Tuesday, January 19, 2016

A (The?) Really Weird Thing About Political Correctness, Academic Liberal/Left-ism, and Efforts To Create Instant Orthodoxies

   I'm not sure I have a coherent thought here, but I wanted to get it out in some version, if only to see what the flaws are. I'm just going to state the concern in a really sketchy form, and then come back to it asap. The concern goes like this:
   Political correctness / illiberal leftism--which seem as if it's mostly limited to the internet and college students--is strongly linked to the intellectual leftism that is so powerful among university professors (especially in the humanities and social sciences). (For a related point see: Heterodox Academy) These forces are working together to push certain theories that are largely un- or pseudo-scientific / irrational--or, to say the very least, unproven and supported by weak reasons. These theories seem to have their origins in activism or activist-oriented academia (women's/gender studies, racial studies, sectors of sociology, etc.) They are poorly-supported in terms of actual evidence and argument, but motivated by the powerful emotional and political commitments of their advocates. And liberals tend to be very hesitant to disagree with the left and left-academia, and often do not even recognize that illiberals on the left are illiberal.
   One such theory is the view that human race is not physically/biologically real. This theory comes in two forms: (a) the concept race captures no natural kinds, no biologically real groupings, therefore race is not real and (b) race is not a natural kind, but it is real in some sense in that it is "socially constructed." These views are a train wreck of confusions and fallacious reasoning--though the former is at least coherent whereas the latter probably is not. This overall generic view is such a disaster that one can quickly become frustrated and start looking around for psychological or social explanations for its prevalence--why do so many at least reasonably intelligent and well-educated people believe it?
   I mean--look: we can always be wrong, and I might be missing something... And perhaps the view will even turn out to be true in the fullness of time... But: the arguments and evidence commonly proclaimed to be (basically conclusive) proof of these trendy theories about race are terrible. Perhaps there are good arguments I haven't run across, or extremely technical arguments that I've misunderstood, or good arguments that haven't been disseminated yet... But that would still leave this puzzle: if the arguments being loudly and indignantly represented as conclusive are not only not conclusive but positively terrible...what's motivating the theory?
   In this case, the explanation is fairly clear: what is motivating anti-realism/eliminativism/"social constructionism" about race is politics. The view basically depends on a moral/political argument that is never articulated, but goes something like this:

Believing in the (biological) reality of race is racist (or at least makes racism possible)
If race is unreal then racism makes no sense (?)
Race is (biologically) unreal

   The goal of anti-racism is unimpeachable...but this sort of mixing of the political and the philosophical/scientific is Lysenkoism and must be unequivocally rejected. The question of the reality of race has to be addressed on its own merits, and cannot rationally be supported by political arguments for the political (or even moral) desirability of one of the outcomes. Furthermore, race eliminativism/anti-realism is in no way necessary for moral and political anti-racism. In fact, the view that anti-racism is impossible without eliminativism/anti-realism itself betrays a loss of faith in the liberal project, which is built on the view that e.g. skin color should be morally and politically irrelevant.
   The weakness of eliminativism/anti-realism about raice is one relevant fact. But the fact I'm most concerned about is that this unsupported/unsupportable position has been made into virtually unquestioned/unquestionable orthodoxy in certain sectors. If you question the position, then you're almost guaranteed to be accused of racism--which is what one would predict if the position were motivated by anti-racism rather than philosophical/scientific considerations.
   The fact that any strange theory can be made into the orthodoxy--eve unquestionable orthodoxy!--so quickly should concern everyone. Even if the theory were true, it should concern us all that its acceptance on the left is motivated by politics. In fact, it should concern us that there exists unquestionable political orthodoxy with respect to a largely scientific question.
   And race isn't the only topic with respect to which this is happening. Obviously an unquestionable orthodoxy about "transgenderism" was instituted at about the same time. This theory has it, for example, that a man who thinks of himself as a woman is a woman. It's even been said of Caitlyn (nee Bruce) Jenner that that (a) Jenner is a woman, period, in as full a sense as any biologically female person, and (b) Jenner has always been a woman, even when fathering children. Again, the arguments for these views are extraordinary weak to say the least, and outright fallacious to say the most. And, again, they are politically motivated. And, again, even if they were true, the (in social terms) instantaneous institution of a new and unquestionable orthodoxy should worry everyone--especially liberals...
   One common feature of the two cases is that both typically make appeal to "social construction," a term used in so many incompatible ways that it is basically an equivocation machine--which means: a machine for pulling rabbits out of hats, logically speaking... Allow someone to equivocate at crucial points in an argument, and he can "prove" any number of outlandish things...  "Social constructionism" has become a kind of unofficial philosophical cornerstone of the illiberal left, and that's not helping anything...but it's a different topic for a different time.
   My main point here is: whatever the details of the particular arguments and positions in play, one important, general, worrisome aspect of the problem is that unquestionable orthodoxies in science and social science are being produced on the basis of bad reasons and political arguments. Since the positions are in some sense moral and not descriptive/scientific, questioning them brings moral condemnation.
   This is a very worrisome state of affairs.

