, over the past 3,000 years we have developed a system of liberal democracy that gloriously transcended it, that put reason, compassion and compromise atop violence and brute force.

.. sophisticated people in those days wanted to be seen, to use Scott Alexander’s term, as mistake theorists. Mistake theorists believe that the world is complicated and most of our troubles are caused by error and incompetence, not by malice or evil intent.

.. Mistake theorists also believe that most social problems are hard and that obvious perfect solutions are scarce. Debate is essential. You bring different perspectives and expertise to the table. You reduce passion and increase learning. Basically, we’re all physicians standing over a patient with a very complex condition and we’re trying to collectively figure out what to do.

.. The idea for decades was that racial justice would come when we reduced individual bigotry — the goal was colorblind individualism. As Nils Gilman argues in The American Interest, that ideal reached its apogee with the election of Barack Obama.

.. But Obama’s election also revealed the limits of that ideal. Now the crucial barriers to racial justice are seen not just as individual, but as structural economic structures, the incarceration crisis, the breakdown of family structure.

.. The second thing that happened was that reason, apparently, ceased to matter. Today’s young people were raised within an educational ideology that taught them that individual reason and emotion were less important than perspectivismwhat perspective you bring as a white man, a black woman, a transgender Mexican, or whatever.

These students were raised with the idea that individual reason is downstream from group identity. Then along came the 2016 election to validate that point of view! If reason and deliberation are central to democracy, how on earth did Donald Trump get elected?

.. If you were born after 1990, it’s not totally shocking that you would see public life as an inevitable war of tribe versus tribe. It’s not surprising that you would become, in Scott Alexander’s terminology, a conflict theorist, not a mistake theorist.

In the conflict theorist worldview, most public problems are caused not by errors or complexity, but by malice and oppression. The powerful few keep everyone else down. The solutions to injustice and suffering are simple and obvious: Defeat the powerful. Passion is more important than reason because the oppressed masses have to mobilize to storm the barricades. Debate is counterproductive because it dilutes passion and sows confusion. Discordant ideas are not there to inform; they are there to provide cover for oppression.

.. So I’d just ask them to take two courses. The first would be in revolutions — the French, Russian, Chinese and all the other ones that unleashed the passion of the mob in an effort to overthrow oppression — and the way they ALL wound up waist deep in blood.

The second would be in constitutionalism. We dump on lawyers, but the law is beautiful, living proof that we can rise above tribalism and force — proof that the edifice of civilizations is a great gift, which our ancestors gave their lives for.

.. Our new generation was never taught how to communicate outside it’s own tribe. And failure to learn how to do that will not bode well for their future or ours.
.. I have spent my entire adult life on college campuses, and I would say that most students do not subscribe to mobbism or tribalism. Alas, I would say apathy is far more common than protest, and that most students are unlikely to know that Christina Hoff Sommers is even speaking on campus, to have an opinion about her ideas, or to attend. I see few protests, flyers, or petitions on campus these days. Instead, I see harried students who work part-time, struggle to pay tuition, and are anxious about landing a decent job when they graduate.