Saturday, March 11, 2017

Andrew Sullivan: Is Intersectionality A Religion?

   The more accurate title would be: Is Political Correctness A Religion? (or: Is The "Social Justice" Movement A Religion?")
   The answer is: kinda. Or, rather: it certainly shares certain features with religious cults. Though that's true of a lot of crazy politics. Though it seems truer of PC than most.

   I have only seen snippets of the video, but I suppose I have to go watch it now. It sounds insane...which would be entirely unsurprising.
   One thing I don't want to talk about--and neither does anybody else on the side of the angels--is that Murray's claims about race and IQ in The Bell Curve are consistent with the consensus of experts in cognitive science. It shouldn't matter, of course--even if Murray was wrong, he has a right to speak, and the rest of us have a right to listen. But Sullivan--even Sullivan!--like almost everyone who writes about this basically says: Sure, Murray's views on race and IQ are obviously stupid and reprehensible...but let him speak because it's important to challenge stupid, reprehensible views. But Murray's view isn't stupid--it's supported by our best current science. And it isn't reprehensible--it's just an empirical conclusion, held on empirical grounds. To be reprehensible, it would have to be motivated by racism. And there is no evidence whatsoever that that is true. In The Bell Curve, Murray merely reported on the science. (And did so in about two pages as I recall, not even as a major thesis of the book, not that that should matter.) But, of course, for that he was vilified--because certain facts are politically incorrect. I understand being sad about the facts. But denying and suppressing them is inexcusable.
   Besides, as I've said before, it doesn't really make a lot of sense to be sad because Asians have slightly higher IQs than whites. It doesn't mean anything about anyone as an individual. There are people of every race smarter than you. Why should you care about what the averages look like?

Oh and: here's one of the chants that the students at Middlebury used to drown out Murray:
“Science has always been used to legitimize racism, sexism, classism, transphobia, ableism, and homophobia, all veiled as rational and fact, and supported by the government and state. In this world today, there is little that is true ‘fact.’”
That's lunacy, and it's a view that is at the heart of PC.

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Blogger Pete Mack said...

Where is this 'current science' that supports Murray's most inflammatory claims? (The ones about genetic--as opposed to environmental--racial IQ, I mean.)

11:19 AM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

There's a ton of it. It is, in fact, by far the consensus of experts who study IQ. It's kind of swept under the rug, despite the fact that it's not at all a secret. There have been official statements on the matter publicized by prominent journals as well as non-academic places. But they always kinda sorta get sucked down the memory hole.

I'm not saying I don't understand wanting to do this...because I do. But it *does* strike me as a bit weird that so many on the left will just come right out and deny it. Despite being swept under the rug...all you have to do is lift the rug. Even a tiny bit of investigation reveals it.

Here's one famous thing, the famous "Mainstream Science On Intelligence":

Lefty places (like Wikipedia) work really hard to denigrate it, and it's easy to find objections and dissenters... but that can be said of any topic. There's apparently little doubt that it represents the consensus about current research. The left basically treats the consensus among IQ researchers the opposite way it treats the consensus about global warming.

This is, in fact, I'd say, one of the more prominent examples of left-wing anti-science / Lysenkoism.

Honestly, I suspect that this is one of the things that drove the left to race nominalism. It's looking less and less like the IQ conclusions will go away... Race nominalism would be, if true, a way to make race itself go away instead...

Again, understandable...but probably not true...

11:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I actually think one of the stronger arguments towards the "PC is a religion" proposition largely goes unnoticed. One of the biggest social changes of the 20th Century was the decline of the Protestant Mainline. I actually think what we are seeing is that the religion never really disappeared, it just evolved into more of a politco-religious cult among its descendants. If you read some Rauschenbush you will notice a striking similarity with a lot of PC crusaders. Which makes since, because they are basically his grandkids.

Basically, religions are first and foremost historical traditions. Genealogy is a better argument than searching for the platonic form of religion and fitting it to SJWs.

2:25 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

I do not know of this person.

Will check him out, thx.

3:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here is a decent example from just his wiki page:

"Jesus did not in any real sense bear the sin of some ancient Briton who beat up his wife in B. C. 56, or of some mountaineer in Tennessee who got drunk in A. D. 1917. But he did in a very real sense bear the weight of the public sins of organized society, and they in turn are causally connected with all private sins."

