Friday, May 31, 2019

A Depressingly (Accidentally) Good Summary Of A Major Battle In The Culture War: Angela Saini: "Why Race Science Is On The Rise Again"

This is really depressing...but not exactly for the reason it intends to be.
I mean...really, really depressing.
The left side of the debate gets so much science wrong that one really hardly knows where to begin. The right side has racists--lots and lots of racists. But not everyone on that side is racist--so far as most of the main scientific and philosophical arguments to, I'm on the right side. You have to be if you understand the issues. Races are almost certainly biological kinds. The arguments against that position are patently fallacious. But, as I've said a thousand times: that in no way means that any racial group is morally inferior to any other, nor that any group has something like a lesser degree of moral standing, nor ought to have fewer political rights. (If we're going to talk about the biological facts, we shouldn't even be discussing those issues.) But many on the right side of the debate think it does--and it's often that racist belief that motivates their scientific views. The left is committed to anti-racism...which is good....but it's that belief which motivates its view about the scientific arguments...and that's political correctness / neo-Lysenkoism. And those, of course, are bad. The left then advances a familiar array of fallacious arguments against the proposition that races are natural kinds, and slanders anyone who disagrees--e.g. Noah Carl, who Saini is careful to slander by name in the piece. [Actually: libel.]
   Saini's piece is representative of the genre in that is simply assumes the truth of a certain cluster of fairytales about the science of race, and asserts that only racists can deny them. Here are just a few, from around the middle of the piece:
   [1] It was only towards the end of the 20th century that genetic data revealed that the human variation we see is not a matter of hard types but small and subtle gradations, each local community blending into the next. [2] As much as 95% of the genetic difference in our species sits within the major population groups, not between them. [3] Statistically, this means that, although I look nothing like the white British woman who lives upstairs, it’s possible for me to have more in common genetically with her than with my Indian-born neighbour.
   [4] We can’t pin down race biologically because [5] it exists like an image in the clouds. [6] When we define ourselves by colour, our eyes don’t consider that the genetic variants for light skin are found not only in Europe and east Asia, but also in some of the oldest human societies in Africa. Early hunter-gatherers in Europe had dark skin and blue eyes. [7] There is no gene that exists in all the members of one racial group and not another. [8] We are all, every one of us, a product of ancient and recent migration. [9] We have always been in the melting pot together. [My numbers]
Again: viewed objectively, this is a gut-wrenchingly confused load of political correctness--the subordination of actual evidence and sound reasoning to politics. In this case, the politics at least isn't bad politics...but that kind of makes the situation more dangerous.
[1] It may only have been toward the end of the 20th-century that genetic data revealed gradations....but everyone who seriously addressed these questions already knew about racial gradations. The strawman here pervades the debate: that if there aren't clear boundaries, there are no biological kinds. This is the fallacy of the continuum. Real group boundaries are fuzzy, and admit of borderline cases. If you're looking for bright, clear boundaries, you don't have the background knowledge required to be part of this discussion.
[2] True but irrelevant; this is Lewontin's fallacy. Races are basically genetically invisible if we look at different alleles at an individual locus. But when we look at different alleles at many different loci, people sort pretty damn neatly into racial groups.
[Fallacy count: three textbook fallacies thus far... Not even counting ad hominem/guilt by association...]
[3] That doesn't seem to be a statistical point, but: yes. The error is to think that this counts against the proposition that races are biological groups.
[4] Yes we can.
[5] Well...God knows what to say about that. Mostly: no. Races are rather like unimportant species: they do change, they can disappear, meld together, separate... Just like clouds are real things, and two clouds can really be different despite their fuzziness...well...same for species. And races. They're not as ephemeral as clouds, of course. And clouds probably aren't law-governed in the way that species are. Anyway: bad analogy if you don't use it right. And Saini uses it incorrectly.
[6] Really confused. But, as for eye-color: right. Which is why nobody does that. It would be dumb. Races aren't defined by single traits. Just like species. This is like arguing: we can't define species merely in terms of having or lacking four legs; ergo there are no species.
[7] Right. Straw man, again. There's usually no single gene that defines a species. These are all cluster concepts. Same with races.
[8] Sigh... The very fact that this argument gets made in this context is one, anywhere, in any respectable region of this disagreement, denies this. This is what causes genetic variation. It's not an alternative to genetic variation.
[9] Again: God knows what to do with a f*cking claim like this... We've always been on the same planet...but we haven't always been perfectly intermixed. We've often been largely isolated to different regions. Which is how this all happened.
   This is all just gut-wrenching. Bad science draping itself in virtue-signaling, and declaring that perfectly reasonable--and probably correct--arguments are racist... The left passionately loves to politicize science and shout-down its opponents by crying racism! And, in this case, there really are racists on the other side And so good arguments and good people are being squashed together with bad people. And: good people who can tell good arguments from bad eventually start thinking that only bad people will listen to reason about this topic... But counterproductivity be damned. The left has to learn that it can be wrong--and not just because its positions help out the (extreme, in this case) right. And just because a conclusion is comforting or PC, that doesn't make it right. There are some very unpleasant truths in this vicinity. This would all be hard enough without PC insanity making it all worse.
   (To repeat a point I like to make: right-wing anti-science tends to ignore inconvenient science, or, at worst, generate its own alternative scientific community (as with intelligent design); left-wing anti-science co-opts the existing scientific community.)
   Note that Noah Carl got fired for falling afoul of these people; I could easily get fired for this blog post. That's what we're facing here. Again: the insanity on the left is at least as insane as the insanity on the right. And, unlike the right, the left has actual power in the cultural superstructure. And it is willing--in fact eager--to use it to advance the cause of pseudo-righteousness.

Come to think of it...too many people other than me rely on my job...I'm actually going to have to consider ending/deleting this entire blog.


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