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Blogger Dark Avenger said...


Races may exist in humans in a cultural sense, but biological concepts of race are needed to access their reality in a non-species-specific manner and to see if cultural categories correspond to biological categories within humans. Modern biological concepts of race can be implemented objectively with molecular genetic data through hypothesis-testing. Genetic data sets are used to see if biological races exist in humans and in our closest evolutionary relative, the chimpanzee. Using the two most commonly used biological concepts of race, chimpanzees are indeed subdivided into races but humans are not. Adaptive traits, such as skin color, have frequently been used to define races in humans, but such adaptive traits reflect the underlying environmental factor to which they are adaptive and not overall genetic differentiation, and different adaptive traits define discordant groups. There are no objective criteria for choosing one adaptive trait over another to define race. As a consequence, adaptive traits do not define races in humans. Much of the recent scientific literature on human evolution portrays human populations as separate branches on an evolutionary tree. A tree-like structure among humans has been falsified whenever tested, so this practice is scientifically indefensible. It is also socially irresponsible as these pictorial representations of human evolution have more impact on the general public than nuanced phrases in the text of a scientific paper. Humans have much genetic diversity, but the vast majority of this diversity reflects individual uniqueness and not race.


And you are aware of the concept of falsification.

10:00 AM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Thanks, DA, I'll get the paper. It looks like they are making the same errors here that are made in most of the currently-popular arguments, but maybe they've got something new going on.

As for falsification: I don't think you understand how it works. For one thing, asserting is not proving, so I'll need to read the details. For another, I'll have to see the argument for the claim that a tree-like structure is required. That's a new wrinkle, and one I'm suspicious of. One of the most common kinds of arguments employed by the race-o-phobes is to strawman the view that races are natural kinds by pretending its claims are more ambitious/difficult to defend than they actually are. As far as I can tell, the only claim that needs to be true for races to be natural kinds is: each race is constituted by something like a homeostatic property cluster. They don't need to be the best ways of classifying humans, they don't need to be terribly significant, they don't even need to accord with some technical concept of race employed by biology. They just need to be non-fictive categories of humans based on the familiar traits like skin tone. Not a single argument nor paper I've read yet has come *anywhere close* to showing that such groupings are fictional...but, unlike the other side, I'm not passionately/ ideologically devoted to my conclusion. Mostly I'm concerned about the the proliferation of terrible arguments for the anti-realist view (in particular "social constructionism," which is a conceptual disaster). Even if a good argument comes along, we'll still have a puzzle: why were so many bad arguments so readily accepted, and why was dissent about them shouted down?

11:48 AM  
Blogger Dark Avenger said...

"Non-fictive catagories of humans bases on the familiar traits like skin tone."

Well, Winston, my Chinese-English grandmother was yellower than any of her siblings, in fact she was sometimes mistaken for Filipino. What non-fictive catagoriy did she belong to? Chinese? English with a dark tan?

The writer of the paper did say a tree-like structure has been falsified, which is true.

Also, this

8. Partly as a result of gene flow, the hereditary characteristics of human populations are in a state of perpetual flux. Distinctive local populations are continually coming into and passing out of existence. Such populations do not correspond to breeds of domestic animals, which have been produced by artificial selection over many generations for specific human purposes.

9. The biological consequences of mating depend only on the individual genetic makeup of the couple, and not on their racial classifications. Therefore, no biological justification exists for restricting intermarriage between persons of different racial classifications.

10. There is no necessary concordance between biological characteristics and culturally defined groups. On every continent, there are diverse populations that differ in language, economy, and culture. There is no national, religious, linguistic or cultural group or economic class that constitutes a race.(Ed ) However, human beings who speak the same language and share the same culture frequently select each other as mates, with the result that there is often some degree of correspondence between the distribution of physical traits on the one hand and that of linguistic and cultural traits on the other. But there is no causal linkage between these physical and behavioral traits, and therefore it is not justifiable to attribute cultural characteristics to genetic inheritance.

11. Physical, cultural and social environments influence the behavioral differences among individuals in society. Although heredity influences the behavioral variability of individuals within a given population, it does not affect the ability of any such population to function in a given social setting. The genetic capacity for intellectual development is one of the biological traits of our species essential for its survival. This genetic capacity is known to differ among individuals. The peoples of the world today appear to possess equal biological potential for assimilating any human culture. Racist political doctrines find no foundation in scientific knowledge concerning modern or past human populations.


8:28 AM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Let's make sure we're understanding each other, DA:

Are those your reasons for believing that races are not natural kinds?

Such that, were those reasons shown to fail to support the thesis, you would change your position?

8:35 AM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

DA, if you're around...I'm serious man: I'm curious as to whether those are actually your reasons. I'm willing to discuss them, but I'd like to know the answer to that question first.

1:37 PM  

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