Ignore the Jesus-talk and just look at how he is speaking of morality/sin. There is this new category of "public sin" (or social sin) being introduced, and a reified "society" which commits or is victimized by them. Also, there is some complete mystical causal connection between private and public sin. Notice how similar this is to how people talk of something like structural racism, which from what I can tell could exist even if no one in a society is actually racist, and how we need to understand our private relation to it according to PCs, where there is apparently no way to disentangle your complicity in injustices that have occurred decades before your birth.

The similarity is basically because PCs are Social Gospel theologians, or really the poorly read great-grandkids with all of the nasty effects intellectual inbreeding you might expect.

4:48 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

That is really interesting, A, and thanks for it.

I've run into a couple of people who are mucking around with loosely-related thoughts, e.g. analogizing "white privilege" to original sin.

I'll definitely check out Rauschenbush.

4:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah, I would suggest they be far more specific. Because the parallels with late 19th-early 20th Century Social Gospel theology are seriously strong. The relationship might even be stronger than SG theology is to the rest of Christian thought.

The interesting thing is how little of this is remembered, specifically the insane power and extent of mainline Protestantism. Although if you walk around, say, NYC a bit, there are vestiges of it: Riverside Church, St. John the Divine.

5:31 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Wow, I just went back and re-read that bit about "the public sins of an organized society"... You might really be onto something here.

I also just read that Rauschenbusch was Richard Rorty's grandfather...and Rorty, was, of course, beloved of the paleo-PC intelligentsia.

6:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah I should have brought up the Rorty connection. Happy to enlighten you.

8:35 PM  
Blogger Pete Mack said...

I don't consider Psychpage a particularly definitive link, as it appears to be the personal web site of one man. Articles about psychology and the Vedas do not lend him scientific credibility.

The nature vs. nurture (or environment) issue is not a trivial problem to solve.

9:04 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...


That's just s summary of a famous statement by experts in the field.

Here's one of the versions of the original:

10:09 PM  
Blogger Pete Mack said...

This is very weak evidence (to the extent that bullet points are evidence at all) in favor of Murray.
1. IQ scores within racial groups have increased over 1 standard deviation since the test began..
2. If heritability is .4, the claimed heritable differences between races is only an IQ difference of about 7. This is getting very close to zero.

3. The following is not a ringing endorsement.
"There is no definitive answer to why IQ bell curves differ across racial-ethnic groups. The reasons for these IQ differences between groups may be markedly different from the reasons for why individuals differ among themselves within any particular group (whites or blacks or Asians). In fact, it is wrong to assume, as many do, that the reasons some individuals in a population have high IQs but others have low IQs must be the same reason why some populations contain more such high (or low) IQ individuals than others. Most experts believe that environment is important in pushing the bell curves apart, but that genetics could be involved too."

11:00 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

The document gives very significant support to Murray's claims, and was, IIRC, written specifically in order to counter the deluge of falsehoods in the media about IQ that were contained in the attacks on Murray.

11:09 PM  
Blogger stu said...

Sully wasn't saying that Murray is stupid - he's the editor that published Murray in the New Republic 20 years ago! He is saying that protests against him are legitimate to broaden the conversation and dissuade racists and bigots from misusing his data. These protestors had no interest in conversation.

10:46 AM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

PM, I'm taking back my last comment.

Gotta go through the thing again. I was about asleep last night and didn't give your point the attention it deserves.

11:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just a quick note, IQ heritability has a lot of variation based on age (probably because nutrition and environment have different effects at different points in human development). For kids it is .4, for late teens and adults .75-.8.

But even then, you can't use heritability estimates to estimate genetic contribution of differences in IQ scores across races. That's just not what the statistic means, since we are now estimating variance in the difference of a trait in two subsets of the total population, rather than the variance of the trait generally.

6:59 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Hi, A,

I'm statistics blind, so I don't understand what you just wrote. Could you explain it?

To the extent I do understand it, I don't understand why you can't do that.

And you're certainly not saying that such estimates are *impossible*, right?

9:44 PM  
Blogger Pete Mack said...

Winston--no problem. I was a little mystified by the initial response.

Anonymous--the author of that paper was using heritability in a technical way, as the genetic component alone. She says that in the absence of environmental differences, any remaining correlation has a heritability of 100%. That said, it is extremely hard to factor out environmental effects. The study of children of black servicemen in Germany, post 1945*, is about the only pure test there is. Note that most adoptions have a built in systematic bias, because unwanted children were likely under prenatal stress (due to poverty, alcohol, etc.) This is a very difficult field of study.

* described in Wikipedia

11:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm saying the implication that "the heritability of trait A does is H implies the difference D in A among two distinct subsets of a population has a genetic cause of H*D" is not valid. For one thing, heritability might be unequal between the subgroups, and neither subgroups heritability might be the total population measure of .75. You can make a Simpson's Paradox-style counterargument that way.

It's also just totally wrong on a probability theory level whenever a trait isn't independently distributed among the two subgroups (because then you have to factor out covariance), which is kind of the whole point people are making about race (that human traits are not in fact being randomly generated from some single distribution but instead from a set of distributions determined by long-run evolutionary history).

12:07 AM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

"...heritability might be unequal between the subgroups"


That is extremely interesting.

I just woke up and, as I've said, I've had like one statistics class as an undergraduate...don't judge I have only a loose grasp of the argument really...but that's damn interesting alright. better not be raising false hope in me here, bucko...

So look:
This isn't just some skeptical argument, right? This is just the same sort of objection you'd raise to any attempt at establishing such a hypothesis?

Not sure I entirely follow that last bit about race. Are you just reaffirming that races are clusters of properties? Or are you trying to gesture at race nominalism?

6:50 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Haha, exactly. And it gets weirder because heritability is crudely a measure of variance. Heritability of IQ in Scandinavian countries is going to be difficult to measure because there is little underlying genetic variance, for instance.

Not sure I entirely follow that last bit about race. Are you just reaffirming that races are clusters of properties? Or are you trying to gesture at race nominalism?

So my understanding is the most scientifically grounded understanding of race is as genetic clustering using genetic distance as your measure. Basically, there are a lot of algorithms that infer a n sets that minimize distance from a sets centroid. When you run them on large genetic samples with n set about equal to the number of continents on Earth, you end up basically getting a mathematical representation of the colloquial term "race". (So actually, I would think race nominalism is strongly false at this point).

What is also being seen is a lot of properties, like probably IQ, do not exhibit the same statistical distributions across those clusters. There are a ton of other things as well, sickle cell anemia, alchohol and lactose tolerance, etc.

12:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This isn't just some skeptical argument, right? This is just the same sort of objection you'd raise to any attempt at establishing such a hypothesis?

And yeah, I think any argument of that form should be considered invalid. The conclusion might end up being correct, but you need to do the sampling and measurements to actually determine it.

12:53 PM  
Anonymous Darius Jedburgh said...

The point about Christianity never having gone away is extremely general; see Anscombe, 'Modern Moral Philosophy'. The supposedly sui generis brand of deontic modality expressed by the 'moral "ought"' was unheard of before the Reformation. The most rabidly secular ethicists (eg P Singer) owe the (meaningless) vocabulary in which they try to express their (absurd) ethical views to the former cultural dominance of Christianity, whose spectral ethical half-life is lived out in the worthless currency of 'oughts' that aspire to express a supreme ethical necessity but have been cut off from the reason-giving conceptual framework of agential fourishing (the Greeks) or divine command (the Hebrews) which had earlier given ethical precepts the only genuine practical necessity that could possibly have given them authority over human beings.

Or so it seems to me. The hysterical moralism of our campuses is merely a hyperbolic expression of a centuries-long cultural confusion that runs very deep. The status of racism in 'progressive' consciousness is an interesting symptom of this: it is supposed to be simultaneously (i) the worst thing one can possibly be and (ii) the inevitable condition of ALL (white) people, so that anyone who supposes herself rid of it is just not digging deep enough beneath the endless layers of privileged self-deception. This paradoxical status gives racism exactly the same the character as the circle of original sin Augustine tried to square in De libero arbitrio and Kant in his ruminations on radical evil in Religion Within the Limits of Reason Alone.

Just my two cents.

4:32 PM  
Blogger Pete Mack said...

The trouble with your continent based racial model is that the genetic distance between certain groups in Africa is significantly higher than the difference between populations in Europe and India. Yes, you can use cluster theory to define race. But it won't agree with naïve preconditions, let alone the common usage of 7/8 African ancestry = black.

6:07 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

This is really interesting, DJ.

I haven'read read MMP years?? (I find myself saying shit like that more and more frequently....but it's hard to believe that there's *anything* I haven't done in 25 years...)

I've long had Kantian sympathies with respect to moral theory...and in fact I've only recently been able to shake it a bit and get some perspective on this comment is very interesting to me for a couple of reasons...

10:16 PM  

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